The subject of lawyer well-being is front and center during these days of COVID-19. The effects of the isolation that is being experienced by so many lawyers working from home is one of the topics most often addressed during discussions of well-being, but it is only one of the many aspects of well-being that should get your attention.
Topics of lawyer well-being were discussed earlier this week in a Women in Law Empowerment (WILEF) virtual meeting presented by the WILEF Chicago Young Lawyers Committee. I hope that some of you were present in the audience to hear the panel of lawyers, including law firm partners, a law firm associate, and a law firm Director of Well-Being. Panelists were from Kirkland, Mayer Brown and Bryan Cave, and their remarks were both personal and candid. Topics included establishing boundaries, privacy issues in a Zoom world, the importance of interaction with colleagues during isolation, how practice has changed for women over the last 25 years to address well-being, and the importance of mentoring for young lawyers.
If you have an opportunity to access the recorded program, I encourage you to do that. For the rest of you, I will be addressing the topics discussed there in a series of blogs starting with this one.
Today’s topic is establishing boundaries, especially during COVID-19. Creating physical boundaries, meaning separate work spaces, is absolutely essential when more than one person is occupying the home space, but keeping a work-like routine and separating work functions from home functions is equally important to establishing boundaries. Setting up regular work hours helps to accomplish those goals.
Appearance also plays a role in establishing boundaries. Although it might have been fun to hang out in sweats all day at the beginning of the “working from home” ritual last Spring, the panelists agreed that having the right approach to professional work ultimately means looking the part as well. Personal grooming and more formal work clothes helps to establish the necessary boundary between work and home and also improves appearances for the daily Zoom meetings that have become part of the COVID-19 world . The panelists agreed that, after 6 PM, sweats are more than A-OK!
For those women lawyers with children, the clear message was that establishing boundaries and sticking to routines can “go up in smoke” unless you are willing to be flexible. Stuff happens, and things change. To keep yourself from being disappointed when you cannot maintain the established schedule, build in some flexibility and give yourself a break. This is especially important for those with school age children, who have the added responsibility of homeschooling and teacher-imposed homework deadlines. This may mean foregoing the law firm virtual happy hours that have become so important during isolation, but it is a matter of essential and non-essential tasks where kids are concerned.
It was agreed that flexibility is not the easiest thing for Type A lawyers, but it can go a long way towards reducing frustration levels and improving outlooks. And panel members emphasized that one of the positive results of working from home during the pandemic is a recognition that things are not perfect and that we all have to learn to deal with unanticipated change.
A particularly interesting aspect of the discussion centered on clients also needing boundaries, and the panelists reported an improved understanding between lawyers and clients about the realities and challenges of each other’s lives. That alone is progress!
Next topic: Privacy Issues in a Zoom World and the Importance of Interaction with Colleagues During Isolation.