Elizabeth Rimmer of LawCare examines some of the issues encountered by lawyers when working remotely during the pandemic.
We’ve now been living and working in a completely different way for nearly 14 weeks. Many legal professionals will have enjoyed working at home – the opportunity to work flexibly, no commute, a bit of distance from difficult colleagues or boss. Others have found it isolating, struggling to carve out a quiet space or a time to work, with little communication or support from their line manager.
Whilst the restrictions of lockdown are gradually easing, we are still a long way from life as it was pre-lockdown and at LawCare we feel the true emotional and financial impact of the pandemic has yet to hit in earnest. This is a marathon not a sprint – and perhaps in some ways we’ve been insulated from the practical impact of the pandemic during lockdown and on furlough; we may not have experienced the realities of following social distancing rules whilst commuting or in the workplace. We expect the coming weeks and months will continue to be challenging and that many more legal professionals will be in need of emotional support.
Over the past three months we’ve had over 70 legal professionals contact us with their worries and fears related to COVID-19. We are listening to and reassuring everyone who contacts us, and many have said that just acknowledging their feelings and opening up to someone has helped them to process what has been going on.
Here are the top three reasons people have reached out to us for support:
Worsening mental health conditions
21% of legal professionals have contacted us because they have an existing mental health issue such as stress, anxiety and depression exacerbated by COVID-19. Many people have lost some of the routines and support structures that kept them on an even keel, and lack of social interaction, or conversely a lack of time alone combined with the daily news headlines and pressures of work and caring responsibilities are weighing heavy on their shoulders.
Worries about going back to the office
Despite government guidelines to work from home if at all possible, around 18% of the legal professionals who have contacted us for support are being asked to return to the office. This understandably is causing some great anxiety – some are shielding and concerned about the potential impact to their health, others aren’t sure how they can physically get to work, some still have children at home. We expect to see more concerns about this as more legal professionals inevitably get called back in.
Around 11% of all our contacts have been around financial concerns. People are fearful of what happens when furlough ends and whether redundancies will be made. Others are struggling with commitments on reduced pay, some are not able to get work.
LawCare’s tips if you are feeling worried
Be mindful. Focus on what is actually happening in this moment. Try not to think of worst case scenarios or wonder too much about the future. Remember that this situation is temporary and constantly changing. This too will pass.
Lean on your support network. Keep in regular contact with colleagues, friends and family using video calls rather than just sending email and texts. It’s really important to stay connected.
Limit your exposure to the news. Consider disabling notifications and don’t be tempted to check news updates or WhatsApps every few minutes. You might need to mute certain people on WhatsApp or social media, reading too much negative information will trigger feelings of worry.
Distract yourself. Read a book, do some exercise, watch a film, take a bath, sort out a cupboard, and take a walk outside.
Breathe. If you can feel yourself getting anxious try taking ten deep breaths, inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 10 seconds. It really calms you down.
Prioritise self care. It’s easy to let healthy habits slip when we are stressed but make sure you eat well, get to bed at a reasonable time and find time to do some exercise.
You might not be able to go to the gym but you can go for a run, do some gardening or do an online exercise video.
Take breaks. Even if you are working at home it’s still important to take regular breaks and a lunch break just as you would in the office.
Change your mindset. You can’t change the nature of the pandemic itself but you can change the way you think about it. Try to focus on the positive, happy things and try not to catastrophise. In this moment you are safe in your home. You have food to eat and everything you need. Appreciate the small things - the weather, more time with your children, a chance to get all those jobs done at home, connecting with people you’ve not had contact with in a while.
Stick to a routine. As tempting as it is to stay in your pyjamas all day or sit at your laptop at 10pm, it’s important to get dressed and try and stick to a regular routine and your usual working pattern, where possible. This will help you stay focused and keep work separate from home life.
Seek help. If you’re finding it hard to cope, just talking to someone, a friend, LawCare, or another helpline can make you feel less worried and many GPs are still offering online appointments. If you have an existing mental health condition you should continue with any treatment plan as far as possible.
Elizabeth Rimmer has been managing and developing charities in the mental health sector for over 20 years. She joined LawCare in 2014 from the Institute of Group Analysis, a membership and training organisation for group psychotherapists. Before that she headed up Alzheimer’s Disease International, a worldwide federation of Alzheimer Associations. Elizabeth started her working life as a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence, practicing at Leigh Day.
To view the latest version of this document and thousands of others like it, sign-in to LexisPSL or register for a free trial by clicking on the banner below.