Working in the legal industry presents a whole range of challenges that can impact your mental health, none of which have been helped by the ongoing global pandemic, writes Anne Marie Collins.
Long hours have always been a significant problem in the industry, and working from home during the pandemic has only increased these hours. As a result, many lawyers have struggled with worsening mental health harm.
Tackle your time wisely
The first step – and possibly most important – is to take time off. The good news is that as we head into the holiday season, most law firms close over the Christmas and New Year break and some even stay closed well into January. Now is the perfect time to reset, reflect on your relationship with work, and put some boundaries in place for the upcoming year.
If you are continuing to work from home at least some of the time in 2022, it’s important to note that the cultural shift and issues around creeping hours are not something that can be quickly fixed. In most cases, the burden of solving these issues is not something that should be placed onto employees’ shoulders and should instead be the task of management, business leaders, and unions to solve alongside employees.
On a positive note, lawyers are in high demand again and have some leverage to either move elsewhere or negotiate more reasonable time limits on their work.
Living on the right side of the brain
Lawyers rely heavily on thinking in their work, and the thinking is often very detailed. The detailed and analytical tasks of lawyering utilise the left brain, which is logical, analytical, and orderly. It’s sometimes referred to as “the digital brain”.
The problem is the left brain is also slightly paranoid and directive. It can be hard on us and others and is prone to losing perspective on what’s most important in life.
On the right side of the brain, we have our more visual, intuitive, and imaginative selves. The right brain is for loving yourself, others and the natural world and connecting with those around us.
This is an invitation to use your whole brain rather than staying stuck mostly in the left part of the brain, which is heavily exercised in “lawyering”. It is not about finding balance, which is elusive, unrealistic and becomes just another chore or task on a list (which the left brain loves). It is instead about shifting gears between the left brain and right brain.
The following solutions will shift your brain away from left-brain thinking and work towards a more experiential and holistic life. This shift will support you to shift gears and help reconnect with family, friends and yourself.
Tools for accessing the right brain
If you are headed back into the office in 2022, commuting can afford you a transition space from your potentially paranoid work head to a more global, loving and grateful home head. In that transition space, search for things that can move you to awe and wonder.
For example, listening to music or poetry that engenders a feeling of awe, or reading – especially poetry or writings that inspire you. Silence is also a critically important and underrated tool. Silence helps rest the left brain, which can often be a demanding chatterbox.
If you are continuing to work from home and have been struggling with transitioning between “work” and “home”, it can help to add a clearly defined transition activity such as walking or running in a natural space. Getting outside amongst trees or near the beach can bring a global sense of awe and wonder. If you have the luxury of a room of your own where you can be silent or read poetry or listen to inspiring music and words, use it.
Making a brain sandwich
To use your brain well, make a right-left-right sandwich of the day. Open with the right brain by doing something that engenders awe and close your workday the same way. It will likely change your feeling about yourself and those you love to something much more satisfying.
Our culture has drifted us towards preferencing the left brain at all times, which has literally left us as halfwits.
For those in the legal industry whose work demands overuse of their left brain, it’s even more vital to take the time to deliberately exercise your right brain as much as possible.
Anne Marie Collins is a psychologist, lawyer and the president of the Australian Association of Psychologists.