No we are not joking.
It is a “Holly Jolly Christmas” (the best time of the year) and despite a very strange year, most companies are starting to slow down. It seems a little ironic considering the state of things – the slowing down bit. But everyone needs some actual time off (not pretend time off because we are in lockdown and are not allowed to go anywhere) – away from the immense stress we have all been under – to clear our heads, get our minds and bodies back on track and get ourselves ready to tackle what 2021 has to offer. Whatever that may be….
But lawyers are unfortunately notorious for their – “work hard, play hard” mentality (or as Harrison Barnes would unfortunately say – work hard and just carry on working hard) as well as their “keep quiet and get on with it” mentality. Neither of which is correct or sustainable. Something, Frieda Levycky, Founder of Braving Boundaries is working hard to rid law firms and companies of – “institutionalised and archaic practices that no longer serve the industry”.
The long hours and pressure of always being on call for clients can wear lawyers out completely. And this can, in turn, lead to total mental exhaustion and often time’s mental breakdown. And 2020 is no exception. It is probably even more critical to get that much needed rest now more than ever. It is no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown (worldwide) has taken the mental health of lawyers and law firm staff—an already precarious thing—and placed it in a much more perilous position.
And as a demographic, lawyers are not known for their ability to relax and have fun. The opposite is far more accurate (just look above). But it is not without cause – the fact that lawyers work some of the longest hours out of any other profession (bar the medical profession, especially in 2020) together with the uncertainty around this year as to – whether there would still be work, whether they would still be able to bill for work, , whether their clients would be able to pay for work undertaken, the backlogs at courts which were closed for months, coupled with the normal stresses of just being a lawyer like staggering caseloads, demanding clients, staffing shortages, and a myriad of other case duties. It is enough to drive any legal professional crazy. And these issues may account for why many lawyers rarely if ever, go on holiday.
But, this is not the way things should be. Just like every other profession, lawyers are entitled to their own rest and relaxation – to some much needed time off. Even in 2020. Going on holiday is not only good for your mental and emotional wellbeing, it is also likely to make you more productive once you get back to the office.
Being more productive (after some rest) is a good thing. And contrary to popular belief created by some unfortunate articles, is not an indication of your commitment to your role as a legal professional nor to your commitment to the firm you practice for.
Leave affects mental health issues amongst lawyers
Skipping holidays (especially during stressful years) can be a set-up for anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and burnout. And it is plain to see why.
In an article from Braving Boundaries titled The legal sector has a very real mental health problem, it was highlighted that the American Bar Association together with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in a study of attorneys revealed that of the attorneys surveyed – “28% reported experiencing symptoms of depression, 19% reported symptoms of anxiety, 23% experienced symptoms of stress and 21% qualified as problem drinkers”.
And these issues of depression, anxiety and problem drinking are only made worse by not taking a break. In fact, in a 2017 report from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being they stated that “To be a good lawyer, one has to be a healthy lawyer” and they urged law firms to adopt clear policies encouraging lawyers to take vacations.
Getting Serious About Holidays
The benefits of increased lawyer well-being are compelling and the cost of lawyer impairment are too great to ignore.
“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” — Eleanor Brown
Law firms are starting to recognise that when lawyers don’t take leave, their use of sick time increases and their productivity decreases. Law firms are beginning to think of vacations as a type of periodic maintenance. Which is true.
From the National Task Force on Well Being, the following was set out –
“Lawyers must have downtime to recover from work-related stress. People who do not fully recover are at an increased risk over time for depressive symptoms, exhaustion, and burnout. By contrast, people who feel recovered report greater work engagement, job performance, willingness to help others at work, and ability to handle job demands”.
A foregone conclusion one might say?
That said – LET’S GO ON HOLIDAY! YAAAAAY!!!
Now that we have (undoubtedly) established the fact that legal professionals must go on leave, let’s discuss how to do that. Because the stress for some lawyers of letting go of the reigns (even for a walk on the beach), may be too much to handle. And that should really not be the case!
You can enjoy a stress and guilt free holiday! It is actually entirely possible and even easy – you just need to do some planning….
Plan ahead, like way ahead
Planning ahead is absolutely vital and whilst it is difficult to predict schedules at the best of times, managing calendars and teams can be simply and effectively done if it is planned a couple of months in advance. It makes obvious sense. Also try and find a time of the year that is quiet, taking advantage of the fact that most of your clients will be on holiday as well. That way you can try mitigate any major catastrophic legal event and reduce the likelihood that urgent matters will arise in your absence, especially if your client is having some much needed down time too.
December is a great time for this in South Africa!
Planning ahead of time will also enable you to assess your financial situation and help you save money for those sunny days. Remember, for the sole practitioner it is crucial that their financial affairs are up to date and planned for, so money troubles (and stresses) do not creep up while on holiday. Spend what you know you saved for your time off. No more. Planning for this (ahead of time) is therefore crucial for a happy and stress free holiday.
Let Everyone Know
Once you’ve committed to going on holiday, it’s time to shout it from the rooftops. Give everyone you work with – be it client, colleague, boss, correspondent and opponent – as much advance notice as possible, even if your holiday is months away. Why is this so important? To avoid getting calls, emails and texts while you are away. Obviously. But good and advance communication is also key to prevent matters from proceeding in your absence and preventing important communications (that could have a significant impact on your case) from coming to your attention. Good advance communication will also reduce the possibility of having your plans derailed by a sudden influx of work – eeeek!
Have technology in place to support you
Having software that can support you when you are “out of office”, that can help you check in once a day (if you absolutely need to) and maintain remote contact (if necessary), to quickly assess or attend to urgent work, assign any new tasks, record billable hours or whatever else that may be pressing, before going back to enjoy the beach and your Piña colada, is not only a necessity nowadays but is also critical. Being able to work remotely, even when on holiday is definitely do-able and, with our online society, it is more possible now than it has ever been.
Despite being able to remain connected and work from wherever you are, we encourage you to –
Turn on your “Out of office” Dude!
And then, once settled into your hotel room, it’s time to do what you went there to do – and that should be RELAX TO THE MAX. Whatever has featured on your holiday to-do list – checking out Table Mountain, lounging on the beach or enjoying your sundowner game-drive, that should be your priority – not emails or the thousands of “to-do’s” that you feel an urge to attend to whenever you have a free moment or some free WiFi. Relax. Commit to doing pretty much anything that is not work. Even if that is absolutely nothing.
And if a staycation is on the cards (which most of us are looking forward to in 2020) – Netflix and Chill is still an amazing and viable non-work option. Do it.
Leave your phone and laptop in the hotel room (or in a cupboard if you are at home) and honestly live in the moment. You deserve this much needed time off!
And remember, if you have planned ahead and have the technology to support you, there will be nothing for you to worry about.
Breathe in. Breathe out. And relax!
A note from AJS
Despite 2020 being a difficult and trying time, at AJS we are sincerely grateful to our clients and to our readers for their continued business and support. Without you, AJS would not exist.
We wish you all a very Happy and Healthy Festive Season and all the very best for the New Year. May 2021 be prosperous, full of good health and of course, good news!
Stay Safe and enjoy your time off!
”Have a holly, jolly Christmas
It’s the best time of the year
I don’t know if there’ll be snow
But have a cup of cheer”
Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS