Post lockdown in Aotearoa New Zealand and a tsunami of work has hit family lawyers.
Enquiries are up, clients are anxious to progress matters and the Courts are determinedly “catching up”. The latter is perhaps the most challenging for family lawyers because it is the area that we have least control over.
Many lawyers are catching up on interviews and child visits that they weren’t able to appropriately conduct during lockdown. Court imposed directions and deadlines are filling our inboxes. If you practice in my region, Family Courts in three different parts of the area are often running simultaneously, meaning counsel are having to somehow be in three different courts at once. “Get an agent” is the oft heard response to this problem. You had already thought of that, only to find everyone else is also fruitlessly searching for an agent. Perhaps you are also looking at your diary, despairing about how you will get all your Lawyer for Child reports filed that the Court wants within the next two weeks.
While we want our clients and their families to have their Family Court issues progressed as quickly as possible and feel duty bound to do “our bit”, the Court’s current efforts can leave us quickly feeling overwhelmed and worn out. At these times, it is easy to slip into sacrificing our sleep and wellbeing practices. Our health gets neglected. Our families too. We face the tsunami of work having already had our own brains triggered into “fight or flight” by the pandemic and lockdown. Our brains easily tire at the overwhelming stimuli of re-entering the world from the relative quiet of lockdown.
We have an obligation to ensure we don’t take on more work than we can appropriately service. This, however, is a tsunami of work we could not have predicted months ago when we made our decisions about accepting new cases based on our usual flow of work. So, what do we do?
I have witnessed a very small number of colleagues who seem to have been blessed with the “water off a duck’s back” gene. They do what they can in their own sweet time and don’t sweat that they can’t meet every expectation. The trouble is they can appear a bit too relaxed and tardy. Perhaps you will do as I have done in the past and simply suck it up and work yourself to the bone, feeling a keen sense of duty to swim ahead of the tsunami, exhausting yourself in the process. Or, you could choose to do as I have been forced to do, and float through this tsunami.
A back and pelvis injury at the beginning of Level 2 has forced me to slow right down. In the early days, we're talking glacial pace! Clearly, I’ve ignored the quieter “slow down” messages sent my way previously so I’ve been sent a louder message I can’t ignore. For someone who is a do-er, this has been a painful experience in more than just the physical sense. I have had no choice but to float along the current tsunami, unable to do more than that. You don’t need an injury to make the choice to float though. Throughout, my floating tools have been:
Acceptance – it is what it is. I can’t change either the fact of the injury or the tsunami. I can’t fight them either. All I can do is accept them and focus my energies on recovery and doing what I can while caring about my wellbeing. Float I must. To do anything else will spell futility, tears, and the short and long term effects of exhaustion and stress. The same is true even without an injury in the mix.
Gratitude – I’ve blogged before about how wrong was the cynic in me who cringed at the idea of a daily gratitude practice. While we are overwhelmed with work, it very much helps our mindsets to remind ourselves “Quality problem!” and give gratitude that…
…we are able to return to greater normalcy in our daily work when many of our colleagues around the world cannot.
…we have work to return to and we have the reliability of income when so many of our neighbours face redundancy, pay cuts and uncertainty.
…we can be of service when others who would love to be back at work, contributing their talents, cannot be.
Adaptation – I have long been heard to say aloud, “adapt or die…adapt or die…adapt or die…” when confronted with a challenge. Currently, this has meant for me practical adaptations such as getting used to standing all the time to work (I can’t sit) and emotional ones such as being vulnerable to being less on-my-game in front of colleagues and clients. As we face the work tsunami, we can adapt by finding “workarounds” to ease the load. Perhaps you avoid timetable clashes by organising to have a colleague routinely do all your appearances and their own in one court while you do theirs and yours in another. Maybe you do as much as possible by Zoom and from home to cut out time spent travelling. Perhaps you embrace batching (including creating a ‘leave-until-post-tsunami’ batch)…
Taking breaks – I know, I know, like you have time to take a break! It seems counter intuitive to take an afternoon or a weekend off or take breaks during the day when there is so much work to get through. Rather then pushing through, I’ve had to accept there are some days that are uber-productive, some where I all I can do is curl up with Bravo on and a lot of days in-between. Surprise! By listening to my energy levels and actually honouring them, I am actually getting more done than I imagined I would and my billables haven’t gone down.
Giving others the gift of giving – Whoever coined the phrase “misery loves company” must’ve known a group of family lawyers. We can be world class competitors in the misery Olympics. This isn’t to say we are a bunch of whinging, negative nay-sayers. This sharing serves as more than just a collective moan-fest. It helps us access the comfort found in seeing that we are not alone in our experience and in our moral support of one another. To float the tsunami, I have learned I need to take an uncomfortable step further. I have had to allow others to give me help.
I love to give help. I genuinely believe that being able to give help is a gift in itself. Rather than being a helper, I have had to become a helpee. Sharing my vulnerability at this time with friends, family, clients and colleagues has meant being open to help that is offered and to ask for it when it isn’t. I am late to the party but it turns out I am not alone in enjoying helping others. We can each only float this tsunami if we give our help to others but also give others the gift of accepting, and seeking, their help.
It’s OK to float – Why have I so madly been ‘doing’ in the past? What was I so scared would happen if I did less or, heaven forbid, did nothing? The sky has NOT fallen on my head because I haven’t been madly churning through work and ‘doing’. Giving ourselves permission to float doesn’t mean we will drown in the tsunami. Trying to swim ahead of it almost certainly will. This blog is late because I chose to listen to what I needed yesterday. That is OK. One didn’t come out last week because I had to cull my to-do list. That is OK. My clients are waiting a little longer for some things. That is OK. In floating, I have had the wonderful experience of others stepping up when I wasn't expecting it.
I’m off now. My son has wandered in and asked if we can go lie down together this afternoon with a book. The tsunami will still be rolling tomorrow but I will face it refreshed and ready to float.
What are you doing to survive (or thrive) the current work demands? I'd love to hear your thoughts over in The Law Lighthouse Group's private Facebook page.