This week we welcome back guest writer Shirlene Armstrong to talk about starting out as a new lawyer and working from home in the age of COVID-19.
If someone told me that I would spend my first year in practice working from home for numerous weeks (potentially months), I would think they were trying to pull my leg. However, this is the reality that we are living in. I have been working from home for several weeks now due to the current health crisis. Personally, I am fortunate that I am able to work from home and continue to advocate for my clients. However, this is a new world for me (and I am sure it is for you as well). In an interesting turn of events, my bar prep period kind of prepared me for this. During that time, I had to find a balance between studying and my personal life in order to maintain my sanity. However, how do you find a work-play balance when you are stuck in your home for both? Here is a look into my life working from home as a first year associate.
The Current Health Crisis
As I am sure you have heard numerous times, there is currently a serious global pandemic. Specifically, this illness is a serious coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19. Since I am not a medical professional or a scientist, I am not going to try to explain the complexity of the ongoing health crisis. However, I will say that COVID-19 is very easily spread and should be taken seriously. For more detailed information, please check the CDC website and your state’s resources on COVID-19.
Start The Day: Morning Routine, Breakfast, and Waking Up
Like many attorneys in the US, I am working from home. While I still have plenty of work to do and am trying to stay as productive as I can, it is still an adjustment considering I am used to being in an office or court most of the day. I won’t lie to you and tell you I am still getting dressed in business attire and doing my make-up every day (or any day for that matter). However, I am trying to maintain some semblance of a “typical” routine. Usually this means getting up, showering, doing my skin care routine, getting dressed, and sometimes even making the bed. My fiance works from home in his normal capacity, so there definitely were some kinks we had to work out in terms of logistics. Now that we are used to this schedule, we normally wake-up together and have breakfast. After we feel awake, we go to our respective “offices” and get to work.
Starting the Work Day
I am a salaried attorney and do not have to worry about billables. Although my office is flexible in terms of specific hours each day, the attorneys typically work 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. with an hour “lunch break.” I have been trying to keep this same schedule as I work from home, however, I have been a bit flexible with myself (like sometimes I don’t take a lunch because I am in the middle of something or I needed to take a bit of a break so I worked a little late). Nonetheless, I start each day the same way: I log on, I check my emails and respond accordingly, make a to-do list for the day, and get started.
Although some dates have been pushed around, I still have deadlines and plenty of assignments. On one hand, this has been business as usual: I work on the tasks that are time sensitive and keep up on my cases. However, different courts have had different responses to the virus and its impact on cases. Some courts continue to conduct everything remotely and cases are scheduled to continue normally. Other courts are completely shut down and even filing documents has been difficult. Thus, following-up with clerks and courts has been a big part of my work-from-home adventures as well.
With everything going on, it is easy to forget that our clients are also worried about the pandemic and how it will impact their cases. Thus, it is important to maintain contact with clients and update them on how things are progressing (and changing). I spend a good portion of my day following-up with clients, responding to emails, and talking with opposing counsel. Keeping clients informed and maintaining good communication has been very important since I started working from home.
I am a very organized gal and have taken extra steps to make excel sheets and documents with information on my cases, even before this virus. Since everyone is working remotely, the need for being organized has heightened. It is so easy to have miscommunication between your support staff, fellow attorneys, or even clients because you cannot physically follow-up or check-in. It is also very easy to accidentally miss a deadline or important date. Thus, I have been trying my best to keep my inbox organized and stay on top of things.
End the Work Day
Although it can be difficult to put away the laptop and detach from work, it is important to do so in order to maintain some work-life balance. Thus, after I put in my usual 8 hours of work and do a final check of my email, I turn the computer off. Then we make dinner, relax a little bit (I’ve been playing a lot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons), and get ready for bed. Occasionally we have been trying to do some home project or organization effort, but we have also been allowing ourselves to decompress and grieve. It has been hard distinguishing between the different days and every day kind of feeds like Groundhog’s Day. However, I have been trying to keep work contained to M-F, 9-6. It has been difficult but I have been trying to make the best of working from home.
We Are In This Together
COVID-19 has affected everyone differently. What I have gone through during this trying time is likely different than what you have or are going through. Regardless, we can understand and support each other because we are in this together. Everyone’s life has been impacted by this novel virus and everyone is dealing with their own struggles because of it. I wish I had the ability to make everything better or make this pandemic go away. I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you when things can be “normal” again. Unfortunately, I can’t and that’s an overwhelming thought. However, what I can tell you is that it is okay. It is okay to feel upset, stressed, or panicked. It is okay to not be extremely productive. It is okay to organize your whole house. It is okay to put your nose to the grindstone and focus on work. It is okay to not be okay. In any case, please make sure you are taking care of yourself and get help (medically, mentally, etc) if you need it. I know this is a really tough time right now, this has honestly been one of the hardest times of my life for numerous reasons. Currently, my motto has been: focus on what you can control and look to the future with hope. We will get through this, we are strong, and things will get better.