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Health and wellbeing: Harnessing resilience skills

Health and wellbeing: Harnessing  resilience skills

By Menoz Bowler

COVID-19 Health Wellbeing 

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Working from home during COVID-19 is no easy task for many lawyers, especially those with children at home. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Tips
  • Speak about your feelings and experiences. We should not ignore the difficult times.
  • Anticipating the worst case scenario is useful for a lawyer but pessimism is an obstacle to resilience.
  • Set realistic expectations and practise self-compassion.

There is no manual for how to practise criminal law, or how to manage the day to day stresses, how to manage your clients, their family or their friends. I will not mention the vicarious trauma either or the horrendous stories we hear on an almost daily basis. As a criminal lawyer you develop resilience, an ability to compartmentalise, be rational and let go at the end of the day. 

In my first few years in practice, I realised that representing those charged with a criminal offence meant I was more than just a mouthpiece for my client. With multifaceted problems, clients not only require a lawyer, but a social worker, financial counsellor and life coach as well – often all at once. These are real life practical and social considerations which I was not taught how to address at law school. I had to learn how to identify mental health problems, signs of domestic violence, alcohol and drug addictions.

More troubling, during COVID-19, many support services have closed or are running at a dangerously reduced capacity. The clients are suffering, homeless and cannot access the services they need.

A great deal of multitasking goes on behind the scenes. I do my role, answer phone calls, send and reply to endless emails, scan and file documents, make virtual court appearances – all with children in the background, under the desk or in the next room. 

It is important we acknowledge working from home during COVID-19 is no easy task. Every experience and story counts. I encourage others to speak about their feelings and experiences. We should not ignore the difficult times, as this will be our way of life for the foreseeable future. We need to accept that it will, in part, be isolating and difficult. 

To get through my day as a criminal lawyer ordinarily I rely heavily on my colleagues, debriefing and catching up. I regard them as a source of energy. Instead of catching up for coffee, I now call colleagues, and otherwise distract myself with Netflix and spending time with my husband and children. 

A typical working day involves my husband and I being woken by the new addition to the family, Winston, who is 10kgs of pure gorgeous puppy love, followed by our children Suri, 5, and Andrew, 4. Andrew has an extra special touch – he was born blind. 

Life, particularly working life, is challenging with Andrew but I have had a lot of help from the women in my mother’s group and those who are professional colleagues. I have made sure to surround myself with supportive people. So much so, that when the time was right a few years ago I was able to sit the LIV criminal law specialisation accreditation exam. My experience with my son has helped develop my resilience and figure out alternatives when things do not go as planned. Successfully navigating this challenge gave me my template to manage future adversity; in fact, not experiencing any hardship lessens or undermines your resilience, I believe.

For lawyers, pessimism is an obstacle to resilience. I was taught in law school to always look for what could go wrong, or the worst case scenario. That may be good lawyering, but this pessimistic view can eventually colour your outlook on life. Constantly looking for the negative can eat away at you. 

Perfectionism is another obstacle to resilience. It is important to understand the difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism. Excellence puts you at the top of your class. Perfection is an ideal that can never be achieved, certainly not out in the world and definitely not in the practice of law. The takeaway message is try not to self-blame. It will take a toll on your physical and mental health.

Gratitude is important in overcoming pessimism. Being grateful has helped me to be happier about the future. I am not as hard on myself when plans get derailed by things out of my control. I have learned to accept things I cannot change. Working from home I have learned how to manage my time to set realistic expectations, practise self-compassion and avoid putting too much pressure on myself.

I have made my wellbeing a priority. Self-care may seem hard right now, but making sure I’m getting enough sleep has helped me feel calmer, reinvigorated, and better equipped to manage this demanding chapter. 

I watch the time I spend on my phone and, in particular, what I look at on social media. While it has helped me stay connected, I try not to compare myself with others as it often leads to pointless pressure.

Last, I keep in mind that this time will pass. Normal life will return. ■


Menoz Bowler is an LIV accredited specialist in criminal law. 


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