Thoughts From A Working-At-Home-Attorney & Mom
COVID-19 has changed our entire way of living and working. In fact, as I sit here writing this post, I have one child on my lap eating an ice cream sandwich, another playing his 800th hour of Fortnite for the day, and a third eating chocolate kisses in my bed. Instead of being at my stand-up desk in my quiet office on the 8th Floor overlooking beautiful Rapid City, I’m at home and my desk is covered in lesson plans from school, art projects, and empty coffee cups. I have been kicked off my computer throughout the day for my kids’ scheduled class Zoom meetings and required online videos. I have taught math, reading, and science, in between taking calls from clients, writing a brief, and responding to the Court. My kids seem to finally understand that I am not at home to play, but to teach and work. I’ve been up since 5:00 a.m. My first email went out at 6:00 a.m. I will likely log off tonight sometime after everyone is finally in bed.
But I’m not alone. Millions of other men and women are doing the exact same thing at this very moment. And that brings me great comfort. We are truly all in this together. We are forging new ground. So I offer you some quick tips that I have found helpful, hopefully you will too.
1. Work When you Can
I am a morning person and my kids sleep in. Therefore, I get up extra early and start working. I use the quiet of the morning to tackle big, important tasks – tasks I do not want to be interrupted while doing. I write briefs. I answer important and critical emails. When my kids get up, I take a couple hours to get them breakfast, do some homeschooling, and be a mom. If there are important calls to take or emails to answer, I take the call, I answer the email. I dedicate another work session work mid-morning and when my husband gets home from work in the evening. Find what times work best for you and your family. Perhaps it is in the evening. Perhaps it is on the weekend. Be flexible, but diligent. Your clients, employers, and staff are depending on you.
2. Set Boundaries
I am fortunate to have a home office. However, it is on the main floor and easily accessible to my kids. At times, I like the fact that I can be working and watching what my kids are doing at the kitchen table or in the living room. At other times, I wish they could not see me. After four weeks of being a stay-at-home mom, teacher, and lawyer, my kids seem to finally understand that when I am in the office, at the computer, or on the phone, I am not be interrupted – they have to pretend I’m at work. This was especially hard for my four-year old to understand. (She is the one currently sitting on my lap.)
Boundaries are also important with your clients. If your clients know you are at home and will answer emails and take calls at any time, clients will call you and expect you to answer at any time. Make it clear what your hours are at home.
3. Check in with Your Staff
I listened to a webinar the other day and an individual mentioned that he starts his day with a video-chat with his staff to maintain cohesion and to ensure that everyone is on task. This individual was in a state under lockdown and mentioned it was also a way to break the feelings of isolation. I think this is a fantastic idea. Check in with your staff. It does not have to be by video. Call. Email. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they need anything. We all need each other now more than ever. My staff is one of the major reasons I have not lost my mind during all of this time.
4. Be Accessible to and Upfront with Your Clients
Be accessible and upfront with your clients about your status. Assure them that even though you are working from home, you are here for them and are going to continue to offer them the very best services. On your voicemail, give them a number you can be reached at home. If you have the ability, have your calls forwarded from your office to your cell phone. In your email signature, put in language that you are working from home and all return communication needs to be through email or phone calls.
You should also be upfront with your clients about the status of their case. Discuss expected delays. How or what we can be doing during this time to continue to move the case forward. People appreciate information.
I have amazing clients and every client that has called during this time has likely heard my children in the background (despite my best efforts to hide from my kids or how fast I try to click the mute button). But by being upfront, and maintaining my professionalism, everyone has been more than understanding.
I hope this was helpful. I have to go referee an argument and help my kindergartner go over her sight words. Above all, know that you are not alone. Ask for help when you need it. Take care of yourself.