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Back to business as usual?

2021 was another year that we won’t forget, and not just because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was another mammoth year for the army of young and early career lawyers who were adjusting to being back in the office and reconnecting with reality. And while we said goodbye to those buzzwords, ‘pivot’ and ‘unprecedented times’, we certainly welcomed the year with more waves of uncertainty and changes in our everyday routines.

I found out the other day that some are no longer classifying COVID-19 as a ‘force majeure event’ under contracts. Because, allegedly, the pandemic is now our normal, everyday life. This begs the question, are we even allowed to rely on COVID-19 as a reason for struggling, lacking motivation, underperforming, or not hitting our monthly billing expectations? Is it just me, or are we actually forgetting about the pandemic’s significant impact on our lives, work, routines, and mental health? 

We all know that the legal profession has its challenges and exposes lawyers to high-pressured environments. We also know that lawyers experience higher levels of depression and anxiety than most other professions. So, while we are all sliding back into our everyday routines with the same environment and level of expectations, are we turning a blind eye to the continued impact the pandemic has on each of our lives?

We are all struggling with the ongoing effects of COVID-19, be those feelings of overwhelm, isolation, languishing, burnout or frustration. Sitting with such feelings for a prolonged period would be challenging for anyone, any age or profession. I challenge the position that COVID-19 isn’t a justifiable reason for struggling, underperforming, or for not wanting to get out of bed – because it should be, and it’s a valid reason.

The pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon, so instead of turning a blind eye to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, we should focus on creating and fostering environments where our colleagues and friends within the profession can openly talk about their struggles without fear of judgement or reprisal. 

Dealing with the pandemic on top of an already full and busy plate as a lawyer only increases the risks of developing a mental health illness or worsening an existing condition. So, to each lawyer who continues to show up each day despite these struggles, it’s an incredible achievement and something that isn’t (in my opinion) rewarded very often. So, my hats off to you.

As you’re winding down to the end of the year, I believe it’s a timely reminder to prioritise reflection on the mammoth year and check in to see if you need some extra support. QLS offers members a free LawCare counselling service. The Law Council of Australia has also established an online portal for mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession, highlighting various resources and assistance services currently available around the country.

If you are currently in distress, you can seek help immediately by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Simon Playford is a commercial lawyer at Law Squared, current member of the QLS Future Leaders Committee and chair of the Toowoomba headspace Consortium.

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