By Mag. Andrew Bloch, Hamilton Superior Court
As I canvassed judicial officers and family law practitioners for ideas for articles, I received many suggestions, ranging from COVID-19 topics, Zoom and WebEx and my favorite: “Kit Kats are better than Reese’s. Prove me wrong.” While it was tempting to write about candy (or cheesecake, for that matter), Reese’s are clearly superior to Kit Kats.
Then it hit me. We, as lawyers, are tired. There is no denying it. We are tired physically, mentally and emotionally. Feb. 2020 through Feb. 2021 has been a long ten years for all of us. We have seen the way we practice change. The way we interact with others has changed. All of us continue to hang on the promise that things will eventually get back to normal. One way to combat our fatigue during this time: a digital detox.
Even before the pandemic, we all probably needed a digital detox. Everything was on-screen, digital and available all the time. The pandemic has made it worse. Two years ago, you might have had a hearing in Marion County at 9 a.m. and a hearing in Hendricks County at 1 p.m., and that was your day. You could only drive so fast between the two places. Sure, maybe you made some phone calls and sent some emails on the way there and back, but that was your billable and workable day. In the era of virtual hearings, you can do one hearing at 9 a.m. in Marion County, one hearing at 10 a.m. in Johnson County, one hearing at 11 a.m. in Hamilton County and finish your day with a half-day setting in Morgan County. I am tired just typing that schedule. On top of it, many are doing this schedule while helping kids with e-learning or caring for a loved one. Never mind the clients or lawyers that expect an immediate response via call, email, or text message at all hours of the day.
We have a problem with technology, whether we realize it, acknowledge it, or refuse to admit it. So, what we can we do as lawyers? Create boundaries for ourselves, clients, staff and whoever else needs one. Some suggestions (though hardly exhaustive):
- Set times during the day when you will not deal with work issues, no matter what. When I was a practitioner, I did not schedule appointments or court from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. This was my time to go to lunch or run errands that were not work related. I guarded that time on my calendar from anyone wanting to do something during that time that I did not want to do. Most days I was successful. A few days a month, something would come up. Your dedicated time can be any time that works for you.
- Do not sleep with your cell phone on or set it so only approved contacts can contact you after certain hours. Some suggest keeping cell phones out of your bedroom, but I know several people who also use them as an alarm clock.
- Turn off notifications from social media and other apps. I have colleagues that say to turn off social media, but that is another blog post. I even turned the notifications off on my work email. I could not relax at night seeing that little red number above the envelope on my iPhone. One day, I turned it off and it was a game changer. There is very little you can do for your clients after the courts close. But you can spend the entire night pulled into their drama. In my opinion, taking on the drama of your client is not good customer service. You cannot remain objective and give good legal advice in most instances.
- Set reasonable expectations with your clients and staff about when you will respond to them. Once you set your boundaries, communicate those boundaries and enforce them. If you must check emails at night, set up your outbox to send the emails the next morning so that you do not engage in a back and forth with your client or opposing counsel. Once you email or text a client inside those boundaries, you have invited them in to stay.
- Be honest with court staff and judges about your schedule. Once in a while, you may be able to do five hearings in one day via Zoom. That cannot become your daily routine. It is not good for your clients or yourself. As we prepare to go back to a mixture of in person and remote hearings, you can only be in so many places at once. You can only prepare for so many cases at once. It is okay to admit that fact. I can only hear so many cases per day anyway.
- Finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed, you are allowed to feel that way. Being overwhelmed is a legitimate feeling. Fortunately, we have many resources available to us through the Judge’s and Lawyer’s Assistance Program (JLAP). JLAP is not just for lawyers who have substance abuse issues. Thirty-one percent of JLAP’s calls involve some aspect of mental health. Most importantly, the process is confidential pursuant to Rule 31 of the Indiana Rules of Admission to the Bar and Discipline of Attorneys. If you need to talk to someone at JLAP, the number is 317-833-0370. If you feel someone needs services from JLAP, please call. We owe it to your colleagues to help them. We would want the same from them in return.
Again, these are just some suggestions. The internet is full of many others. Some may work for you, others may not. But some boundaries, even one, is better than none, in my opinion. The past year has been isolating for all of us. I hope that you will continue to remain vigilant about yourself, your colleagues, your friends and your family. We will all be together soon. Until then, take care of yourselves.
If you would like to submit content or write an article for the Family Law Section, please email Kara Sikorski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to Family Law Section news here!