LONDON (Within the Law) - Remote working has been a revelation during the pandemic. It has allowed solicitors to continue working and kept some firms above water. In the long term, it offers a way for people to achieve a better work-life balance. However, in the short term, the always-on culture can harm wellbeing. Now, new guidance gives lawyers the green light to switch off after six pm.
According to the guidance from the Criminal Bar Association, criminal barristers should not be obliged to read emails after six in the evening. It has taken this step to combat what it sees as unsustainable working practices. It covers lunch breaks, out of court working hours, emails and much more. Courts, says the guidance, should not sit for more than 15 hours at a time and it should rise for an hour between 1 pm and 2 pm.
“Lunch breaks,” it says, “should be used for lunch. The length of the lunchtime should be adjusted from one hour to accommodate any additional work required over that period so as to allow advocates sufficient time to break as well as complete such work.”
The guidance comes as the wellbeing of solicitors increasingly comes under the spotlight. According to a recent study, mental health is taking a hit during the lockdown as remote tools reduce human interaction with colleagues. The use of remote technology contributes to an always-on mentality in which people feel compelled to be at their desks late at night and early in the morning.
The CBA’s guidance is part of an attempt to maintain a separation between working time and leisure. It also says barristers should never be subject to verbal aggressions and that trials should not usually take place before 10 am or later than 4.30 pm.
Whether it has an impact remains to be seen. Lawyers are amongst the hardest working professionals. Being given the option of not reading emails will do little when the demands of caseloads and managing families often means they find themselves working late into the night.
The guidance is open for comment. From Monday 8th February all stakeholders will be able to give their input via a survey.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)