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Life balance - the key to harmony for lawyers

With 'active rest' now recommended, Matthew Kay discusses the art of balancing work with play.

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You may think that the term ‘active rest’, is something to do with exercise. Google ‘active rest’ and you are bombarded with various workout routines, making you feel a little guilty that you didn’t attend that gym class yesterday! However ‘active rest’ is the art of balancing doing nothing with working. In our 21st century lives at work, even grabbing a sandwich at lunchtime can sometimes be a difficult task. The rise of technology, although fantastic in many ways, has made it difficult for some to switch off. Active rest could be taking a walk, a yoga class or reading a book. These downtime moments are thought to help facilitate productivity and creativity.

Are we over-working?

It may not be a surprise but researchers have found that longer working hours don’t necessarily improve cognition and creativity, and that working without breaks can carry significant mental and physical health dangers. The BBC recently reported that ‘One meta-analysis found that long working hours increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 40%’. Another report discovered that people ‘who worked more than 11 hours a day were almost 2.5 times more likely to have a major depressive episode than those who worked seven to eight.’

How technology is helping

However, the modernisation of the workplace and the long hours this can bring isn’t all doom and gloom. New technology is already being used to prevent us working overtime – it was recently announced that a Japanese firm will start using a drone that can find their employees working overtime, and will blast music overhead until they leave. Of course, not a viable option for offices, but an interesting concept!

A different way of working 

But for lawyers, who have exciting but demanding careers, is more of a focus on life in the work / life balance possible? Many see the legal profession as a very traditional career route which entails long days. However, the profession is already harnessing technology to help ensure lawyers can not only work more flexibly, but also delegate tasks – we’ve seen some law firms begin using artificial intelligence to help support their work in the form of ‘ROSS’ which was coined the first robot lawyer in the world. 

Contract lawyering

Working from home, secondments and sabbaticals are being offered by law firms - proving that modernising the work / life balance of lawyers isn’t as hard as we think. Contract lawyering is also becoming an increasingly popular alternative career route. This kind of career path allows lawyers to work on assignments that suit them, their personalities, and their interests. Some lawyers contract because it helps them balance family life with work. Others want more time to enjoy their hobbies outside of the legal world, or even turn this hobby into a business. One of the main drivers for contract lawyers is that it allows greater flexibility and control over careers and the work / life balance. 

More flexibility or a greater variety of work?

Going freelance is of course not for everyone, and it’s important for lawyers to consider whether it’s right for them. Setting out what their aims are is a necessary step in figuring out whether this kind of legal career will suit. For example do they want more flexibility so they have more time to spend pursuing hobbies, seeing family or want a greater variety of legal work?  It will be interesting to see whether more lawyers will start opting for a more flexible approach to their legal work, and with freelancing becoming more popular it does seem as though it is heading that way. However, whether a lawyer in a firm, or a contractor, ‘active rest’ is an art we should all be perfecting. 

Matthew Kay is director at Vario for Pinsent Masons

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29 March 2018

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