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Wellbeing at the Bar Blog: Nicholas Hill

Learning to be your best self at work and at home

When considering what to cover in this blog I cast my mind back to my previous piece, published in June last year. In some ways, not so long ago. In others, however, that seems quite some time past, particularly when considering what has been achieved by the WATB movement in that period, including the continued development of the website and its content, as well as monthly blogs written about what individuals, groups, circuits and chambers have been doing.

The IBC has continued to do its part in the last 12 months. Most notably has been the authorship, together with the Chancery Bar Association, of the Wellbeing Best Practice Policy. That policy is available to all sets, not just Chancery Bar Association members, and can be adopted wholly or in part by those sets wishing to make a commitment to wellbeing of their members and staff.

Second has been the donation made by the IBC to the WATB as a result of the charitable donations given at the IBC Summer Ball last year. I was delighted to have WATB as one of my chosen charities and to be able to make the donation. Even better are the conversations that I am currently having with the WATB leaders to have that donation put to good use for clerks, and I hope shortly to be able to announce how this will be used for all members to be able to receive practical assistance as part of their membership. Another excellent reason for clerks to be members of the IBC.

Finally has been my involvement, alongside a number of other clerks, as an author in the book “The Independent Bar; Insights into a Unique Business Model”, published in March this year. The fact that a book about managing the Bar contained a chapter on Wellbeing at all shows just how far we have come. My chapter focussed on Wellbeing and the work that has been done at the Bar by WATB and in particular the resources available on the WATB website.

In that chapter I spent a short time looking at the science behind the issue and the relationship between performance and pressure. By way of brief summary, whilst mental stimulation increases performance, there is a point at which stimulation becomes too high and performance suffers as a result, shown visually as follows:

As I go on to explain, the key for performance is to remain in the optimal functioning zone. To do so, however, and for an individual to work at their best, after periods of high pressure it is necessary to move back to a less pressured position before returning again to a pressured state. This can be shown visually as follows:

In my chapter I explain that this movement can be achieved by, as an example, ensuring that a barrister has some down time following one trial before commencing the next, or allowing a member of staff who has been working on a large project some time off on its completion.

Since writing that chapter I have also been considering how an individual could achieve motion within the optimal functioning zone on a micro, as well as macro, level. That led me to think about ways that we can create that space and movement for ourselves on a daily basis. In doing so, I considered a blog by American mental health clinician, Teyhou Smyth. In it she refers to shifting identities between your “work self” to your “home self” and gives examples of the benefits and ways that you can signpost to yourself, and others, that you are shifting from work to home ‘mode’.  It resonated with me that we are often different people in and out of work. If your home-self is one who finds it easier to relax or think about things other than work, then making a conscious effort to put yourself in that place is going to be beneficial in releasing pressure and keep moving within the optimal functioning zone.

The real benefit comes by combining this with other practical ways of creating space whilst running your practice or preferred method of working. For example, some people like to acknowledge an email out of hours, even if not to deal with it. One way to do this is to set an out of office reply which will confirm safe receipt and inform the sender that you will respond to them the following day, thereby avoiding the need constantly to check for messages. Now add to this that you have consciously moved from your work-self to your home-self once you have left chambers for the day and it becomes a reality to create a space where you can be free from work and be yourself – one the crucial drivers of wellbeing.

Nick has been a barristers’ clerk for over 30 years and a senior clerk since 1999, he joined 3 New Square as Senior Clerk in July 2012. In addition to his chambers role, Nick is the Chairman of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC), his 3-year term started in March 2016. Nick has a particular interest in mental health, has been a member of the Wellbeing at the Bar working group since its inception and is a regular speaker on the topic.

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