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Suffering Tech-Fuzz? A Middle Temple Survive & Thrive – Covid-19 Wellbeing Special (June 2020)

The Survive and Thrive Programme was set up in 2016 to provide events for members of the Inn and cover topics which go beyond their practice at the Bar. We aim to give our members skills which will assist them both at the Bar and beyond. Our sessions have covered optimising memory, public speaking (out of court), people management and using social media. Now in its fifth year, the programme has had to adapt to the pandemic, moving to online sessions, rather than in-person, and finding topics which address the new challenges and concerns being faced by our members. Our Special Covid-19 program features three sessions covering wellbeing, speaking to camera and practice management.

The first of these sessions, focusing on wellbeing, was held on the Thursday 18 June 2020 and featured a conversation with Rachel Spearing, Co-Founder of Wellbeing at the Bar and Vicki Wilson, current Chair of Wellbeing at the Bar, who discussed their own experiences and the challenges affecting the profession during lockdown – from balancing conducting hearings with childcare, to the loss of the collegiate encounters we’re used to in court robing and waiting rooms.

The Zoom audience participated avidly in asking questions and sharing their own experiences during the discussion with perspectives shared by a wide range of practitioners (from pupils to the Judiciary), providing thoughtful sharing on the impact of the Pandemic and strategies for managing them.

The headline issues discussed, resources and information shared are summarised below. We hope they will be of use both to for those who attended, and for those who missed out.

Rachel spoke of three issues, maintaining your professional identity in lockdown; being ‘zoomed out’; and managing worry and anxiety.

Maintaining your professional ID in lockdown

‘Your Mother is not at home!’ considering the impact to Barristers and carers and the challenges experiences working and conducting court business from home. Issues discussed included:

  • Staying in role
  • Managing work boundaries
  • Controlling the perfectionist

Strategies:

  • Get dressed & set your goals. See the article below.
  • Carve out ‘your’ space – from Bedroom to Courtroom (the Door Notice is vital if managing family when you’re having a hearing)
  • The working from home mantra for perfectionists! – writing a list, setting the time to undertake the task and telling yourself ‘this is good enough’. Mentoring and support from colleagues to review and check your decisions to minimise unhealthy rumination.

Being ‘Zoomed Out’ – screen fatigue!

Connecting to the point of burn out and being so hard wired you can’t switch off! Take your zoom temperature regularly to know how you are feeling and where you are functioning on the scale of green to red to assess the danger.

  • Evidence of increased fatigue is clinically and empirically researched.
  • Hyper focus – loss of nonverbal cues can cause us to feel more challenged during professional engagement with clients and court hearings.
  • Tech fuzz – brain overload, when the neural pathways which use body language cues, emotional regulation to read situations and multiple device operation to scramble or hijack the brain. This can lead to poor memory recall, difficulty thinking on your feet and processing information clearly.

Strategies:

  • Necessity and time management
  • Air Traffic Controllers Research – The 20/20/20 Exercise No more than 2 hours on screen. In highly challenging situations only 20 mins extreme activity, 20 min complete rest, 20 min nonhigh pressure processing to keep all parts of the neural functioning safe.
  • Digi Detox – Breaks v Mistakes – Think about health and safety in the workplace, include your home environment, your brain and your physical state. Sitting for long periods can impact your muscular skeletal structures and impact your health and functioning.

Anxiety & Worry

Natural human behaviour leads us to be ‘hard wired’ for risk. The current pandemic situation may have created states of alert and extreme worry due to the professional or personal circumstances experiences. Being alive to what our current state is, and processing that healthily is key to managing the worry and anxiety issues. Some of the issues discussed were:

  • Uncertainty & loss of structure of our working
  • Fear with Covid to us and loved ones we are shielding
  • Interference with practice and return to work worries

Strategies:

  • Find Facts – connect with SBA, Bar Council, Inns.
  • Plan & Accept
  • Exercise gratitude & self-care more
  • Talk to those around you in Chambers and outside work for support.
  • Use the Assistance Program and schemes available to support through crisis.
  • Vicki spoke about financial pressures, transitioning from work to home and physically returning to court.

Financial Pressure

Obvious that there has been a huge negative financial impact for members of the Bar.

Not going to pretend it’s easy but there are options available:

  • The Inns/BBA special Covid fund for barristers who are in emergency need.
  • Each Inn provides hardship funds for those not eligible under BBA, including students and pupils e.g. the Middle Temple Hardship Fund.
  • HMRC has set up a dedicated helpline for those in financial distress.
  • Can defer your VAT payment due between 20 March and 30 June 2020 to 31 March 2021.
  • Can delay making your self-assessment payment due on 31 July 2020 until 31 January 2021.
  • If eligible can claim a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
  • Can take a three-month mortgage holiday.
  • May be eligible for assistance under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
  • May be eligible for assistance under the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

The transition from remote working to physically returning to court

  • It’s actually very daunting when you’ve been at home for ages.
  • Like going back to work after Christmas.
  • You have been in your bubble and it’s not as simple as just picking up ordinary life where you left off.
  • Added anxiety of the risk element.

Strategies:

  • If you are shielding or vulnerable in some other way, talk to a trusted person about your difficulties. Don’t go back if it’s unsafe for you.
  • Try to plan the logistics as much as possible: how you’ll get there.
  • Take bottled water with you: there won’t be any at court.
  • If possible, speak to someone who has already returned to get a sense of the layout of the courtroom and what happens from the moment you step in the court building.
  • Organisations like the FLBA have sent members to do a walk-through some of the main courts and write up their experiences: see if there is a description for the court you are going to attend.
  • Think about ways to take instructions while in court that do not require you to get too close to the client.

Other points discussed by the participants were:

  • Lockdown exhaustion.
  • Hearings effectively taking place in our homes, which feels like a real intrusion.
  • Managing pupils who are struggling in their second six.
  • Aiding the competency statement for pupils, exercises and support colleagues can give.
  • Decisions impacting junior tenants or tenancy for pupils.
  • Other financial issues – deferment of VAT ending 30 June so taking care where the VAT quarter straddles.
  • Changing our culture to remove stigma, have the conversation with colleagues and signpost to get support for challenges to mental health.

Michael Harwood hosted the event, with Karen Reid facilitating the technology sharing valuable insights and resources to support the Young Bar. In addition to being a YBC Rep, Michael is also the Wellbeing Rep and encouraged use of pupillage support confidential services. Karen Reid is Chair of Middle Temple Hall Committee and member of The Survive and Thrive Programme Steering Group.

Resources

Financial

Email Queries to Sam Mercer:
equality@barcouncil.org