For the past two years or so we have all been encouraged to switch off our computers, ignore ringing mobile phones to better manage our work life balance, in short, to reduce the stress and potential burnout from overwork.
What a difference a month makes. In the time it takes to timetable stage 1 to 2 in criminal proceedings, or a Dispute Resolution Appointment from a first hearing in private family proceedings, we have been effectively furloughed without the 80% of salary and seen a complete halt to criminal jury trials.
We have been told to stay at home unless it is ‘absolutely necessary’ to journey past the front door, and we have been separated from friends and wider family without an end date. Our working lives have been decimated despite sterling efforts made to master new technology. Even when we dial into hearings we are constrained from chatting to colleagues. For those who look forward to going to work, meeting up with friends and colleagues but are now in ‘lockdown’, missing out on the day to day contact and camaraderie that goes with the nature of our very sociable profession, it must be unsettling and potentially professionally lonely. This all leads in the direction of what could be termed ‘professional isolation’.
I also can’t help but wonder what very junior barristers or those who have just moved to a different chambers (or firm) and haven’t yet made the connections to rely on and may not feel able to express that they are unsettled or lonely, are feeling.
We should also spare a thought for our clerks who have established a well-oiled team with the banter that goes with the territory and the ability to holla across the room for someone else to take up the slack at lunchtime etc, but who are now separated from each other and working from home. This must cause communication hurdles and stress related to being unable to problem solve, never before faced in the profession.
This lockdown period is unprecedented and has implications for our collective mental and financial health. It is important now more than ever to keep connected. Whether it’s an external professional organisation such as WICL (Women in Criminal Law) https://www.womenincriminallaw.com who have organised a session on Wednesday 15th April 2020 dedicated to Wellness and ‘Resilience, Routine and Relationships’ or in-house Zoom training or contacting junior members of chambers to offer support, make the effort, it’ll be personally and professionally worth it.
Perhaps what is needed is a re-focussing of the strong sense of duty and ability to care for our client’s needs, and a channelling of those energies into greater consideration for each other, particularly those who might be struggling.
The Inns have just issued a press release which states they are ‘working on a package of measures to assist those in need’, including:
- Participation in, and an immediate contribution towards, an emergency fund that is imminently being launched by the Barristers’ Benevolent Association ('BBA') to distribute funds to barristers in urgent need; and
- Hardship funds provided by each Inn, designed primarily to assist pupils and other junior barristers who are not eligible for either the Government assistance for the self-employed or for help from the BBA.
Further information can be found from the individual Inns and BBA websites:
- The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple –www.middletemple.org.uk
- The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple – www.innertemple.org.uk
- The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn – www.lincolnsinn.org.uk
- The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn – www.graysinn.org.uk
- The Barrister’s Benevolent Association – www.the-bba.com
I look forward to seeing you all again at court soon. In the meantime, stay safe and well.
ELISE JEREMIAH © 2020
33 BEDFORD ROW
NOTICE: This article is provided free of charge for information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of Chambers or by Chambers as a whole.