Practicing law can, at times, be gruelling. It requires ambition, grit, and often long hours. Many lawyers have been looking forward to some time off over the summer, to get some much-needed downtime in which to relax, reset and reboot.
Returning to work after a nice long break can sometimes be a jolting transition. Tasks may have backed up during your absence, progress may have been put on hold until your return, problems may be waiting for you to deal with, and your email inbox will doubtless be full of important and unimportant messages. This all may cause a lot of anxiety at the start of your day.
It’s vital that all that time spent unwinding isn’t undone within moments, by returning to a stressful workplace. The start of autumn is often a time when many people refocus on their priorities, reinvigorated. But, to do so, their working environment must be conducive to productivity and efficiency, there should be a collaborative, collegiate culture, and the work-life balance needs to be right. There’s much lawyers can do as individuals to avoid overloading themselves and look after their own well-being, and there’s plenty the organisations they work for can do to help too.
Finding workday focus
One of the biggest difficulties people face when returning to work after an absence is knowing where to direct their energies first. There’s often a temptation to multi-task and try to do too many things at once, especially when several different people might be clamouring for your attention. However, scientific studies have shown that multi-tasking is not necessarily an effective way to work. According to neuroscientists at Stanford University, attempting to multi-task can create interference among networks in the brain, causing mistakes to be made as well as slowing down processing speeds.
Therefore, you’re likely to benefit greatly from adopting techniques designed to eliminate distractions and reduce unwanted stimuli, and make the most of the time you have dedicated to your work.
It’s also important to take scheduled breaks, for example, making space in your day to get lunch and go for a short walk or meditate. Some people also find intermittent deep breathing exercises and other mindfulness techniques helpful, while for others, cycling to the office or going to the gym after work can help them decompress and regain focus.
For working parents, juggling the back-to-school or nursery regime with their careers, having a supportive working culture around you is crucial. Having colleagues and managers who understand your situation and accommodate your schedule can make all the difference. Moreover, firms that offer flexibility when it comes to hours or location of work may have the edge when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. In fact, according to the Thomson Reuters Legal Department 2025 Series, half of Millennial lawyers say they would change jobs if it meant a better balance between their personal and professional lives.
Creating productive conditions
When it comes to working patterns, the Thomson Reuters 2023 State of the UK Legal Market report shows that hybrid working arrangements remain the norm, with 93% of in-house legal teams and 95% of UK law firms allowing staff to mix being in the office with working remotely. This is a far higher proportion than the global average. Hybrid working reduces the burden of commuting and gives lawyers greater flexibility in their working week to better manage their priorities at work and at home in a way that works for them and for the business.
As employers found out fast during the pandemic, to make this work, having the right technology in place is key – and that is still the case today. That might mean cloud solutions that make all the files and tools lawyers need, such as time entry and document management systems, accessible anytime, anywhere. It might mean collaboration platforms that connect colleagues and clients so they can communicate and work together seamlessly wherever they are from one secure portal. It could mean having powerful legal research capabilities at their fingertips, or automating tasks like contract management or document creation, saving lawyers time that could be better spent on higher-value tasks, or work more sensible ho hours and having more free time
Coming back after time off, having software that reminds you of deadlines or alerts you to upcoming events can prove invaluable. Having such solutions in place can also help those who are still in the office holding the fort while colleagues in their team are away. Not only will they be able to do their own work more efficiently, but it will also be easier to keep an eye on the matters they are overseeing in your absence, so they know what’s coming up and can find the files and information they need. When people are more stretched than normal covering the holiday period, this matters.
Dialling down the stress
Going on leave shouldn’t be a stressful experience either before you go or after you come back – for you or anyone else you work with. Pacing yourself, prioritising, being flexible, tapping into tech tools that make your job – and your life – easier, and focussing on your continued well-being will enable you to deliver for clients without burning yourself out. Organisations would do well to help staff put this into practice. Then you can feel easy about planning your next holiday.
Welcome back, and enjoy this new season.
Learn more about well-being in the legal industry.