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The space in which we work can significantly impact our professional experience, especially for those just getting started in their careers who may be living in share houses.

For centuries humans have commuted to the office. In fact, it is thought the earliest workstations were designed by medieval monks who created quiet spaces designed for sedentary works.  By the 17th century professions that relied heavily on written records, lawyers included, created office-like buildings which differentiated work from home.

Henceforth, the idea of lawyers working in an office, albeit with an occasional work from home arrangement, was never questioned.  However, the current pandemic has changed that, and history may well remember this period as a turning point where home and office merged and revolutionised the way we structure our lives. However, prior to settling into a new normal there are still areas requiring attention, particularly for new lawyers embarking on their careers.  This includes optimising the work-home synergy and ensuring professional development opportunities are maintained in the hybrid working environment, both of which are addressed below.

The space in which we work can significantly impact our professional experience and has afforded many lawyers the opportunity to ditch their daily commute and work comfortably from their home office, or even tick off that bucket list dream of relocating away from the bustle of city life, whilst still maintaining a busy legal practice.  But what of recently qualified lawyers?  Take for instance the junior associate living in a shared house with other young professionals in a somewhat crowded environment originally designed for group living and leisure.  Not only are there issues of physical workspace, but also Wi-Fi, noise, confidentiality, and the capacity to switch off from work.  Or how about the graduate lawyer who lives alone, in isolation, at a time in their professional journey where networking and mentoring opportunities should be abound.

If you find yourself in any of these situations, you may not be able to change your home-work environment but you can focus on the variables that make a difference.  For instance, time-based tasks can be enormously impactful in the face of poor spatial arrangements and creating rituals to differentiate between work and leisure time is useful.  This could be in the form of self-care daily habits, for example an exercise routine just before or after work, placing your laptop and other work related ‘tools’ out of sight at the end of the workday, turning off work emails in the evening etc. These rituals won’t alleviate spatial concerns, but they do allow you to create a space in your mind between your working day and your leisure time.

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Frivolous as it may feel to take a break during a busy day, this short well-being investment can help you recharge and carry you through the rest of your day.

Finding ways to keep your mind and body focussed is another important aspect. Mindfulness, the practice of noticing how you feel and letting go of unwanted thoughts, is a good way to promote rest and recovery during a busy schedule.  For instance, listening to a short 5-minute meditation in between meetings can provide a great opportunity to switch off from one task as you move to the next, and there are an abundance of phone based apps to help you do this.  Furthermore, it is important to make up for lost ‘incidental’ interactions by proactively planning activities such as meeting a friend for a walk or coffee.  Frivolous as it may feel to take a break during a busy day, this short well-being investment can help you recharge and carry you through the rest of your day.

From a career perspective, two essential aspects to consider are consolidation of your craft and creating strong networks within your profession.  Finding ways to assertively incorporate both these aspects into your working schedule will not only benefit your professional growth, but will also impact the firm’s bottom line, so make a business case for any extra support that you require.

Create both formal and informal mentoring and coaching relationships, and if your quest is for in-person experiences be transparent about the challenges of working remotely as a new lawyer.  Network with other new lawyers by creating group learning and develop sessions with your peers, and seek out opportunities provided by the Law Society, and NSW Young Lawyers, to attend in-person events.

Be proactive in deciding when to attend the office by aligning your working days with the people you wish to develop relationships with, and seek informal learning opportunities, such as attending meetings with your senior managers as an observer/assistant.  In doing so arrange meetings in advance, as opportunities for in-person meetings are somewhat limited in the hybrid world.

Complex as it may feel, junior lawyers are at the forefront of exciting change and will be carrying the legal profession into the future. Decide how you want to shape this revolution of sorts.  What do you want tomorrow’s law firms to look like?  How would you like legal practices to evolve prior to passing the baton onto the next generation?