ANALYSIS: disconnection problem? Drop off your phone after hours
Smartphones and other mobile devices may be the driving force behind lawyers’ inability to disconnect from work once they leave the office or turn off their laptops for the day, according to findings from a Bloomberg Law survey.
Any practicing attorney can testify to the demanding workloads and long days that come with the job – working outside the normal 9 to 5 hours is the norm in the legal profession.
Portable devices have paved the way for work to be done anywhere, anytime, but likely to the detriment of lawyers’ well-being.
Lawyers continue to struggle to disconnect
In Bloomberg Law‘s most recent version of its workload and hours survey, 64% of respondents (which included 621 in-house and law firm attorneys) reported an inability to disconnect from work when asked them what challenges they faced in the fourth quarter. This is a consistent trend since previous versions of the 2021 survey, with around two-thirds of respondents in each quarter reporting an inability to disconnect from work.
For the first time, respondents in the Q4 version of the survey were also asked to indicate their level of agreement with the following statement: “I don’t feel like I can disconnect from work because mobile devices means I’m always available.”
Not surprisingly, an alarming number of respondents (78%) agree or strongly agree with this statement. This large majority highlights the impact mobile phones have on work-life balance, disconnection from work, and 24-hour availability of a lawyer.
Not at their office, but always available
In fact, according to the survey, the majority of lawyers use their mobile devices for work purposes in each “non-work” scenario surveyed described in the table below. This includes during leisure trips (78%), while I am minding my personal business (88%), and at “other times when I am not at my desk” (89%) – this which is basically a catch-all that can be interpreted as “pretty much everything else”.
While it’s true that urgent matters arise, being available by phone 24/7 – something that has only gotten worse during the pandemic – can take its toll on lawyers, or any professional Besides. The survey results got me wondering when (and frankly if) lawyers take time off and if that time is all for themselves.
Tips for hanging up the phone
The question then becomes: what can lawyers do to better manage the time they spend working on their mobile devices after hours? While I recognize that businesses and corporations themselves may need to implement changes at the management level, for now, a few fairly simple individual suggestions come to mind.
- Have a separate work phone that you can put away after hours.
- Configure a mailbox which you can check first thing in the morning or during a specified period of time.
- Create a hotline for any urgent request and customer emergency.
- Define customer expectations early on and let them know when you’ll be online and/or plan to go offline for the day.
- Download a phone app which is designed to force you to unplug and stay off your phone (i.e. Offtime; Flipd; ClearLock).
- Set up autoresponders which include a specific block of time you have allocated to respond to messages.
- block time on your calendar for personal events, family time, appointments, or any other non-work related event.
It will be interesting to see whether the trend, exacerbated by the pandemic, of being available all the time via mobile phones will ease, now that Covid restrictions are loosening and lawyers are returning to the office – or whether work will continue to follow them home.
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