By Tai Lowry, Esq.
In this hybrid world, it’s challenging to set boundaries when the line between work and home is blurred. It’s especially hard in the legal profession, which is decidedly competitive and filled with high-achievers.
For rewarding professional results, it’s important to set boundaries for ourselves, our colleagues, and our clients. Here’s how:
Setting Boundaries for Yourself
The greatest pressure on your workday may be coming from you. Stop it.
- Respect your time. Stick to your work hours even from home. If you usually end your day at 6pm, then end your day at 6pm.
- Take your lunch break, even from home.
- Responding to email notifications is a hard-to-knock reflex. Disable notifications when you clock out.
- Taking time off? Give your email app time off too. Disable the notifications or delete the app. You can enable or download it when you return.
- Practice self-care during work by taking a short walk during lunch to clear your mind, and get away from the screen and the files.
- Don’t mix your personal and professional social media. If you want a boundary between your personal life and professional life, why blur them virtually? You might make an exception for a friendship you developed at work, but don’t feel compelled to share your personal social media handles with everyone you encounter professionally.
Setting Boundaries for Colleagues
Work is work and home is home. There are ways to politely convey this message.
- If a colleague contacts you after working hours, let them know you’ll respond the next business day. Or just always respond the next business day. They will learn that you are not on-call 24/7.
- If someone suggests a Zoom or phone meeting that’s too early or late, counter with a time within business hours. If need be, let them know you’re unavailable outside of business hours.
- Be transparent about why you are setting these boundaries.
- If managers are not respecting your boundaries, confide about it with trusted colleagues. If they have similar concerns, consider sharing your concerns with management collectively.
- Since your colleagues cannot “see” you working at home, openly communicate your work routine. Mentioning how you manage your time lets others know, indirectly, that you’re in fact busy even from your home office.
- When a colleague requests a video call with you while you’re in the middle of a project, avoid hopping on the call and disrupting your workflow. Instead, agree on a day and time and create an event synced to your calendar.
- If you are available when a colleague requests a video call, ask to talk in 15 minutes so you can wrap up your project. This will negate the expectation that you’ll drop everything whenever someone needs your time.
- Use the status settings on your email and conference-call software, if available. It’s an easy way to let others know if you’re busy, at lunch, or in a meeting.
Setting Boundaries for Clients
Treat your clients well. And treat yourself well too.
- Do not give clients your personal cell phone number unless in the case of an emergency. If you do connect with them on your personal phone, make it clear that you are doing so due to the circumstances.
- Although we can become invested and learn intimate details about our clients, there is a danger in becoming friends. Doing so can quickly diminish any boundaries you have set for your attorney-client relationship. It’s better to maintain a professional, friendly, and arm’s-length rapport.
- Explain to your clients upfront how you manage your time among multiple clients so that they don’t expect you to always be available 24/7/365.
- Give your clients examples of times you may not be able to get back to them right away.
- Give your clients realistic time frames for how often you anticipate to communicate with them during different phases of their cases.
- Inform needful clients of when you will be taking long vacations and reassure them that everything is up to date before you take off.
Tai Lowry is with The Rodriguez-Nanney Law Firm, where she focuses on immigration, criminal defense, and family law cases.