Anxiety, Isolation Testing Attys More Than Tech Amid Virus

By Emma Cueto
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Law360 (April 20, 2020, 7:25 PM EDT) -- The biggest challenges for attorneys now forced to work remotely are not technology or distractions but stress and isolation, according to a survey released Monday by leadership development firm Loeb Leadership.

The report, which included responses from 136 lawyers and law firm staff, found that overall, the legal industry appears to be coping well with the changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, with three-quarters of respondents saying they have been very successful in making the transition to working from home.

When asked to list their biggest challenges to working remotely amid the outbreak, 28% of attorneys and staff cited general anxiety and 20% said social isolation. Only 14% said their workstation and only 9% listed access to the tools needed for the job.

"Not surprisingly, people are struggling with the health and financial uncertainties related to the epidemic," the report said. "That, combined with fears of social isolation and communication challenges, can lead to potentially harmful mental health consequences, which can impede one's ability to reduce stress, stay focused and collaborate."

Stress in the legal industry has been a major problem for years and is thought to be a factor in the high rates of substance abuse among attorneys. In a 2019 study from the American Bar Association, researchers found that one in five attorneys who took a diagnostic survey passed the threshold for "problematic drinkers" and that lawyers also had high rates of drug use.

In terms of who might be hardest hit, the Loeb survey found that younger attorneys are far more likely to worry about general anxiety than older attorneys. Almost two-thirds of attorneys under 35 listed general anxiety as a major challenge, while only 22% of attorneys over the age of 65 said the same, according to the survey.

Women were more likely to flag anxiety as an issue than men. Although both men and women named general anxiety as the biggest challenge, 35% of women listed it compared to 26% of men. One in four women also listed social isolation as a major challenge, while fewer than 20% of men did, according to the survey.

Loeb Leadership said in its report that law firm leaders should be proactive about considering the mental health toll of the crisis on attorneys and staff.

"Leaders need to lean in and be more accessible to their direct reports and colleagues," the report said. "Don't underestimate the importance of checking in and offering simple, empathetic advice, support and asking for feedback."

When asked for tips for staying productive, many attorneys and law firm staff stressed the importance of having a routine, remembering to take breaks, and building in time for exercise and family. Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises were also popular responses.

--Editing by Jill Coffey.

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