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The Singapore Law Gazette

Lawyering During COVID-19

As I type out this column on my laptop, I am sitting in my study, which has become my second home since late February 2020 when the firm initiated its Business Continuity Plan. When the Wife and I set up the study seven years ago, little did I know that it would one day become my home office.

As I was the only one who worked from home in the beginning, I used to spend hours on end at the laptop, not moving or doing anything much. It was a difficult period where I was learning how to juggle whatsapp messages, phone calls, working with my team and getting my own work done. I felt that I accomplished very little. I needed to do serious planning so that I could get work done.

When the Wife also started working from home, life changed. I now had another human being to talk to and interact with (not just with myself or singing along to the Youtube videos I had for company), have meals with and go for walks with in the evenings.

Working from Home (WFH), as we all have found, is not easy as we tend to spend more time working than when we went to the office. Work, home and life boundaries have become invisible and often it is all about work and not much else. Articles on the internet speak a lot about this and offer coping techniques. I do not profess to have any personal techniques of my own, as I have some very good days, some so-so days and some bad days working from home which affects my mental state. Things got better when I came up with a schedule with sections of time carved out for work, calls, extra-curricular activities, personal tasks and business activities.

WFH may be easier if we are allowed to go out freely and have a social life. But without that for the foreseeable future, it is tough. We may not talk about it in our Zoom social calls, but living life in this manner for weeks on end is just not easy. Video calls with family and friends helps a little, but it does not improve our quality of life. Not meeting my parents and family members physically, I confess, is becoming difficult.

Having a structure to daily life such as sitting with my laptop at 9am as if I am in the office is a good starting point. Having lunch and a coffee break in the afternoons at the same time as I did in the office before WFH does help. Engaging in activities which lifts our spirits is important. My colleagues are using their spare time to play computer games, watch Netflix and Korean dramas, enjoy a beer and sew face masks for the elderly.

I have re-discovered the joy of cooking and sharing pictures of what I cook with family and friends on Facebook. I also write inspiring posts on Facebook a few times a week and I choose a sitcom or light-hearted family drama on Netflix and watch it religiously for a couple of hours every night. The whatsapp groups consisting of family and friends make me smile, laugh endlessly and bring me happiness. As I type this, I am also having a whatsapp chat with some family lawyer friends and our spouses about potatoes!

Everyone has taken to Facebook and Zoom to organise personal development and non-law related webinars and sharing videos. I attend many of them to learn about interesting topics such as personal branding, real estate outlook, facial reading, psychology, and baking tips from well-known chefs.

WFH is not any different, I think from going to the office. It saves travelling time in our humid climate and dressing up. I am not looking forward to returning to the office routine.

Mental health has gained a lot of attention in Singapore during the Circuit Breaker period. I am glad that we are finally talking a lot more about it and the Law Society has several programmes which promote and support our mental health concerns. Although our physical health is much better and we do not catch the common flu as often as we used to, we need to keep a watchful eye on our mental health. I never knew that long-term negativity and different thought patterns were signs of mental health problems until 2013 when I sought professional help. We often do not pay much attention to our thoughts, take it lightly or dismiss it, not acknowledging it or obtaining treatment or doing so only when it is too late.

No direct social interaction is often seen as a downside of WFH. I do not see this as a problem. Existing or prospective clients did not complain at all when we stopped all face to face meetings in early March. Although they are offered various communication platforms, many still choose to do voice calls. The team and I have continued the weekly lunch meetings we have on Zoom. During these calls, we check in on each other and our families and chit chat before the business part of the meeting takes over.

Not thinking about COVID-19, the effects on the business and economy, not being negative about anything including much planned and awaited travels, or counting down to 2 June does help.

COVID-19 has forced many of us to have a mindset change, and altered the way we live and work for the better. It brings out the depth of our strength, capabilities, adaptability and mental resources.

The whole essence of lawyering has changed so much and so quickly. It is a privilege being in this cusp of change and looking forward to the new life ahead.

We all need to do one more thing – let’s be honestly open and share our thoughts and feelings with each other. This creates support and we must support and help each other through COVID and beyond.

Stay well and safe, my colleagues.

Rajan Chettiar LLC
E-mail: [email protected]