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The Singapore Law Gazette

Slowing Down Work

“How has Covid affected the way you practise law?” I was asked this question recently.

Whilst we are treading into the endemic stage of Covid now, there is discussion that life is returning to what it was pre-Covid. The new normal has become absolete.The hybrid work model is not as popular as it was earlier envisaged as more people are returning to the office. It appears that the last two years was nothing but a dream or a bad phase of our lives which we want to forget and move on.

I woke up last week in a fright. I had a dream that the Family Justice Courts where I practice had reverted to full face to face hearings.

It would be unfortunate if our life has not been affected in any way after going through an international life-changing pandemic during the last two years.

It is not only junior lawyers who are trending the Great Resignation or the Great Negotiation. Senior lawyers too are also evaluating their life options. It is just that we do not speak openly about it.

Like many others, I contracted Covid recently. While I was recovering, I was questioning about life. Why is work consuming such a big part of my life? My wife is the most hardworking person I know.Although she is an employee, she works much harder than me. She starts her work day at 6am and works till late at night, including the weekends. Even when she contracted Covid, she continued working as usual from home until she became very sick. Recently, she came to me and said, “All I do is work. I am not doing anything with my life.” The superwoman, as I refer to her, was finally questioning her life!

According to my counsellor-friends, the existential question is in many older workers’ minds.

I have been advocating work-life integration where work and life take turns to be the centre depending on the phases in our life. Although they are supposed to co-exist, work and life are not the best of friends. We spend too much time on our work. When we are not working, we are worrying about it. We are guilty of overworking.

A junior lawyer shared with me that he would like to have a busy life, but not a hurried one. I would add that a busy life where we are in control is necessary rather than one which is controlled by others. Even as a senior lawyer running my own law firm, I feel stressed and hurried. Why do I feel like this as I do not have to report to anyone? It is the sheer pressure of running the business, managing overheads, the Court, clients and opposing counsels.

When I am in a state of emotional balance, I find I can handle whatever comes my way better. So, it is about how I feel about life and work.

Society places a heavy burden of expectations on lawyers. There is no room for errors, misjudgment or slip-ups in our professional lives. Although punishment must be meted out when we commit grave professional wrongs, we cannot ignore the fact that these mistakes are often not committed intentionally but more likely due to life circumstances that we find ourselves in sometimes. An appreciation of personal circumstances, compassion and forbearance need to be extended on these occasions besides looking at the legal precedents.

Our culture has also made us be very hard on ourselves and to keep pushing ourselves beyond the limit. If there is a problem, our response is to just solve it quickly and move on. However, we ought also to learn to be kind to ourselves, to give ourselves the space and time to face and deal with challenges. 

As far as possible, work must slow down occasionally so that we can focus on our personal life. If we are troubled and unhappy, we need to set aside time to deal with these emotions so that we can get back into the groove of life. Talking to friends or even a counsellor is necessary to deal with any such persistent emotions. I have also found it useful to have me-time alone, to listen to my thoughts and feelings and process them to achieve mental equilibrium.

So, what is the label for what senior lawyers are facing? I would suggest – The Great Work Slow Down. Let us also shine the light on the senior lawyers as well. We too need support. 

Rajan Chettiar LLC
E-mail: [email protected]