Managing and understanding yourself

1. Introduction

This section includes:

  • Introductory text
  • An information box on “What is an emotion?”
  • 1 video.

You should allow yourself 20 minutes to complete this section.

This part of Fit for Law gives you the opportunity to think about how you exercise your judgement, know your limitations, take on responsibility, deal with stress and reflect on your work. Its fundamental premise is that acknowledging and regulating emotion and factoring emotion into your work will enhance your legal practice and your wellbeing, both of which are important to ensure a healthy legal profession. This video shows a variety of legal professionals giving their views on why these issues are important.

Why you need to be Fit for Law

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Transcript

STEPHANIE BELL
I think as a starting point, thinking about the legal profession, it is inherently a stressful, responsible, difficult, fast-paced job. And that is part of the reason people who do the job are attracted to it. The stress, the excitement, the buzz, that is part of what we like about the job. But I think that those are also things that can have a significant impact on your mental health if you are not looking after yourself or if things go wrong or if the people around you aren't helping you to look after yourself.
KAYLEIGH LEONIE
In order to work the most effectively you can in practise, you need to understand what you need in your life to be healthy, both physically and mentally. And if you can understand your own personal triggers, you can work more efficiently. You can get on better with your colleagues. And you can generally be happier at work.
KHYATI JOSHI
We are human, too, on the legal professional side. And we are often in a position where we are told problems all the time, because it's our job to resolve problems. So you're always in a position where everyone, every day, comes to you and tells you, this is my problem, cries, argues in front of their partner in the office. [CHUCKLES] That's how human you are, infected by it. And you would have to absorb that negative energy and sort of convert it into a positive energy and seek solutions to their problems.
PAUL NEVIN
Having an understanding of well-being in your working life is very important because we spend so much time in work. I do not live to work, but despite that, I spend an awful lot of time working. I spend an awful lot of time in terms of actually sitting at a desk working. And I also, both in healthy and sometimes unhealthy ways, think about work when I'm not there.
Sothinkingaboutwell-beinginworkisthinkingaboutwell-beinginyourlife,really,becauseifyouhavegotwell-beingdifficultiesinwork,you'recertainlygoingtohavethemathome,becausewhensufferingstressoranxietyinworkandnotusingcorrectcopingmechanismsornotdealingwithstressproperly,certainly--Icanonlyspeakformyself--butthatcomeshomewithme.Thatbleedsintomypersonallifeandaffectstherecharge,Isuppose.Itaffectsmyabilitytorechargemybatteries,asitwere,toenjoymyself,torefreshmyselfonmyholidays,toallowmetogobacktoworktobeproductive.
AMANDA TIPPLES
Barristers, doctors, solicitors, accountants, we're all professionals and inevitably high-performing individuals at whatever level you're working at. And to be able to perform at that level, it's really important to stay well or be well. And that's what well-being is all about. And you need to understand that in order to carry on your job and do well.
Andifyou'renotawareofwell-beingandtheconsequencesthatmayhaveonyoureverydaylife,thenyouriskbeingaffectedbythestressesandstrainsofaprofessionaljob.Andyouhavetoberesilient,andresilientmeansbeingabletocopewiththosestressesandstrains.Soit'sreallyimportanttobealivetotheissuesaboutwell-being,tolookafteryourself,andalsotolookoutforothers.Andthatisreally,reallyimportant.
PATRICIA WHITE
Delivering legal services is a very stressful vocation. And it's important that we as professionals, whilst meeting our obligations, also take care of ourselves and make sure that we exercise, we rest well, and we also have a nutritional balanced diet to keep us fit and healthy to be able to meet the extremes of the profession.
VLAD VALIENTE
We spend a lot of time at work, sometimes a lot more than we do with our families and friends, and recognising that during the day, we're at work. And at night, when we're tired, et cetera, we're going home and having dinner. We deal with the things we've got to deal with, and back to bed, and then repeat it all over again. So we spend the majority of available day within work. So it's important that we're able to have the right environment so that, in essence, we are not dreading going into work.
End transcript
 
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You may find some of the sections cover areas of emotional competence you already have strengths in, others might cover areas you find more challenging. When you see a section you are good at, it is worth noting this down as a key strength. When you find a section you feel you need to work on, you should note this as a developing area and try to identify some short-term goals to help you improve on this. In other words, create your own personal development plan.

You could do this using a notepad and pen, or a word document, or even a notes function on your phone or tablet. The important thing is to ensure it is kept somewhere safe and secure where you can read it back at a later date. For example, if you are struggling with confidence, you can look over your key strengths to get a better perspective on your abilities. When you are feeling able to improve, you can work towards improving your developing areas to upskill yourself (perhaps using your Continuous Professional Development allowance).

What will I gain from this topic?

It is vital for legal professionals to demonstrate emotional competence. In other words, regulate their responses to emotion in an appropriate and psychologically healthy manner. Anyone in legal practice is constantly (knowingly or unknowingly) dealing with range of emotions as they interact with clients, colleagues and others, juggle a variety of tasks and demands and seek to balance the pressures (and pleasures) of work with family, leisure and other commitments. Understanding this and learning how to manage emotions in themselves and others will enhance their performance at work and also their professional resilience.

Legal professionals who use their emotional competence effectively will have the professional resilience needed to deal with a challenging and demanding working environment. Understanding the role of stress and reflecting on their approach to practice will assist them in developing emotionally and psychologically healthy ways of working.

In the long term, trying to ignore these elements of legal practice is unlikely to be an effective strategy. If a legal professional struggles to regulate their emotions effectively and does not develop appropriate levels of professional resilience, this can significantly impact both on the quality of their workplace performance and their personal wellbeing (as well as that of those around them). In the longer term, it can also contribute to psychological issues such as burnout, or vicarious (secondary) trauma (experiencing trauma symptoms after engagement with traumatised clients, or after encountering accounts of trauma).

"…So when I started doing nasty kind of child sex cases and stuff, and I have a friend who’s a police officer, a friend who works in social services, they had counselling, support, just viewing horrible images; whereas for barristers, criminal defence barristers you have no extra training."

(Barrister, England)

"I have to be able to go from one office or one room 20 minutes ago talking about a completely acrimonious litigation matter to then be sensitive to deal with someone whose wife has just died two days ago. You know, you have to. And when you’re doing that for eight hours a day, it’s impossible to switch off. You’ve had the whole emotional circle going on in your head..."

(Solicitor, Republic of Ireland)

What is an emotion?

This may seem like an obvious first question for a course involving emotional competence, but in fact there is a vast amount of scientific and philosophical debate about what emotions actually are, with many commentators tracing the debate's origins back to Plato and Aristotle in Ancient Greece. A simple starting point is to define an emotion as “…a particular, conscious event, high in intensity but short-lived and easily labelled and recalled” (Bornstein and Wiener, 2010: 1).

For example, the experience of relief when a deadline is met or disappointment when a claim goes badly. In Section 2, the role of emotion will be explored in more detail. In the box below, read through the definition of each emotion and the example of how that emotion might feel. Notice how these descriptions show the way the individual and their environment interact to give rise to a particular emotion. The emotion is influenced by the individual, the environment and the context.

This idea of the interaction between individuals and their environment giving rise to emotions reinforces how important it is not to simply change an individual’s response or emotion, as these do not occur in a vacuum. Instead, it is important to consider the environment and context, such as the legal workplace, that give rise to particular emotions.

Please click on the faces below to see examples and definitions of common emotions

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Definitions taken from Lazarus (1993, pp. 12-13)
Identifying some key emotions
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It would be useful to pause here and spend a moment thinking about which of the emotions you have experienced during your work in the last two weeks stick in your mind. Firstly, think about what characteristics or circumstances of work gave rise to these emotions? Secondly, think about how you dealt with them and were these strategies successful?

I’m not stressed or feeling burned out, is this topic relevant to me?

Emotional competence and professional resilience are fundamental parts of legal practice for everyone. Even those who are able to regulate their emotional responses very well overall may find that there are some situations or issues that arise where they are uncertain or worried about how to respond. Even people who enjoy working under pressure can find stress beginning to impact on their work and wellbeing. Those who are naturally reflective may find that this is eroded as the pressure to rack-up chargeable hours becomes a key focus, similarly those who feel they thrive on pressure may reach a tipping point where they feel overwhelmed by deadlines, paperwork and the demands of cases...

"… and it took that almost crisis with me where I burned myself out where I thought something has to change significant in my life"

(Barrister, Northen Ireland)

"…you know, lawyers, they’re not all tough cookies, you don’t have to be a tough cookie."

(Legal educator, England)

This topic will cover common situations and issues that arise within all areas of legal practice, identify some of the challenges and opportunities and provide you with useful, evidence-based tactics and suggestions for dealing with them. Its focus is on up-skilling people to work in emotionally and psychologically healthy ways which will benefit them personally but also those around them and the wider legal working environment.

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2. Exercising your judgement