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ANALYSIS: Trouble Disconnecting? Put Down Your Phone After Hours

March 25, 2022, 9:00 AM

Smartphones and other mobile devices may be the driving force behind attorneys’ inability to disconnect from work once they leave the office or shut their laptops for the day, according to results from a Bloomberg Law survey.

Any practicing attorney can attest to the demanding workloads and long days that come with the job—working outside of regular 9-to-5 business hours is the norm in the legal profession.

Handheld devices have paved the way for work to be conducted anywhere, at any time—but likely at a cost to lawyer well-being.

Attorneys Continue to Struggle to Disconnect

In Bloomberg Law’s most recent version of its Workload and Hours Survey, 64% of respondents (which comprised 621 in-house and law firm attorneys) reported an inability to disconnect from work when asked what challenges they faced in the fourth quarter. This has been a consistent trend from earlier versions of the 2021 survey, with approximately two-thirds of respondents in every quarter reporting an inability to disconnect from work.

For the first time, respondents in the Q4 version of the survey were also asked to provide their level of agreement with the following statement: “I don’t feel like I can disconnect from work because mobile devices mean I’m always available.”

Not surprisingly, an alarming number of respondents (78%) either agreed or strongly agreed with this statement. This large majority highlights the impact that mobile phones are having on work-life balance, disconnecting from the job, and an attorney’s around-the-clock availability.

Not at Their Desks, Yet Always Available

In fact, according to the survey, the majority of attorneys are using their mobile devices for work purposes in every surveyed “non-work” scenario depicted on the chart below. This includes during travel for leisure (78%), while attending to personal matters (88%), and at “other times I’m not at my desk” (89%)—which is essentially a catch-all that can be interpreted as “pretty much everything else.”

While it’s true that urgent matters do pop up, being available by phone 24/7—which has only worsened during the pandemic—can take its toll on attorneys, or any professional for that matter. The survey results left me wondering when (and quite frankly if) attorneys are taking any time off the clock and whether that time is completely for themselves.

Tips for Putting Down the Phone

So the question then becomes: What can attorneys do to better manage the time they spend working on their mobile devices after hours? While I recognize that firms and corporations themselves may need to implement changes on the management level, for now, a few fairly simple individual suggestions come to mind.

  • Have a separate work phone that you can put away after hours.
  • Set up a voice mail box that you can check first thing in the morning, or during a specified period of time.
  • Create an emergency line for any urgent inquiries and client emergencies.
  • Set client expectations at the outset and let them know when you will be online and/or plan to log off for the day.
  • Download a phone app that is designed to force you to unplug and stay off your phone (i.e., Offtime; Flipd; ClearLock).
  • Set up autoresponders that include a specific block of time that you have allotted to respond to messages.
  • Block off time on your calendar for personal events, family time, appointments, or any non-work-related event.

It will be interesting to see if the pandemic-exacerbated trend of being available all the time via mobile phones will recede, now that Covid restrictions are loosening and attorneys are returning to the office—or if work will continue to follow them home.

Related content is available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page. Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, Legal Operations and In Focus: Lawyer Development pages.

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