Life as an aspiring commercial lawyer can be challenging. Juggling everyday responsibilities, such as studying, working, and extra-curricular activities, alongside law firm applications, requires good time-management skills and resilience. Yet along the way, it becomes all too easy to neglect one’s most basic self-care rituals, such as sleeping, socialising and exercising. Prioritising mental and physical well-being is particularly important this application season, given the ongoing restrictions and varying lockdowns worldwide.
With this in mind, Co-Founder Gemma Shohet spoke with Ashleigh Owusu from Linklaters. As well as providing valuable insights into life at Linklaters, Ashleigh offers practical advice regarding how to combat virtual fatigue and become more resilient during a COVID-19 era. In the final part of the article, Gemma reflects on the working habits she has adopted to stay motivated and productive as a final year law student.
The Legal Line Up would like to thank Ashleigh for giving up her time to speak with us, and for offering such valuable tips to our readers!
Part I: Q&A with Ashleigh
Please could you tell our readers a bit about what your work at Linklaters involves, and how you came to work at the firm?
My current role is within the Learning and Development team. I help to oversee the skills development programmes for Counsel and our senior associates, and I am also excited to be a future Trainee of Linklaters!
What do you enjoy most about working at Linklaters?
My favourite thing about working at Linklaters is knowing how friendly the working environment is. It is something that I had heard about before joining and this has been proved time and time again. I have always felt supported in all that I do.
Many of our readers are balancing applications with studying, which involves looking at our screens for a huge proportion of our day. Do you have any tips on how to combat virtual fatigue?
Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that juggling both applications and studying is no mean feat. Sometimes we think we should be a superhero and be able to do anything and everything! Take a moment to write down your little successes, however small. Such as, I opened up the homepage to that law firm I’ve been meaning to apply for, or I managed to get out for that walk today. Celebrating those little wins will help keep you motivated going forward.
Secondly, a few tips from me (having recently gone through the application stage):
- Know that you are more than capable of achieving success with your applications;
- Try to plan your time effectively to allow enough room for you to properly research the firms that you are applying to and tailor your applications;
- Firms appreciate that this is a difficult time for students; and
- Try your best to be authentic – ultimately the firms want you to be yourself so do not be afraid to share previous work experience or interesting stories which you feel will help show how great you are!
And we also have a method to help you combat that virtual fatigue and reduce the time you spend on screens. A very simple tool I’d like to you use, which I’ll walk you through now:
- Take a blank sheet of paper and split it into three columns;
- In the first column (titled ‘screen activities’) write down all the things you do on your devices;
- In the second column (titled ‘Reason/need’) write down next to the items in the first column what the reason or need that they are fulfilling might be (e.g. Netflix to combat boredom, zoom to keep in touch with family);
- In the final column (titled ‘Alternative’) write down how you might be able to fulfil that need without a screen (or to minimise the amount of screen you use);
- If you need some inspiration, take a look at the examples below; and finally,
- Once a day, substitute one of your usual screen-based activities with an alternative and see how you get on!
|Reading articles||Work for university|
|Zoom call with family||Keep in touch / support||Voice call|
|Phone as alarm clock||Wake up||Buy an actual alarm clock|
|Watching lectures||Work for university||Take notes on paper (gives your eyes a short rest|
|Watching TV||Boredom||Podcast, reading fiction, crafts|
|Watching TV||Connecting with housemates/friends||Play a boardgame, go to a café / bar (if allowed), go for a walk|
Having to balance the demands of university and applications is a challenging process, and one that requires resilience. How can our readers become more resilient today?
We hear a lot about resilience, but what does it actually mean? Resilience is about how we manage to either bounce back, or more importantly, move forward during difficult times or setbacks. Resilience isn’t something which is inherited, it’s something we can develop. Here are a few tips to help you develop your resilience:
- Accept what you can’t change – shift your focus on what you can change instead of stressing about the things that you have no control over.
- Focus on short term – set fewer and more realistic goals that you can plan towards achieving.
- Limit the number of negatives things you read/watch – these can have a real impact on our mental health and positivity. Curate your social media feeds and stop following those who make you angry or upset.
- Lower any high/perfectionist standards of yourself – focus on what works for you instead of putting pressure on yourself. Talk to yourself like you would a friend, with kind words of reassurance and encouragement.
- Acknowledge your feelings – for example, try to recognise why you may feel a negative emotion and try to understand why that is the case
- Have positive connections – resilient people are the people who are not afraid to ask for help when they need it and have people in their lives that they are able to talk to. Don’t be afraid to talk about how you’re feeling with your friends or family.
Part II: A student perspective: 4 ways I’ve stayed motivated and productive during lockdown
- Setting goals
As a results-driven individual, I keep motivated by setting myself goals. Every week, I compile a list of the work I have to complete, prioritising tasks based on their level of urgency. Using this, I set myself goals for each study session. This allows me to track my progress, and I feel a huge sense of reward when checking things off the list.
2. Creating a timetable
Creating a weekly timetable helps me to manage my workload more effectively for the week ahead. This has been particularly crucial this year, as I have fewer contact hours and less live teaching. I start by slotting in any upcoming events for the week, including live teaching, meetings, webinars, extra-curriculars, part-time work and social arrangements. This allows me to calculate the amount of time I have to study, and to create a realistic plan of when to work and how much I can get through. With reference to my weekly to-do list, I try to dedicate specific tasks for each study session. For example, I might have to complete a set of readings as part of my dissertation research. At the same time, I make sure to be flexible with my timetable by allocating an afternoon for outstanding work. This makes it less likely for me to fall behind on my workload due to unforeseen circumstances.
3. Rewarding myself with fun breaks
Whether you’re into movie marathons, virtual quizzes or making TikToks, there are so many ways to entertain yourselves, even during a national lockdown. I’m trying to limit my screen time, so I have taken up hobbies such as cooking, board games, painting, mindfulness and listening to podcasts. Incorporating these activities into my weekly routine gives me a chance to re-charge my batteries, making me more productive.
4. Learning when to step away from the screen
This year, I’ve learnt to listen to that internal voice telling me when I need to take a break. Studies have shown that spending hours staring at a screen decreases our concentration span and can make us feel more drained. When I start to experience “brain fog” and feel like I am no longer absorbing any information, or my energy levels are low, I take a break. I might go for a walk or do a home workout, and always return to my desk feeling refreshed and motivated.