#Lawyering: Creating a Productive and Organized Home Office:

The reason we haven't been seeing a downturn in the real estate market (in fact, in some areas of Canada, the turnover is at record highs), is that with many people now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the legal trend-noters, such as Clio, also released in their 2020 Report the uptake of the legal industry to working from home. Up to 87% of firms now have the capacity to work from home and an online interface, as opposed to close to a fifty-fifty split before the pandemic hit.

The one good thing about COVID-19, it feels, is it has forced at least private firms to instate some work flexibility into accessing files, where pre-COVID, work life balance was a lot less attainable for lawyers and recent legal graduates. It's also something you're going to have to learn to carve out for yourself, even if you're living with other people and can't afford a gigantic move to a brand new house with an extra room for you and your significant other/roommate to work in.

Today, I'm touching on some things I've found helpful since I've made the switch to working from home and doing legal research.

  • Invest in a solid, heavy duty bookrest: Most manuals are virtual nowadays, but even if you're reading on your computer or an iPad, bookrests have literally saved my neck and back on files and research projects where you have to type for hours. Ideally also get a bookrest that is adjustable, and can hold both heavy textbooks/books in general, to your own notes on a legal pad to type up for a document proper. I bought a bookrest in my third year of law school, and I've never looked back since.

  • Get ready for your closeup: If you're tall like me (where someone literally turned around, yelled, "Jesus, you're tall!", in my direction, before resuming the rest of their day today), using decorative wide boxes from either crafting stores or from your local Winners/ Homesense to use as a rest for your laptop have been a lifesaver in terms of actually framing myself properly within both Microsoft Teams and Zoom calls.

Prior to discovering boxes like these, I was constantly getting poked at about not being in frame, which only irritated me more, because I was already usually precariously balancing my laptop on top of three constitutional law books. Not ideal.

These decorative boxes are wider, more solid than textbooks, and by measuring the distance and experimenting with how much space you need for your head to be properly framed in a video call through your computer, you can grab the boxes you need for cheap, be ready to set up your desk for Zoom calls, and have a much more professional look than just peering down into your camera lens like you're a crazy person.

  • Yes, consider ring lights: For those of you who don't know, ring lights are essentially what they sound like- a round source of light used in the media industry, and why often newscasters, Youtubers, and social media influencers usually don't look tired, washed out, or generally worn like the rest of us. They can also be known as "selfie lights."

Yes, I'm considering on a professional law blog to include selfie lights. The irony is not lost on me.

However, COVID has now pushed us towards a new form of professionalism- one that means we will have to prepare accordingly, especially if we all continue working from home for the majority of the time after the pandemic proper passes.

This includes knowing how to film yourself (look at the green dot on the top of your laptop, not the individual who you are chatting with's eyes), looking your best on camera, and yes- as previously mentioned with my magical box trick- proper framing and lighting.

Let's be honest- you wouldn't most likely take legal advice (or any advice, for that matter), with someone sitting in a dark room, camera up their nose, and looking like they care less about this call than you do.

While we previously assumed only vain people considered these things, it's a brave new world. Learn how to present yourself in your best light, both literally and figuratively.

  • Organise your files with magazine holders: Ikea has some incredibly cheap magazine holders, as does the dollar store. I use them to organise what I'm currently working on, older files, and future work projects, as well as important things like billable hours, taxes, you name it. Also, don't forget the importance of having folders that won't get mixed in with other folders/materials, especially if you have a lot of manilla envelopes you are sorting through.

In terms of whatever I'm working on at the time, I always find colour coding helpful. I put taxes, for example, in a bright yellow envelope with a velcro closure, write TAXES 2020 on there with a Sharpie, and make it virtually impossible to ignore. Same with whatever current file I'm working on. I have bright green polka dotted file folders (very professional, but good for personal use and my own sorting system), and I virtually can never misplace them in my office, even if I walk away with them by accident- they're just too bright to miss!

  • Make your chair high-backed and as comfortable as possible: It goes without saying, but a good chair can make all the difference, and it's really not the place to skimp or shirk when looking for savings in your home office.

As mentioned previously, I'm quite tall- a lot of regular office chairs end square in the middle of my shoulders or even worse, halfway down my back. Sitting all day, it ends with back pain, shoulder pain, and an inability to properly concentrate on my work. A previous job I had I literally had to ask for a taller chair, because I had the dog's meal law student chair that was just the worst in terms of back support (it got to the point where I literally put 70 dollars of my own money into a duck taped chair to order back support from Amazon. It helped- but not much!).

Working from home now is heaven in comparison. My chair is high backed- I'm actually able to work in it for hours without getting any pain, and it was completely worth the investment (and was a relative Facebook Marketplace steal!).

Chairs can be expensive, but places like Facebook Marketplace or buying second-hand really make good back support accessible to a recent graduate, recent call, or current law student.

  • Noise-Proof Headphones (another more expensive investment, but totally worth it): We all know earbuds are getting smaller and smaller nowadays- but the one thing that truly got me through law school (and which I literally plan to write an entire blogpost about one day) are my Sony noise-cancelling headphones. It was one of the biggest purchases I made in law school (obligatory bike and overpriced textbooks aside), but I actually got them for a steal at $79 bucks on a Black Friday sale. They lasted for four years past purchasing them in my first year of law school, and my replacement pair I bought for $122 bucks (from $250) from Best Buy at 2020's Black Friday sales allows me to work at home for hours without hearing our redneck neighbours (sorry, neighbours) or being interrupted by family 'popping in' for questions (sorry, family).

The best advice I have for purchasing headphones is two-fold. If you know what type of headphones you'd like, then order them online. If we weren't in the middle of a pandemic, I'd suggest going in in person and trying them on your head (in fact, I still suggest this for a quick trip).

If headphones hurt your head in the store, they're going to hurt more when you have them on for three hours working on a file. Headphones are not a place to cheap out (although there's a certain cost level I believe that it just sort of levels out- unless you're a huge audiophile/headphone snob). I tried to cheap out with an Amazon pair this past year, and ended up returning them as soon as I realised Black Friday sales were around the corner.

That's where I'd recommend purchasing headphones- any big sale, electronic-heavy shopping deal day, where you can probably get headphones for half the price. I'd recommend Sony, only because the headphones themselves are comfortable, they work well in extending for people with big heads (yes, me, har-har), and with the cushioning, can be worn for hours on end. The sound quality is also fantastic (you can rock out to your loudest rock music in the law library without anyone hearing), and for me personally, I like enough sound-cancelling that I can still hear some ambient noise if I don't have my headphones turned up to max, so if I go to the store or am crossing a street, I don't get run over by a car (a solid suggestion).

That is why I know Bose tend to be the gold standard for noise-cancelling headphones, but unless you're a real audiophile/ need absolute silence to work, I don't recommend them. Personally, I tried a pair of Bose on when I was initially buying my first set of Sony headphones, and could hear the blood pounding in my ears. It was a no for me.

  • Let there be light!: Don't forget the importance of lamps. I have two lamps- one for either side of my desk, which I made myself with my Dad due to my hatred of short desks that weren't wide enough for me to put my laptop and a notepad on at the same time, while having reference books next to you.

This actually started as a moving mistake on my part- I just didn't have anywhere else to place a lamp that previously was on a bedside table, so it went on my desk. The more I realised I liked two smaller lamps and keeping the room light off (too much light for me personally), it's stayed ever since. If you have an extra lamp floating around and the desk space, give it a try- it works wonders.

  • Make Work Peaceful: I've become the succulent queen since setting up my home office during quarantine, for the simple fact that I miss visiting green spaces that aren't directly near my home.

I'm very attached to the outdoors and nature (as any true B.C. kid is), and working from home, I don't get to have that lunchtime walk I liked so much to explore different green spaces near where I work, or different parks. I don't get to see mountains or greenery in the same way anymore, even if I do go for a walk for my lunch (unfortunately, my local freeway walk doesn't hold the same appeal).

As ridiculous as it sounds, for my mental health, I started collecting plants and bringing the green space indoors. Hell, I even light a candle that smells like some sort of natural scent now and again. It makes work more peaceful (especially if you're logged down with paperwork for hours or typing up research), and my plants bring a nice earthiness to my space. How very Little Shop of Horrors of me.

  • Lastly, don't underestimate stocking up on stationary: Look, I am that kid in your class with a favourite type of pen, and I can tell the difference when writing notes from one pen to the other. Whether your thing is highlighters, a certain type of legal pad, paperclips, staplers, you name it. Buy double the next time you're out, and when you're prolifically writing notes at home and your favourite pen runs out, you just need to reach over to your pen cup/holder and pluck out another one.

As superficial as it sounds, these things do make a world of difference in terms of being in the right sort of mind space to do work and making your space your own. It also especially helps when your desk may be in the same room as your bedroom, for example, or a shared space. When you designate an area specifically for work, and it doesn't loom over your house like a horrible monster, working from home can seem less like a challenge and more like a solid life choice.

And if you are lucky enough to have a room for your office, acknowledge how much of a lucky sod you are. I bless the real estate gods for my office space every day.

Until next week.

Lauren S