1) Everyone is stressed
Remember everyone is more stressed than usual: your client, her children, her extended family, even her lawyer (if she has one).
Don’t forget to include yourself on the list of people who are more stressed than usual. You may be working from home, without ready access to your colleagues or files. You may be juggling work with caring for children who are stuck at home with no school or other outside activities. You may be concerned about other family members with whom you cannot have in-person contact. You may be dealing with financial stress.
Be as patient as you possibly can be. Although you bring a trauma-informed approach to your work already, none of us has lived in a situation like this one. Clients who normally are able to concentrate, take in what you are telling them, organize their thoughts and move on with the tasks they need to do may not be able to do this now. Clients whose trauma was already interfering with their concentration and organizational skills may be really struggling.
Cut yourself some slack, too. You may be struggling to stay focused on your clients’ needs, so set realistic goals for yourself. Prioritize. Allow extra time to complete tasks. Take extra breaks. Ask your colleagues for support if you need it and offer the same back to them.
3) Keep up-to-date
Keep up to date with what is happening legally, at the courts and with public health requirements so you can share this information with your clients. Read the case summaries we are sharing regularly. We post updated information about Ontario’s family courts and legal services as we receive it.
Staying up to date will help you cope. If you feel that you know as much as you can, you will feel more confident and less anxious about the support you are providing to women.
4) Virtual Legal Clinic
Refer your clients who need summary family law advice to the Luke’s Place Virtual Clinic. The intake number is 1.866.516.3116. The Clinic connects women to family law lawyers through video conferencing or over the phone. Once you have set up the appointment, help your client prepare: assist her to make a list of the topics she wants to cover and any questions she has for the lawyer.
If you can, attend the meeting with your client. You can do this even if you and your client are not in the same place. In addition to assisting your client by taking notes and prompting her if she needs you to, you will feel more connected by being at the meeting. And, you can share any new information you get with other clients.
5) What “urgent” motion means
Help your clients understand what “urgent” means in the present circumstances. Understandably, your clients will likely have a greater sense of urgency whatever situation they are dealing with. However, not every case will be found to be urgent by the courts, so it is important to assist your client in assessing her situation; ideally by connecting her with a lawyer for legal advice.
Understanding that not every case is urgent will help you set appropriate priorities. This will make it easier for you to manage your workload without becoming over-stressed and exhausted.
6) Self care
Take care of yourself. If you don’t, no list of tips for working with your clients will be enough. Even if you are working from home, set regular working hours, make sure your clients know you are only available at those times and then stick to your schedule. Set and maintain boundaries. Get dressed for work, even if no one except your children or dog will see you during the day. Resist the temptation to respond to emails from clients or colleagues outside the working hours you have set. We offer self-care tips on our Family Court and Beyond website.
Remember: We are living in an extraordinary time and we don’t know when things will return to normal or what that new normal might look like. We all need to pace ourselves.