February 10, 2022
Letter from the Law Society: Building a Stronger Team
I recall my early years in the practice of law. Senior partners were mysterious and frightening and were addressed as “Mr. X”, and rarely spoken to. Today, the law firm is a different place – still somewhat hierarchical, but the formality and stiffness of the ‘80s is gone.

Today, students and associates do not just expect feedback, respect and collegiality in the workplace, they demand it. And for those firms who fail to provide it, they feel the inevitable result in turnover, scarce resources and lack of support. Senior lawyers may think they do not have time to accommodate these demands, but what I have learned is that we simply cannot afford not to.

With rising demand for good legal talent, and head-hunters routinely reaching out to offer big bonuses and salaries to our associates, now, more than ever, it is an absolute necessity to build a workplace where associates feel appreciated and valued. The biweekly deposit to their bank account is no longer sufficient reward for the long hours and demands of the typical legal workplace. Lawyers and firms who overlook this will find themselves without the critical members of their legal teams.

I have been fortunate to work with some really exceptional team builders over the years, and those people have some common traits and techniques. Each of them ensures that everyone knows what important roles they play on the team, they share the success with all those who contribute to it, and they ensure that everyone gets regular and specific feedback on their performance on a timely basis.

Here are a few lessons I have learned from these exceptional leaders...

All the best,

Darlene W. Scott, QC

Darlene W. Scott, QC
Law Society of Alberta
Letter from Assist: Unspoken Conflict and Boundaries
During 2021, almost two-thirds of the lawyers accessing Assist’s professional counselling services cited workplace problems as a presenting issue, second only to psychological issues (depression, anxiety, and stress, for example) cited by 94 per cent of callers.

Due to the remote work realities of 2021, the most common workplace problems experienced by lawyers to whom we provided counselling related to communications or, more accurately, lack of communication.

As Dr. Brian Forbes, the head of our professional counselling program, outlines in the Psychological First-Aid section of this newsletter, the dominant issue was that junior lawyers felt that they were required to be available online almost 24 hours per day and did not believe that they could log off their workplace system as their workday had no clear start or end. These lawyers experienced anxiety — they feared not responding quickly enough to an email from a senior lawyer, being perceived as not being committed enough to their jobs, and that they would ultimately lose their positions. These junior lawyers worked as much as humanly possible from their home offices because they were unable to evaluate when it was okay to log off.

Wishing you well-being,

Loraine Champion

Loraine Champion
Executive Director
Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

Psychological First-Aid
Understanding Internal Conflict at Work
with Brian Forbes, PhD, R.Psych.
Forbes Psychological Services

Workplace conflict comes in many forms. When someone speaks of workplace conflict in a legal workplace, it is generally assumed that there is a conflict between lawyers, between lawyers and legal assistants, or between lawyers and senior partners/managing partners. However, there is another kind of workplace conflict that occurs within an individual, particularly when work demands interfere with other important aspects of an individual’s life, such as health (e.g., fatigue and interrupted sleep, increased susceptibility to illness, and reduced mental well-being). Individuals are, in essence, put in a position of having to ignore or put aside the importance of work-life balance in maintaining both physical and mental well-being in order to meet the demands of the job. Over the years, Assist has noted an increasing number of lawyers reporting workplace stress and anxiety associated with the demands of the job, particularly the expectation that they are expected to respond to emails and phone calls immediately regardless of the time of day and even when they are on holidays.

Individual lawyers are also faced with workplace conflict when it comes to their own mental health. For example, lawyers who have sought help through Assist have reported that their employer, while supporting them in addressing their mental health needs, often gives conflicting messages. That is, they are told that they should take the time to address their mental health issues, but if that means taking some time off work, they are told that that could interfere with future promotions or could adversely impact their ability to be successful lawyers. The conflict here is that a lawyer knows that they need help, and, on one hand, their employer supports them. But on the other hand, the employer makes it clear that doing what it takes to deal with their mental health issue may derail their career as a lawyer.

Ethically Speaking
How do I minimize and manage conflict with clients and other lawyers?
In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.” ― Lao Tzu

While managing relationships with clients and opposing lawyers is inevitably part of practice, over the past two years, calls to Practice Advisors about conflict between lawyers and between lawyers and clients have increased, and the conflicts reported have worsened. Incivility, unwillingness to extend courtesy, impatience, and even bullying characterize the calls. Some callers are angry, others in tears. Many want to leave practice. The conflict impacts both clients and lawyers: increased fees, file delay, lack of objectivity, unhappiness at work, reticence to pick up that file, stress and even substance use.

Ultimately, best management of conflict involves what the individual lawyer can do themselves, recognizing that they cannot control the client, the opposing lawyer, or the court. Lawyer job satisfaction is enhanced by positive client relationships and building good relationships with colleagues in and outside of the office, and by having strategies to manage conflict. Some strategies include withdrawal from a file where possible, deliberately keeping oneself out of the conflict, training clients to better understand the lawyer’s role, and self-care.

As with many questions about legal ethics, competence is the starting point. The Code of Conduct requires lawyers to provide legal services to the standard of a competent lawyer, having and applying relevant knowledge, skills and attributes in a manner appropriate to each matter. It includes practice management and the lawyer recognizing limitations in their ability to handle a matter or some aspect of it (Rules 3.1-1 and 3.1-2).

A Word on Wellness
Preventing Conflict in the Virtual Office
by Susannah S. Alleyne
Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Counsel and Equity Ombudsperson
Law Society of Alberta

For those of us who are still working remotely some or most of the time, we might be tempted to think that less face time means less conflict; but, out of sight is not necessarily out of mind when it comes to workplace disputes. Although healthy conflict is part of relationships, some conflict can be prevented by creating a positive virtual workplace. Here are three tips that might help you identify and prevent conflict.

Establish One-on-One Communication

Whether you lead several departments or report to a manager, maintaining your one-on-one communication with those you work with is vital in the virtual workplace. For team leads, regular meetings with those who report to you will allow you to screen for potential conflict or provide an opportunity for team members to discuss something you have implemented that they are having difficulty with. For employees, scheduled check-ins with your team lead provides an opportunity to share where you might need extra support or discuss a dispute that you have not been able to resolve on your own. Regular communication is also a great tool for information dissemination. Many conflicts stem from misinformation or the perception that others have different rules to adhere to. If everyone can touch base regularly, these miscommunications can be addressed quickly, and leaders can make sure that everyone gets the same information at the same time.

Brain Break
Stretches You Can Do at Your Workstation
Working at a computer all day often involves very few changes in body position. No matter how well your workstation is set up, a lack of movement during the work day can lead to muscle pain and strain. Taking as little as a five minute break every hour to stretch can have a positive impact on your mental and physical health.

Check out this guide from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety for some helpful tips and stretches you can do at your desk.
Upcoming Days of Recognition
Looking for a list of wellness days you and your firm/workplace can recognize? Check out the list below. Please note, this is not an exhaustive list. Be sure to check our Wellness Days of Recognition page on our website. Dates marked with an asterisk (*) indicate that the event takes place on the same day every year.