International legal life in lockdown: Australia

John Farrell, senior policy lawyer at the Law Council of Australia in Canberra, talks to us about his experience of work during COVID-19 restrictions.

John Farrell“Most people are really glad to be back in the office. I think they’re just happy to see people in person,” says John.

For John, the lockdown may have been easier to bear than for others around the world. “In Canberra, the restrictions have been fairly light compared to other places,” he said. “I’ve been able to go and grab a takeaway or a coffee when I want to – I’ve even been able to go out and get a haircut which definitely isn’t the case in other jurisdictions. We’ve also been released from lockdown sooner than others and I’ve actually been back working in office for the past several weeks. Hopefully, this situation can be maintained in Canberra given recent outbreaks of the virus in Victoria.”

Despite returning to a certain level of normality, John still fears for the legal sector in Australia, particularly as the aftershocks of the COVID-19 crisis have yet to emerge.

“I’ve managed to remain relatively busy throughout the crisis, especially with the Parliament’s inquiry into class actions and litigation funding,” he said. “But it’s the younger lawyers I worry about. Many parts of the legal sector in Australia have been hugely affected by the pandemic and a lot of lawyers I know have had their pay reduced, been asked to take leave or have been placed on the Government’s “JobKeeper” programme. It’s also the case that not everything has been at a standstill so you still have a large number of new lawyers looking to enter the profession but with fewer graduate or entry positions available for them.”

While the pandemic has certainly had its downsides, and left some people feeling vulnerable, John feels there are positives to be taken from the crisis. “I think this situation has jumpstarted investment in technology by law firms which helps lawyers to be more effective in the work they do for others,” he said.

“It has also led to an increase in flexible work practices which will hopefully help to prevent burnout and create a healthier work/life balance for some lawyers. Whilst you can miss out on the teamwork element of working in an office, I think most people have adapted pretty well to working from home and hopefully some of the benefits will carry through to the post-pandemic period,” John said.

The lockdowns, introduced around the world to control the spread of the coronavirus, have been a learning experience for everyone. John has three top tips for those still in lockdown.

“The first major thing which I have taken away from this is just how important it is to have regular video calls with your colleagues,” he said. “This helps to keep up morale."

"The second is to have a solid routine that mirrors your normal life as much as possible – remembering to shower, get dressed and take a lunch break is key!"

"Lastly, I think its vitally important to stay busy and active and explore your creative side. For instance, I’ve taken up drawing to help me relax and I’ve made extra time for reading.”

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