To those who have had enough of hearing about the COVID-19 lockdown, please know that I am quickly falling into the same camp. At the same time, we have to accept reality. For many IP lawyers — we who are decidedly “nonessential,” unlike those heroes tending to the sick and working to keep the healthy supplied and fed — the need to work from home constitutes a major change. True, many of us have gotten better at using technology to work remotely, even on that (now long-forgotten) occasional event called a vacation, in recognition of the always on-call nature of modern legal practice. But even with the relaxing of face-time standards at many law firms, the default for productive IP lawyers remains centered on performance in the office environment. Since our responsibilities to clients, colleagues, and our families are unceasing, there is a communal challenge facing the IP legal community we now must confront. How to stay as productive as possible when working from home, in an environment where both the general economy and legal system — indeed our very lives — have been severely disrupted.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, I may have more practical experience than most in terms of working remotely — for a number of reasons. Part of the impetus for the need to stay productive at home from the earliest stages of my career arose because of my personal observance of the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays, which obviously had an impact on when the office was accessible to me. Another large piece was the fact that my children were born concurrent with my Biglaw career. My desire to be with them of course led to my putting a premium on productivity in the times I wasn’t with them. Hence the late night brief-drafting, on top of the other accommodations inherent in the life of a partner-track Biglaw IP associate. With all that, however, during my time in Biglaw I was definitely in the majority of IP lawyers who had an “office-first” mentality in terms of thinking about the physical divide between work and family life.
This microscopic virus has completely collapsed the divide for many of us worldwide. Since I have been getting much more practice at working from home over the past few years, I want to share three idiosyncratic tips about achieving optimal productivity that I hope can be of help to readers.
First, let’s start with what not to do. Simply put, that means not adopting an extreme position on anything productivity-wise — without adopting an experimental mindset first. Just as deciding that you can necessarily work any less mindfully because you are now free from the distractions of the office is not conducive to remaining productive, so too is it important to avoid the temptation to turn as much of your newfound “free time” (e.g. former commuting time) into work time as possible. In short, now is not the time to show your employer or our colleagues what a superhero you are. It is a time for modesty, not aggrandizement.
At the least, for many the distractions of the office will now be replaced by the distractions of the home — sometimes severe ones that make our current experience very far away from a previously routine work-from-home Friday. Even for someone who lives alone, since the people they will be interacting as might not be. Cue up memes of underwear-clad toddlers (or even adults) wandering in the background of Zoom meetings if you don’t believe. So don’t pretend things are normal — you will be more productive by adopting that experimental mindset about this bizarre experience. At the same time, establishing some sort of routine is very important. I know that some tout the importance of getting dressed for the workday, but I am not sure how much of a difference that makes. In my view, it is better to find a reason to leave the house every day, if only to remind you of the broader world out there and the lessons you can draw from watching other humans from a safe six-foot (or 26-foot) distance. At a minimum, I would hope that leaving the house would be preceded by dressing in some kind of presentable attire.
Second, in addition to getting some air, it is also important to carve out at least a half-hour a day doing something work-related that you enjoy. Whether that means reading a decision in a case of interest, or watching an appellate argument, or just looking for an interesting article online related to an IP issue doesn’t matter. What matters is giving your mind the space to roam a bit, without the pressure associated with a work deliverable. We become better lawyers and people the more we indulge our curiosity, so take advantage of the work-from-home time to build such productive curiosity-seeking into your schedule.
Third, make sure you know going into each day what needs to get done on behalf of your clients. Ideally, the list of must-dos will be manageable, even as every day brings a set of one or two things that should really get done that day, without procrastination. While this may be harder to do if you are at the stage of your career where work gets dumped on you, there really should be fewer emergencies now that everything’s on lockdown. Either way, learning how to triage assignments into must-do, should-do, or can-do is always useful. More than ever now.
Ultimately, the most important thing for us to remember is that we can continue to serve our clients and practice our noble profession no matter where we are. Done right, we can be as productive as we want — no, need — to be in these trying times. We owe it to our clients, families, and colleagues to make the most of this situation. More critically, we owe it to ourselves.
Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @gkroub. Any topic suggestions or thoughts are most welcome.
Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique, and Markman Advisors LLC, a leading consultancy on patent issues for the investment community. Gaston’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @gkroub.
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