Future Law

7 Work Essentials for Lawyers’ ‘Back-to-School’ Refresh

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Quick poll: as a student, did you skip or sulk down the school supplies aisles during back-to-school season? If new gear still gears you up, or if you need to treat yourself to sweeten the end of summer, even lawyers can get in on back-to-school shopping with new work essentials.

We asked Illinois attorneys Bryan Sims and Kenya Garrett-Burnett, as well as a few of our staff members, about the tools, gadgets, and accessories they use to improve the way they work.

Here’s the list—gel pens, funky erasers, and an apple for the boss not included, but encouraged.

1. External microphone

Videoconferencing is now an integral part of work and life. You don’t need Hollywood lighting and sound rigs to be your best over Zoom, but small changes can help improve the quality of your remote appearances.

For example, a new mic is a sound idea. “Upgrading to a good microphone will make it easier for you to be heard by everyone in the meeting,” Sims said. “After adding a Blue Yeti microphone, I have had multiple court reporters comment on the quality of my audio. [The Blue Yeti] microphone has great quality, is reasonably priced, and is very easy to use.”

Mark Palmer, Chief Counsel for the Commission on Professionalism, also recommends Rode mics, which come in wireless or USB models.

The Elgato Wave 3, Audio-Technica AT2020, and Blue Snowball Ice are also highly rated options.

2. External webcam and video accessories

Hand-in-hand with a good mic comes a good webcam, Sims said. “Sure, our computers have built-in webcams. However, their quality is often not that great. [The Logitech Brio Webcam] is a great camera; it’s compatible with popular platforms and it’s reasonably priced. I tried two other cameras before I chose this one as my favorite.”

Other highly rated options include the NexiGo 1080p HD Web Camera, Elgato Facecam, and Razer Kiyo Streaming Webcam.

Our Executive Director Erika Harold also swears by a ring light to reduce shadows for video appearances. Lawyers can purchase stand-up versions for their home or office, or lights that clip onto a laptop or phone for on-the-go.

In a profession where precision and accuracy matter, high-quality video and sound can help you communicate more clearly with clients, judges, and colleagues and help you to feel more confident when appearing remotely.

3. AirTags or tile trackers

It’s (anecdotally) proven that whenever you’re running late, you will also misplace or forget your phone, wallet, keys, etc. Tile tracking systems combat this phenomenon.

“You can use AirTags [or other tile trackers] to track your bags, luggage, keys, pets, and more,” Palmer, said. “They’re perfect for attorneys who travel between their home, the office, and court.”

4. Motivational well-being tools

In her talk at The Future Is Now: Legal Services conference, attorney and psychotherapist Kara Hardin explained that safety is something we feel in our body, not something we create in our mind. For example, simple exercises, like “desk yoga” poses and standing up to stretch, can help us deal with overwhelm and stress at work.

To that end, Harold recommends investing in a fitness tracker to promote health and well-being. You can use your fitness tracker to set goals and reminders about steps for the day, when you should stand up, and how often to take mindfulness breaks.

Our Deputy Director Stephanie Villinski recommends a high-quality water bottle.

“Drinking more water throughout the workday has been one of my goals this year,” she said. “It’s a basic need that sometimes falls to the wayside when days get busy. Having a good water bottle near me throughout my day inspires me to take care of that need for myself.”

5. App subscriptions for meaningful breaks from work

Short breaks for our physical health, as mentioned above, are just one type of break that can benefit our workday. Mental rest, relaxation, and recuperation can each offer additional benefits—and there’s an app for that!

Garrett-Burnett said, for example, that her subscription to the Audible app helps her to destress after work.

“[I cannot live without] my AirPods and Audible. I need the ability to unwind and relax with the least amount of effort. Popping in my AirPods and listening to a book in Audible does it every time. We do so much reading in our profession, it is great to rest my eyes and let my imagination take me away,” she said.

Apps like Headspace and Calm specifically offer meditation and relaxation practices for mental well-being.

We’ve also previously recommended other apps for getting a brain boost out of your procrastination.

6. Dual monitors

Palmer made the case for more screens in a previous blog post. “We call it a desktop for a reason. Just as you might lay out a project on your desk, expanding the on-screen space on your desktop provides more real estate to focus on the web pages, documents, and platforms that enable you to do your job successfully,” he said.

If you’re thinking this just means more room for unwelcome distractions and mental clutter, you could be wrong. Palmer said, in his experience, having additional screens actually lends itself to more effective monotasking and focused collaboration if on video calls.

And, they’re easy to set up. Read more about dual monitors here.

7. Wireless trackball

Another standard computer part you can upgrade is your mouse.

“For years I used a regular mouse. A friend convinced me one time to try this Trackball. Once I tried it, I haven’t looked back,” Sims said. “It works really smoothly, it’s easy to clean, and it’s reportedly better for you than using a mouse. This trackball is so popular, you can even buy a carrying case for it.”

Think of how much time each week you spend working. Any small change that improves your physical comfort can have a significant impact on your efficiency, as well as how much you enjoy work.

Did we miss any of the tools you use to improve the way you work? Please share them with us in the comments.

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