Practice Watch

Practice advice

Felicia S. Folk, the Law Society's Practice Advisor, is available to give advice in confidence about professional conduct, including questions about undertakings, confidentiality and privilege, conflicts, courtroom and tribunal conduct and responsibility, withdrawal, solicitors' liens, client relationships, lawyer-lawyer relationships and other ethical and practice questions. All

communications between Ms. Folk and lawyers are strictly confidential, except in cases of trust funds shortages. You are invited to call her at (604) 669-2533 (toll-free in B.C. 1-800-903-5300) or email her at


The daily New York Times now contains more information than the seventeenth century man or woman would have encountered in a lifetime.

Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety (1989)

Every day we are inundated with an ever-increasing amount of information and an ever-increasing number of decisions on what to do with that information. Studies show that work and personal life suffer due to the stress induced by information overload.

One strategy that professionals employ in their wrestling match with information and task overload is to multi-task. Multi-tasking creates the impression and perception that we are doing two tasks simultaneously. However, multi-tasking actually involves rapidly switching our attention back and forth from one task or stimulus to another.

In their book, Technostress, psychologists Larry Rosen and Michelle Weil say, "Like jugglers, people have inherent limits as to how many balls they can keep in the air at the same time. If they try to manage too much at once, their cognitive system, or brain, doesn't work very well. In fact, with just a few too many thoughts, our entire system goes into serious overload and, just like the overextended juggler, all the balls start falling, and one must scramble to pick up the pieces . When animals are forced to multi-task, they become nervous, frightened, and eventually frozen into inactivity or launched into a frenzy."

When we are experiencing processing overload, the brain runs full tilt at times when it really needs to be quiet and resting. So, in the middle of the night, we wake with a myriad of ideas and are unable to fall asleep until they are removed from our active consciousness. We are actually searching for ways to turn off our brains and get the rest we need.

Technology not only directly contributes to information overload, it also indirectly contributes to it through a phenomenon Rosen and Weil label "time compression."

When we are faced with tasks, we rely on our own internal clocks to estimate how long the task will take. Rosen and Weil assert that, as a result of the speed of technology, we tend to consistently estimate that tasks will take less time to complete than they do. Consequently, instead of saying no to additional work when we are busy, we take on more, exacerbating our overload.

Strategies to turn the tide

Set limits and boundaries: Advise others of your preferred form of communication. Designate the best times for people to call you. Ration the time you spend cruising the internet or watching television.

Give yourself solid, uninterrupted time to work on one task: Make it a priority to complete a task before moving on to the next.

Respond on your own time: Disable the e-mail "ding" and turn off the ringer on the fax machine.

Sift and trash: Focus on the information you really need. Separate the important from the rest. Don't save a huge pile of articles, faxes and e-mails that you intend to reconsider later.

Use the technologies that work for you: You don't have to acquire every new technology. If beepers and cell phones cause you stress, stick with voicemail.

Schedule time away from information: Set aside time for exercise, sports, dinner with friends and vacations.

Information Fatigue Syndrome
  • Feeling a continual need to engage in multi-tasking behaviour
  • "Plugged-in" compulsion: Experiencing a constant need to check voicemail and e-mail
  • Experiencing an inability to slow down because there is always more to do than time allows
  • Free-floating hostility: Becoming angry when something or someone interferes with work flow
  • Stress and health problems: poor concentration, sleep disturbances, irritability, memory loss and physical illness
  • Alienation from others
  • Mental and emotional "shut down" due to information overload

* Thanks to Mike Long and "Insight," the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program newsletter, for permission to reproduce this item.

Practice Checklists Manual

The next update to the Practice Checklists Manual will be published on the Law Society website in May. In addition to the annual update of existing checklists, two new areas of law will be added:

  • Immigration Law
  • Gay and Lesbian Issues

Immigration Law will be added as a separate checklist, while Gay and Lesbian Issues are expected to be incorporated into existing checklists in several areas of practice.

Human rights and Aboriginal Law issues will also be added to the checklists in the near future. The focus of the latter will be on issues that arise when Aboriginal clients or interests are involved in a legal matter; accordingly, each of the existing checklists will be reviewed to determine where those issues might arise.

The CLE Society is working with the Law Society on these and other future improvements to the checklists.