Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England. This week: the importance of a lunch break

Recently the Central Family Court disclosed draft 'wellbeing guidance' that, amongst other things, said that barristers (and I assume solicitors?) should take an hour for lunch. It is a really interesting point. 


I am currently reading Human Instinct by Robert Winston, having seen him speak recently at a brain injury conference. He says that our brain uses 20% of our energy, despite only accounting for 2% of our body weight. This shows the importance of actually eating during the day, and drinking plenty of water, if we want to work hard and work well. I’m always trying to force a banana on my kids to boost their mood but often run on empty (or even worse, on caffeine) myself. I know I have said before that we are not surgeons, but we are still required to have clarity of thought, give good advice and get through a huge amount of work, making good and efficient use of our time. There will be the odd day where you don’t even have time to go to the toilet, but if you regularly don’t have time to eat lunch, and generally deal with the things entering and exiting your body, either you or someone else is expecting too much of you.

But what about the break itself? We do seem to be programmed to need breaks, whether it be annual leave, weekends or short breaks in the day. I am furious that I am ten or twenty years too young to have experienced having a colleague whose job it was to bring round a trolley of tea, and to have actually stopped for tea, both of which I understand to have been the norm in offices around the time I was drinking cartons of sun-warmed milk at primary school.

My old training principal used to talk about his days in Chancery Lane where the partners would come in, dictate a few letters, go to the Law Society for a long lunch, come back to sign the letters and go home. He wasn’t much better himself, and to this day he has a pub lunch five days a week complete with at least two glasses of wine. If he was stressed in the morning I would wait until the afternoon to ask him my stupid questions.

Last year we went to France on holiday and, as well as various other disasters befalling us (like flash floods and our two year old working out how to undo her car seat and dance around on the back seat, every day for a week, and not giving a hoot about how much we screamed at her to sit back down) our car broke down. After a LOT of phone calls with the RAC it was arranged that our car would be fixed at a nearby dealership. You probably know where this is going. We dropped the car off in the morning and got a taxi to the beach. The car was fixed, but we were unable to pick it up for another two hours while they were closed for lunch. Two hours! That is a serious break for some serious eating, I guess, but also for socialising, rest and enough time to go home to be with your family.

My brother works in another professional industry where presenteeism, as they call it, is en vogue and any lunch break is quietly frowned upon. This brother of mine is as tired as all the rest of us with young children, works long hours, and drives at least 150 miles a day. Give him a blooming lunch break. And what about our poor eyes? It was one thing when we were looking at our computers for seven hours a day, and maybe the telly in the evening, but now most of us are looking at our phones for literally the rest of our waking hours.

In a way, I might have the best of both worlds. At my interview I explained that this would be the first time I had worked three days a week and needed to ensure it was something we could afford for me to do. Our HR manager suggested I take a half hour lunch break instead of an hour. The other half hour adds up to an extra 6 hours a month that I am getting paid. I’m not really sure this is right for a fairly senior fee earner. I would probably have worked most of that time anyway, just like I don’t rock up at 9am on the dot. I usually only stop to eat though, and maybe to catch up on Whatsapp or go to the post office.

When I was training and newly qualified I would often leave my desk piled high at 1pm and drive the short drive to my gran’s house, where (I swear) she would be able to magic up tea, a bacon sandwich and a jammy dodger within thirty seconds of my unannounced arrival. I would revel in the quiet and how oblivious my gran was to the horrors on my desk, sometimes even closing my eyes for ten minutes, before heading back, refreshed in all senses of the word.

Those days and my awesome gran are both just memories now but the perspective and clarity that comes from a bacon sandwich and some peace and quiet can and should live on, and never be underestimated.