While it is common for attorneys to be involved in other worker's injury cases there has been little work done to help prevent injuries to attorneys themselves. The combination of awkward postures bent over a desk and computer, long hours, deadline driven work, and high amounts of stress result in a large number of repetitive strain injuries.
Let's start with handwriting and reading as these traditionally have been what lawyers spend many hours doing. Due to intense concentration it is common to become bent over and close to the work. This creates great stresses to the low back, neck, and arms. As this affects your body and you become fatigued a negative cycle emerges where you slouch even more. A proper chair is a good starting point. The more comfortable and supportive your chair the more you are likely to sit back into it. Traditional leather executive chairs, while luxurious, offer next to no support and contribute to injury. Find a chair that allows back height and angle adjustments, adjustable armrests, adjustable tilt tension, and possibly a neck or headrest. The chair should allow you to change positions often and remain supported. Our Lawyers Chair was custom designed to be the perfect combination of these features.
Next is the desk or writing height. Ideally it should be 2 inches above elbow height. If the desk is too high raise your chair and use a footrest or phone book under your feet. Remain upright while writing to keep your elbow open greater than ninety degrees and keep most of the weight off of your wrists and forearms to reduce strain. Keep reading and writing materials close to minimize reach. A sloped writing surface such as an ErgoDesk or Copy holder brings papers up into view to read and write on with less bending over. Other professions that traditionally spent long periods bent over the desk, such as draftsmen and architects, have long used slanted tables. A cheap way to do this is to use an empty 3-ring binder. Computer keyboard and mouse heights should be about 3” lower. Often a keyboard tray that can be pushed under the desk or that is attached to a desk return can allow you to utilize both proper writing and computing heights. You should still go through our Free Ergonomic Evaluation for tips on setting up the computer.
It is common to use excessive force to hold the pen, especially when stressed or busy. Use the lightest grip possible to write. Pens with larger diameters, such as the Dr. Grip pen, require less force. So do felt tip and gel roller pens. While writing try to move from your shoulder and elbow more and not just in the hand. There are several types of ergonomics pens on the market and they often require less force to use as well. Good examples include the EzGrip ResQ Pen and the PenAgain. Take frequent stretch breaks and don't hold your pen while typing.
A common culprit of neck pain is monitor placement. Often screens are placed off to the side of the desk so they don't obstruct talking with clients. This is a sure fire way to cause neck pain. A monitor arm allows the screen to be centered and at the correct height for using the computer but easily moved to the side when talking with clients.
If using a laptop it is best to use an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard or plug into a docking station. A laptop holder can raise the screen to the correct height and is also good while traveling. See our laptop recommendations page for more details.
Pinching the phone between the ear and shoulder results in neck pain and pinched nerves. Use a telephone headset to put your neck in a healthy position and free up your hands to safely type or take notes. A speaker phone is also helpful, though not always appropriate for privacy concerns. As able, stand up to take phone calls giving your back a much needed break.
Give your eyes frequent breaks by looking 20 feet away every 20 minutes. Lighting is often overlooked in regards to it's effect on workplace comfort. Try to place monitors perpendicular to windows to minimize glare. If this is not possible consider a glare filter, blinds, or tinted window applications to help with this. A task light lets you have a comfortable room brightness but focus stronger light on the areas where you need it to write and read.
Carrying a laptop creates strain on your neck and shoulder. If you often travel with your computer use a rolling laptop bag. There are even some that are combo laptop and overnight bags for business trips.
This gives you a good start. If you have significant problems or have issues we have not addressed it is best to consult an ergonomic consultant. Contact us and we can put you in touch with someone in your area. Don't forget to complete our Free Ergonomic Evaluation to set up your computer and desk.