Lawyers in Lockdown - Furloughed Triple Olympian Elise Sherwell

Elise Sherwell, triple Olympian with two Olympic Bronze medals for rowing (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008) offers support and reflection for fellow furloughed lawyers and employees from all industries by drawing on her experience as an elite sportswoman, and more recently lawyer, mother and wife to a GP working on the front line in the fight with coronavirus.

"Things moved very quickly from the end of February. Like most people, I had that moment of dread as the epidemic became a pandemic and as the news was filled with stories of new hospitals being built, job losses and business closures.

When I retired as an Olympic rower after a 10-year career spanning the Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, finishing with two Olympic bronze medals, I had a law degree under my belt and transitioned into the workplace easily. Twelve years later I still love working in law, I enjoy the work and the PDT team with whom I spend my days. I love the challenge of working out problems together, helping our clients achieve their ambitions. Now I am on furlough leave, life has turned upside down and in finding the best way to cope with the turmoil, I have reached for the strategies I used during the periods I was hit by every sportsperson's nightmare: injury.

My life was lived in four-year cycles. Every day was geared towards racing for seven minutes in an Olympic final. Some days it was hard to think about an Olympic final especially on a cold January day spent training outside in freezing winds, lifting weights in the gym and racking up hour after hour on the indoor rowing machine. How would the six hours spent training on the Thames in January make me fast over a seven-minute race many years from now? I had to trust in the programme and trust that every day I was making small improvements.

When an injury strikes there is no "good time" for it to occur, it just happens, and you have to deal with it. Being furloughed is like being an injured athlete. I am not able to train to the same physical level I was at before the injury, but elite sport is about so much more than physical fitness.

Boat speed is spread across several different areas. Physical training is obviously the biggest part, but mental training, tactical planning, research into equipment, clothing and what you eat makes a difference too and all of these aspects are part of the process. If you are unable to put the physical training in when you are injured, you can still excel in the other areas. If nothing else it is a time when the pressure to perform is off and you can reset and refresh mentally.

Being furloughed is a similar process, especially in an area such as law. Whilst I am no longer client facing, I am still able to work on my mental strength, my research, my strategies and most importantly contribute and be part of my team. I have the opportunity to take a step back from the pressure of delivering on time for my clients on a day to day basis and consider how I can deliver results more efficiently, both in terms of technology and time management, as well as spending time on my development as a lawyer.

Applying my lessons learned over years of full-time sport has provided me with the mental strength to deal with unexpected scenarios. As our team psychologist used to say "control the controllables". This mantra is as relevant in business as it is sport. I am looking forward to getting back into the race once the time is right."


Elise Sherwell works for PDT Solicitors, a legal 500 and Chambers ranked corporate law firm based in the south east specialising in corporate and commercial law, property law, commercial dispute resolution and employment law. PDT Solicitors are recognised as a leading expert in the asset based finance and pharmaceutical industries.

In response to the crisis PDT have launched a Covid19 legal advice hub which provides legal advice and important updates to help you navigate the ever-changing government guidelines and policy as the pandemic develops. The legal hub also contains stories on the human side of the pandemic, the realities of being a lawyer in lockdown, stories of our real-life client champions, and positive ways we can all stay connected and doing business.



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