This month I ask you to think about the “defining moments” that you are experiencing right now as we navigate our way through the major changes and challenges of today’s world. Two months ago, we saw photos of people dressed in hazmat suits and patients dying in Chinese hospitals. It was all so far away. We were not cognizant that in just a few short weeks we would be experiencing the same thing and that so many aspects of our daily lives would be drastically impacted, literally overnight.
Now, in this uncertain time, we are told or ordered to stay at home, and we see our way of doing business shifting under our feet as fast as a massive earthquake. Clients may be getting cold feet about starting new lawsuits or completing work that has begun. Courts have slowed down, and some have ground to a halt. Law firms are letting people go, law firm management is dealing with tough decisions concerning how to proceed, and solos such as us are facing the stark realities of maintaining our own survival. In this process we will have many “defining moments.” Let’s explore what those may be and how we can use this time to review, analyze, and plan our way boldly into the future.
Think about Your Defining Moments Just Before COVID-19 Hit Our Shores
I ask you to spend some time pondering where we were just a few weeks ago—all the things we had on our plate, all the plans we had, all the deadlines and commitments we counted on to form the basis of our lives. Where are we now? In just this short time span, a new reality has come into existence. Everything is dramatically different. And our priorities have radically changed overnight. Many solos operate like a high percentage of American workers—monthly cash in/cash out. We don’t all have the recommended six months of savings to cover an outage such as this. We aren’t sure that clients will continue coming in the door as we do not know how many of them will be unemployed and unable to pay for basic legal services. We may need to let some of our employees go or reduce their salary. We may need to find new areas of law to practice. The level of uncertainty in our lives now changes every day when we see the numbers of infected people and forecasts of possible lives lost. It can surely cause stress, panic, and even despair. It’s not easy to work under these conditions. Yet, as lawyers we are trained to be leaders. To be strong. To not show our vulnerability or fear. That is just how we are.
It is a good idea to spend some time thinking about what our defining moments were in the period before COVID-19 and look at what they are now. It’s enlightening when you have a new prism to look through. The things you thought were so important two months ago are not even on the radar now. We are being called to dig deep into our personal reserves of strength and character.
Think about Your Defining Moments Now During the Crisis
How are you reacting to events? Are you willing to pivot quickly to what needs to be done in order to carry on the business? Or, are you just ignoring it and hoping it will go away? Are you thinking that others will be affected, not you? (Believe it or not, I have spoken to some of my colleagues who have professed these things!) Naturally, there are different stages we go through in the process. Phrases such as “this will be over quick,” “it won’t affect me,” or “I can handle it,” can quickly devolve into “oh no, I’m in trouble” to “how will I survive?” to “this is the end of me.”
My advice is to remember that we are all in the same boat together now, and reaching out and talking to one another is a good thing for us to do. Now is not the time to put on a brave front and go it alone. We know that our profession will be needed in a variety of ways, and this time calls for us all to be open-minded, nimble, and ready to change at a moment’s notice. This is a battle, and we will win if we are equipped. A big part of being equipped is really being in touch with yourself and your feelings. I suggest we all journal about what we are going through right now—our defining moments. It will be something precious to hand down to your children or grandchildren. You never know the lessons that you might glean from your own personal notes.
Think about What It Will Be Like after It Has All Settled Down Again
As with any big disruption, we all long for things to go back to the “way they were.” But we all know we will never be the same again. Our priorities will have been revealed during the crisis, and many of us will emerge with new priorities. The funny thing is all the recent emphasis on toilet paper. We never dreamed that such a commodity would be so very important. It’s symbolic if you really dig deep. There is probably a lot of “stuff” we need to get rid of and things we thought we needed in our lives that we don’t. A situation like this surely reveals those things. I have a friend whose daughter works for the company that sells Charmin. They are booming. Think about it: Innovation is born of crisis. There will be many changes. Courts can now do video hearings. We will probably continue to have that as an option. Why not? Mediations are being done online now, too. I just had my first one yesterday. Electronic notarization is coming, and I have applied to become a registered online notary. In just a few short weeks, everything has changed. We can look at it as exciting and invigorating, or we can let it get us down.
Luckily for me, I have many years in the law under my belt, and I have seen many crises come and go. And I have always somehow bobbed back up to the surface. That gives me great strength, and if you are a new lawyer reading this, please know that you, too, will make it through this. The oil market crashed in 1982, right when I got out of law school. That is part of the reason I started my own practice. Next we had the savings and loan crisis, then the crash of 2008, and then all the hurricanes and natural disasters. COVID-19 is the biggest and scariest one of all. It’s been a long time since WWII, and our country is having to motivate and rally quickly much in the same way we did back then. We are strong, and we can do this if we all work together. And stay calm.
I ask that you spend a little time reflecting on where you want to be in six months. Make some goals and plans, and “ACT AS IF, NOW!” How we react now will determine our fate. As our good friend Jack Canfield, author and motivational speaker, taught many of us in GPSolo leadership: E + R = O.
E + R = 0 --- Events Plus Response Equals Outcome
These are the defining moments of all our lives. There will be a big cleaning, both literally and metaphorically, in all of our lives. We will be putting the mask first on ourselves and then helping others. The best we can do right now is rally our lawyer spirit and be strong, be safe, and never, ever give up. Our profession will survive, and if we monitor our responses, we can assure ourselves an even better outcome at the end of all this. Please sit down with yourself and take a few minutes to ponder the before, the now, and the future of your life and think about what your defining moments are. We all will have tough choices to make, and having clear heads and hearts will help.
Your Help Is Requested
I may be writing a book about what lawyers are going through right now, and I would like to include many of my readers and friends from all across the country—how are you handling things, and what is going on in your jurisdiction? If you are interested in sharing your thoughts, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will have a questionnaire for you to answer, so just let me know you are willing to share. Your input would be valued and appreciated. Thank you. And remember, GPSolo is here to help you.
Defining Moments: Insights Into the Lawyer’s Soul
By Melanie Bragg
Product Code: 1620777
2019, 241 pages, paperback and e-book
$29.95; member price $23.95
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 9, Number 8, March 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.