When I wrote my March “Defining Moments” column, everything was new about the coronavirus as it made its sudden appearance in our lives. A powerful force, completely out of our control, took us from running around with our hair on fire to being at a complete standstill. Our plans and dreams were put on hold. Suddenly, we had to adopt new ways of functioning in all areas of our lives, and the uncertainty was overwhelming to many of us. There were so many questions and so few answers; it was hard to know how to react. Our worlds were turned upside down, and we realized how little control we really had. No one was exempt. And the fear of a deadly disease we knew little about took over our psyches. We had to sit tight and reimagine and reinvent ourselves in order to survive.
Reimagine Our Worlds—Both Office and Home
In the last two months a lot has happened. Although we are seeing things “open up,” we know deep down that profound and long-lasting societal changes are in order—both in our workplaces and at home. In March the focus was on science, medicine, and the sanctity of human life. In May things have shifted to more of a political and economic conversation. With millions of people unemployed, getting the economy back on track while maintaining safety in the workplace is paramount. People want their lives back. We all do. How we proceed will have historic ramifications on our culture going forward.
Lawyers as leaders must, in my opinion, do the hard work and self-analysis required to take themselves in the best direction possible and to lead others whom they touch in their sphere of influence. We have a duty not only to remain healthy and stable in order to provide for and enjoy our families, but also to be able to zealously serve our clients, many of whom will have significant needs in the near future. Let’s think about ways we can do that now. How we respond reflects our values and beliefs about community and who we are as people.
Look for the Hidden Treasures of This Challenging Time
We must accept that things have changed and endeavor to find the hidden treasures in the situation. The ABA GPSolo Division is hosting a weekly Zoom Roundtable on Thursdays at 2:00 pm Eastern Time open to anyone who wants to participate. I have learned on the weekly calls that most national court systems got on board quickly to provide virtual hearings. It is such a relief to hear that what I am going through is happening to others around the country. And it is encouraging to learn that many of us still have work and are maintaining our practices. While it is a big change from what we are used to, I really love some of the changes. Like many jurisdictions, Texas courts responded quickly, and we have virtual hearings now. My hope is that we will be able to continue the practice by choice until each one of us feels that it is safe to go back.
New Ways to Administer Justice Is a Hidden Treasure
I opened my Zoom account in 2016, but I didn’t use it much. As a result of COVID-19, doing my initial consults and client meetings via Zoom has been a game changer. For years I have represented people from other states whom I only talked to on the phone. I love that we are able to talk “in person” now, and I find that we are able to make a good personal connection that way. It is working for local clients as well. It saves them the time of driving to and from my office and is more efficient in many ways.
Use Virtual Connections to Get Closer
Another hidden treasure is that many of my national friends and I, who are used to seeing each other every three months at ABA meetings, are getting together on Zoom calls, and we wonder why we never did this before. Families who live in different states are now connecting via Zoom, too, and one friend told me that she gets together with her family on Sunday nights and they play board games. She shared that she feels “like a part of the family” again. And being at home more has really been good for many of us. All those renovations and projects that we put off for so long are now done. Eating meals at home with family is a good thing. I have lived in my house for 12 years and never really enjoyed my front porch. After a little renovation, I now have a wonderful place to get to know my neighbors better and appreciate this vibrant community.
At my office I am converting my small conference room into a Zoom studio for my calls and CLE and other presentations. Getting ahead of the technology and being able to serve clients and your audiences in new and better ways is a valuable investment of time. These are just a few of the hidden treasures I have discovered of late. Make a list of your own. Think about the “ah-ha” defining moments you are having about your environments and your ability to function in new and different ways.
Resisting Change Is Not an Option
By accepting things as they are, you are going to get farther faster. Learning new technology (e.g., for a virtual hearing) and then teaching it to clients so that they are prepared is something we must do in order to reimagine our practices. If you have been at home with kids and have heard the theme song from the movie Frozen over and over during this time—good. “Let it go” needs to be our mantra. Letting go and accepting big change that we did not expect or plan for is not easy. But it is necessary. And time is of the essence. Sitting around waiting for “things to come back” is not a winning strategy. Others will pass you by, and you will be left behind.
Adapt Your Life and Workplace
If you are a lawyer with an office in a big building with many people going in and out regularly, that building may have been shut down. Many of my lawyer friends could not go to their offices these past few months. Those who already had everything in the cloud and who were operating virtually did not find the transition difficult. Others got on board fast. Many of us solos and small firm lawyers were still able to go to the office and work by ourselves or with maybe just one or two people. At this stage, law firms are scrambling to implement policies and procedures for a safe return. As we go forward, the safety of our staff and our clients is going to be something that is part of our firm brand and mission. How we handle that will say a lot to the public about who we are. I suggest making safety a priority; if your clients see you taking care of their safety, they will have more confidence that you will successfully take care of their legal matters.
Reinvent Yourself and Your Firm
For the first several weeks of the crisis, everyone was pretty much on stun and adapting many areas of their lives as quickly as possible. The challenges of this time must be met with a spirit of flexibility regarding all aspects of life. It isn’t just work that is affected. For those with school-age children, having the added stress of homeschooling children while working has to be one of the biggest challenges of all. In these instances, creativity and resilience are vital, and the way we have handled things is a testament to our strong wills and abilities. I am very proud of our creativity and adaptability during this tough time. Our strength and resilience as lawyers and American citizens will carry us through this tough time to survive and thrive.
During this COVID-19 experience, having an open mind, looking for the hidden treasures, knowing that we will get through it a stronger and better people in a healthy and prosperous profession will make it go faster and more productively. We will have many defining moments, and if we play our cards right, our law firms will not only come out better, but we will find ways to really improve access to justice one client at a time. Please consider working with your bar associations to help in whatever ways you can. We are all in this tough situation together, and together we will prevail.
Your Help Is Requested
Since my last “Defining Moments” column, many of you responded that you wanted to be a part of an upcoming book about lawyers going through COVID-19. I have begun work on this important project, and if you want to share some of your defining moments with me about what is going on in your jurisdiction and how you are handling things, please e-mail me at email@example.com. I will send you a questionnaire and possibly set up a 20-minute Zoom call to discuss it with you. Your sincere and honest input would be valued and appreciated. Thank you. GPSolo is here to help.
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 10, May 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.