December 01, 2020 Articles

Five Tips for Staying Focused in the Midst of a Pandemic and Social Unrest

These are devastating times, but we need not let the times dominate our lives.

By Autumn H. James
Despite the nation’s seemingly constant state of unrest, we are challenged to stay focused.

Despite the nation’s seemingly constant state of unrest, we are challenged to stay focused.

Credit: fizkes, iStock

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As we all know, 2020 has been a miserable year for most. From the unsettling death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter to the crippling social overhaul of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the suffocating deaths of Black people at the knee of the police to the anxiety-ridden lead-up to the presidential election.

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, these bundles of pain, anguish, and distrust have drastically changed this country and our lives. They have resulted in lost loved ones, jobs, homes, and even hope. Unfortunately, Black Americans and other diverse populations have been disproportionately affected by each of these events in 2020. This may be especially true for law students and legal professionals trying to focus in the midst of fear and fracture of our country.

Without realizing it, some of us have experienced the effects of too much news, which tends to exacerbate matters. This could lead to being too distracted, sad, or angry, or all of these, to carry on with daily activities. Despite the nation’s seemingly constant state of unrest, we are challenged to stay focused. Here are five practical tips to make sure we all stay on track, whether you are a law school student, a career professional, or a judge.

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  1. Keep your eye on the prize. We had goals before these tragic events. We enrolled in law school and chose our careers for a reason. Many of us chose the legal field so we can help others. We knew we would face challenges, and we have. We must not allow peripheral issues—no matter how important they may be—to disrupt our studies and work, or to take us off our game. We must become involved in programs and organizations like the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) that provide support and guidance to our community, especially minorities. Stay motivated and strong. Knowledge is power, so learn now, and we can be of more help to others.
  2. Stay safe. We should all know that our safety has been even more of an issue this year. Whether referring to COVID-19 or protests, staying safe is crucial. For COVID-19, we really need to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, tempered by our common sense. As an attorney and an expert in law, you will want people to trust you, right? Well, let us put our trust in these disease-control experts. As for the protests against the unjustified killings of Blacks, we are all shaken up and likely angry. However, we must avoid violence. As a student and a soon-to-be member of the bar, I will be completing the character and fitness assessment for the bar exam in a little over a year. I have made it this far without any hiccups, so instead of fighting back with violence, I will continue to speak out when appropriate and wait to “fight” the system using legal means of advocacy once I have “Esq.” or “JD” behind my name.
  3. Focus on and make time for your mental health. This tip is so important. Simply put, 2020 has been difficult and stressful. Despite all that has happened, we must find ways to minimize stress. Do the things you love doing. Meditating. Working out. Painting. Reading. Writing. Wining and dining. Minimize your use of social media or even delete it for a period of time. Whatever works for you, do something to relax. You must find something or some things to minimize your stress levels, which should help to preserve your mental health. If necessary, seek mental health professionals and reach out if you feel depressed. For instance, law students may have resources at their law schools and employees may have access to employee assistance programs that can connect them to counseling.
  4. Set practical goals and stay on course. As type-A law students and attorneys, many of us already plan our lives out by the week, day, or even hour. But do we routinely check on our progress in meeting these goals? I will be the first to admit that I do not. Whether you already depend on a planner or prefer a different planning method, it is important to set realistic, workable goals on a daily, or even weekly, basis. It is imperative that we follow up on these goals. This goal-setting and follow-up will help us stay the course and succeed despite any negative external factors.
  5. Avoid complete isolation. Although deleting or cutting back on social media may be beneficial at times, we should try to avoid completely isolating ourselves. COVID-19 has already separated us from many of our families and friends. It has made many aspects of our lives difficult, including maintaining social contact and participating in summer internships. However, through my summer JIOP internship with the Honorable Zuberi Bakari Williams, I came to realize that the virus also made some things easier. As much as we may dislike Zoom University, Zoom allowed me to attend meetings that I may not otherwise have been able to attend due to government-ordered shutdowns. Other technology platforms to facilitate community may include FaceTime, Skype, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. We can use these platforms to set up virtual meetings with others in the legal profession. Access to the platforms is often free, and there is no food to pay for, as would be the case for in-person lunch meetings, and no gas or mileage costs for travel. These same apps can be used for virtual contacts with our family, friends, and long-distance partners. Technology is our friend most of the time, so we should use it to further our careers, and to stay connected with loved ones, despite the current state of our nation.

These are devastating times, but we need not let the times dominate our lives. Despite the current state of our nation, we should keep ourselves abreast of all that is happening. Also, we need to remember that it is OK to momentarily step away when we experience overload. We need to remember what is important to us and, in doing so, make sure we set practical goals. Finally, we should seek ways to maintain our mental health throughout all of these events to get through this together.


Autumn James


Autumn James is a second-year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where she participates on the John J. Gibbons National Criminal Procedure Moot Court Team and serves as the vice president of the Black Law Students Association. She participated in JIOP as an intern to the Honorable Zuberi B. Williams of the District Court of Maryland, District VI—Montgomery County.

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