Long Hauls, Broad Concerns
Long COVID captures effects of COVID-19 that persist, worsen, or begin after four weeks. Fatigue, pain, weakness, trouble focusing, dyspnea, and depression constitute a mere sample of possible symptoms. Like other conditions, chronic COVID-19 can feel like a chronic catch-22: exhaustion precluding activities that energize or pain preventing the preparation of anti-inflammatory meals.
A study found that adults with long COVID are more likely to work part-time or be unemployed—for members of demanding professions like law, that is concerning. Brain fog unplugs the power for critical analysis or attention to detail. Anxiety invites avoidance. Stress can exacerbate fatigue. Symptom management requires time, inherently at a premium, and severe changes bring professional responsibility concerns. Lawyers may be especially susceptible to long COVID’s disruption.
Thinking Like a Lawyer to Feel Like One Again
Lawyers may also be especially situated to manage it.
Admittedly, I left my job. Despite my strain managing long COVID as a lawyer, managing long COVID like a lawyer still works. Advocacy, prioritization, creativity, and diligence require little departure for legal practitioners. As general guidance, all might fit in your own approach.
Before doing anything, identify if someone else can do it. Asking for help redirects your advocacy toward yourself, and letting others support you today might facilitate recovering enough to support them.
Relatedly, laws can help lawyers. The Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations like virtual meetings, an adjustable desk, or modified breaks could realign lawyering with your current symptoms. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers a technical assistance guide covering attorneys with disabilities. Other laws govern leave rights. Human resources staff at your organization can assist with employer-provided benefits. The key is to ask―advocating to let yourself be counseled.
The same holds with providers. When your symptoms get downplayed because you still function day-to-day as a lawyer, or you feel some treatments are incompatible with your work, tell your story. You have the facts and experiences to stimulate a professional’s technical application. Frame them honestly and respectfully, yet persuasively, as you would in any advocacy.
When symptoms subside, you might rush to accomplish everything. Doing so can trigger a relapse, causing responsibilities to pile back up and perpetuating an unmanageable cycle. Pacing, an applied form of prioritization, blocks the temptation to sustain consistent performance.
I group things by deadline, then organize by what I can do at my baseline, what I can still do when highly symptomatic, and what I can only do on a good day. I also note which activities alleviate symptoms and which cause malaise. Off this, I prioritize tasks that need energy, defer those that do not, build symptom relief into busy days, and create buffers around taxing activities. A physical planner keeps me from indulging in notifications and diving into extraneous tasks. Others favor apps that track, analyze, or connect. You can even incorporate calendar management tools you already use.
Just as you find creative solutions for clients, you can identify new options for yourself if needed. Consider part-time practice, focused positions (e.g., form preparation or intake), or project-based work. Some accommodations your employer might be unable to provide―like remote work, reduced travel, or lack of billable hours―may be the default elsewhere.
When logistics or professional duties prevent active practice, other positions can still incorporate your interests. You might have insight useful in research, skills sought by the legal tech industry, experience relevant to nonprofit management consulting, or a high enough score to tutor the LSAT.
It’s okay to grieve anything you lose. My path out of law was certainly more sudden than my path in. Professional and personal identity often overlap, and your sense of justice can crumble. Feel what you need to―remembering that others can help you―and feel it diligently, seeing your emotions through whatever process heals.
It’s also okay to be optimistic—for many, long COVID resolves. The Office of Long COVID Research and Practice recently opened within the US Department of Health and Human Services, coordinating everything from clinical trials to resource guides. Carefully preserve options if you make adjustments. Jurisdictions may offer different licensure statuses with requirements worth noting now. You can also maintain your network and, if ethically able to, volunteer pro bono.
Thinking Like a Lawyer to Help Another
Supporting a lawyer with long COVID taps into developed skills, too.
Long COVID varies; even individuals with the same concerns still have different needs. Overly positive remarks, for example, can invalidate as often as they inspire. Ask and listen for what the other person wants before applying your insight.
Supervisors can empathize by helping attorneys with long COVID organize job duties to find flexibility. Determine which stakeholders offer their own accommodation process and facilitate. Otherwise, maximize options within your control and acknowledge how formal procedures to request modifications can be exhausting or invasive.
Use humility and offer to help a work friend with household chores. If someone leaves the law, keep a path in case things improve and stay in contact regardless. Give lawyers with long COVID a chance to help you, too: negotiating recognizes we still contribute.
Advocate only when asked, and be creative as you do. Laws like the ADA set floors, not ceilings. Explore unconsidered options. Likewise, view inclusive activities as opportunities to design something new for everyone. If a change in coordination adds danger to a teambuilding hike, fuse nature and unity on a scavenger hunt boat tour. If brain fog makes a networking trivia event demoralizing, pick a novel, luck-based game to keep friendly competition part of connecting.
Creative solutions often depend on the same foresight lawyers need at work. A proactive approach can be as small as confirming accommodations with outside venues or picking commitments with low sunk costs in case of last-minute attendance changes. Above all, include lawyers with long COVID in finding those answers without mandating their participation. It can be a relief to help design something that anticipates concerns or provides contingencies instead of needing to speak up later.
Managing long COVID as a lawyer can borrow from practice. Supporting others can, too.
What I’m up to these days isn’t so different, either. I really am learning a lot about long COVID.