In a normal world, April 1 is April Fools’ Day, but this year, there is nothing to joke about, no pranks, no practical jokes. Nada, zip, zilch. Even though we all need a good laugh (I can always watch again for the umpteenth time the movie Airplane!) we certainly don’t want to do it at anyone’s expense.
The author Annie Dillard says that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So, how are you spending your days these days?
Let’s look at a few examples. A Brooklyn lawyer is suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State of New York for purportedly violating his constitutional right of free speech, right to travel, and free exercise of religion. Gee, I had no idea that attorneys were immune to Covid-19 and thus don’t have to take the steps that everyone else in the world needs to take in order to stay safe. If that is indeed the case, then no attorney needs to be staying at home and can bill as many hours as inhumanly possible since there seems to be no reason why not. Yes, I know that lawyers walk on water.
Then there’s the judge who quite properly benchslapped lawyers for bothering the court with trivial BS at a time when lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy. Not only do these lawyers need to know how to define “emergency,” and what qualifies as a true emergency and what is not, lawyers who don’t know how to play nice while people are sick and dying should be woodshedded. And if you don’t know what that term means, look it up right after looking up the word “emergency.” That would be a very interesting hearing to observe from a safe distance. Judges shouldn’t need a pandemic to tell lawyers that they need to pick up their marbles and go home for a while.
Did you hear the one about the Nebraska attorney disbarred for assaulting his elderly parent? So much for “honor thy father and mother.” I wonder how this attorney will now spend his days.
It’s always refreshing when one of us ATL columnists is candid enough to say he was wrong. Kudos to Mark Herrmann in his most recent post for admitting that he didn’t see the pandemic coming. More kudos to Mark for saying in print what many of us are thinking, but not voicing yet. It’s going to be a terrible year for law practice, and I think it will take into 2021 at the earliest for things to start to right themselves. We’re starting second quarter today.
Yes, things will start up again, exactly when is to be determined, but I don’t think the practice will ever be the same as it was, let alone the world as we knew it. As lawyers and clients realize that they don’t need to meet face to face, remote lawyering will become even more popular; it already is among younger cohorts. No more traveling to meetings with the attendant expenses; no more hanging around in a courtroom for hours waiting for your case to be called, no more meetings that are often a waste and just an excuse to bill time. We will take off some, if not all, of the shackles that has chained us to our desks.
Do we need all that space? Not really. Do we need the awe-inspiring lobby and conference rooms that are the size of Rhode Island (sorry, Rhode Island, I don’t mean to insult you)? A lot of the trappings that were important P.P.E. (pre-pandemic era) just don’t have the cachet anymore. Layoffs have already started (see ATL’s website for the latest), and partner compensation has already started to take a hit as well.
For newbies and associates who have been doing transactional work, if you are interested in seeing the back end of deals — the workouts, the forbearances, the business failures, and even the bankruptcies — then now is your chance to raise your hand and learn another area. See how deals come apart, rather than how deals are made. My clients who did special assets workouts (bankspeak for problem, troubled, or “in the toilet” loans) had wide latitude to be creative to get paid, however it could be arranged. So, for those of you who haven’t yet experienced a downturn, it will be a bumpy ride, but well worth it for the knowledge gained. You will learn more from what went wrong than what went right. Invaluable expertise for transactional lawyers.
In the overall scheme of things, what’s most important? Your health and the health of your loved ones. Losing anyone in this crisis is horrible; having to say good-bye by FaceTime or such other noncontact method is even worse. It’s unspeakable and the cruelest, but now the only way, to say good-bye.
Don’t assume that you will not be a victim of COVID-19; that’s assuming facts not in evidence. I go back to Annie Dillard’s words and ask you to look at how you are spending your days. A friend of mine on the appellate bench here in California said it best: “be safe and touch nothing but your loved ones,” if you are lucky enough to share a household with them. They may annoy the hell out of you in different times (and probably even annoy you now), but no matter.
Dillard also says that “There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.” Right now, there is a shortage of good days. Will good lives also hard to come by?
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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