A Lawyer’s Reflection
This morning I appeared in Superior Court for a preliminary injunction hearing. Like any other morning when I have a hearing on the court calendar, I woke up, reviewed and made final tweaks to the outline of my arguments and checklist of questions for witnesses, and put on a suit. But unlike every other court appearance I’ve had, this morning I did not drive to the courthouse hoping I’d arrived early enough to find a good parking spot. I didn’t walk through security screening. No, this morning I walked down the hall from my bedroom to my home office, where I then used my laptop to log in to a virtual hearing, joined by my client and colleague, the judge, and opposing counsel – each of us logging in from our own computers in our own homes, offices, or for the judge, his courtroom. To say it was a surreal experience would be an understatement.
Overnight, it seems, life and the practice of law as I knew them were turned upside down, their contents shaken about on the floor, landing in a big disorderly heap. Instantly, the coping skills I’ve worked diligently to hone since entering a profession that is demanding under the best of circumstances – and exponentially more stressful against the backdrop of a global pandemic the likes of which haven’t been experienced by any lawyer alive today (at least not when he would have been of prescient age) – began to quaver.
I quickly felt overwhelmed by the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, which of course are beyond my – and our – control. My therapist, whom I’ve been seeing regularly since my marriage fell apart a few years ago, has been working with me for some time on the concept that control is an illusion, at least in the existential sense. The rational part of my brain understands this perfectly; the part that I suspect most influenced my decision to self-select as a lawyer, however, the part that savors hard work and strives for excellence, precision, and elimination of chance in any task to which I dedicate myself – not so much. I suspect she and I will have more work to do on this issue in the coming weeks and months, particularly as things entirely beyond my control continue to occur with ever increasing frequency as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. Prior to COVID-19, I had only ever attended therapy sessions in person; last week my appointment was conducted via teletherapy. Another first for me.
On especially bad days (because lately every day seems like it should qualify as some degree of “bad,” at the very least), I sometimes become very nearly paralyzed with worry for the health and well-being of those close to me who are designated, according to the CDC’s criteria, as “high risk.” My grandparents, three of whom are still living, for example; one of my co-workers, who has an autoimmune disorder; my best friend and two of my cousins, all of whom are nurses on the front lines of this war; my firm’s support staff, all of whom by virtue of age alone are at higher risk of a severe infection should they become infected by COVID-19. And this is to say nothing of the financial worries – for my clients; for small businesses everywhere, in every industry; for my parents, that they may no longer be able to retire at a reasonable age; the list goes on. And I’d be displaying false bravado if I said I’m not, to a certain extent, also worried about my own well-being – my physical, mental, and financial health when all is said and done.
I’m trying to stay focused on the silver linings each day offers: promising examples of bipartisan leadership at both the State and federal levels, the opportunity for the legal profession to experiment with potentially innovative strategies such as working from home, the heightened sense of community I feel with my neighbors, co-workers, friends, and fellow citizens, to name a few. For now, I’m taking things one day at a time and just doing the best I can.
If I could add a few words to the definition of professionalism in the coming months, I’d suggest they be empathy, grace, perspective, nimbleness, and acknowledgement and acceptance of vulnerability – both our own and others’.
Take care, and stay well.