Do you think we should have a time capsule for 2020? Obviously, masks, hand sanitizers, virus tests of whatever sort and kind, face shields, all the other PPE would go in there, but what else? Obituaries for the hundreds of thousands who have already died, and whose numbers continue to climb? And where to place that capsule? And how long before it’s opened?
I don’t think there is anyone on the planet who will have any regrets when 2020 beats its retreat. Given my age, I’ve lived through lots of crap, from the Vietnam War on forward and that war changed my life in many ways. Never, however, has there been anything in my lifetime like what this past year has wrought. Good riddance 2020, you can’t leave soon enough. Let me push you out the door.
So, I am not going to look back (as Satchel Paige said, don’t look back because something is gaining on you), and I am not going to look forward, except for the arrival of the vaccine. Looking forward is not my strong suit. A year ago, no one even thought about what was to come. Besides, my crystal ball is in the shop. I can wait. I leave future think to those more expert at prognostication. However, I do predict that we need to rethink the bar exam, multijurisdictional practice, and ways of providing better access to justice.
I can wait my turn for the vaccine, whenever that may be. I can wait for whatever time is takes for whatever the “new normal” will be. I can wait for so many things.
Lawyers are not normally patient people. (Surprise!) But I think this year may have slowed down the overdeveloped sense of urgency that we all have. Does it absolutely have to be done this minute? This hour? This day? Are most matters that we handle, especially nowadays really all that urgent? Do we need a holiday truce? See Exhibit A.
Our urgencies are nothing compared to what’s happening around us. Our profession has a culture with a proud history of service, but a dark side we should seek to shun.
The tragic murder/suicide of a Connecticut attorney and his wife reminds us that maybe truces should last longer than the holidays. And that we need to take care of ourselves as well as clients. How many more stories must we read before we lawyers finally understand that, as Kurt Vonnegut said, we are human beings, not human doings? We practice law, we don’t perfect it, and we still need to learn that our clients’ problems are not ours, but theirs.
So many dead, so many “long-haulers,” so many lives changed forever. For many lawyers, with roofs over our heads, food on the table, and some money in the bank, the world has not changed. Yes, we’re Zooming, Skyping, Face Timing, Blue Jeansing, or whatever service is used to connect with the world. Yet we’re pretty much sheltered from a lot of realities that essential workers face every day, those unemployed due to business closings of all type and nature, those who wait in long lines at food banks. We may whine and complain about how the pandemic affects our lives, but I think that we are, in the main, more fortunate than many. Remember that.
The CDC says that lawyers and judges fall within the definition of “other essential workers” for lining up for the vaccine. When will courts be fully operational again? And if the jury panels are not composed of essential workers, unlikely because they are stocking the grocery shelves, delivering mail and packages, and most importantly, trying to save lives, when will jury trials be underway without the present fear that lives in all of us (if not the virus)?
Mark Herrmann poses the question of how we will entertain ourselves after January 20.
The Twitter universe may well become boring, (hooray!) ditto other social media, which I prefer to call “unsocial media.” Less bullying, less animosity, perhaps a kinder, gentler world? Wouldn’t that be a relief, wouldn’t that be a pleasure? Could it lead to fewer tweets of this kind?
So many deaths from the virus, but so many heroes. Somehow in the time of all this awfulness, while the world continues to spin, legal work, transactions, discovery disputes — the things that make up the daily routine of lawyers’ lives — are not that big a deal. Unless it’s a criminal case of high stakes (and the death penalty can’t be any higher) the issue is money: who has it, who wants it, who gets it, and right now, I don’t think those things truly matter these days. I can hear the howls of protest, especially those in the “Biglaw world,” but just wait a minute. What truly matters these days? What should truly matter these days? If the answer has nothing to do with health and family, then this profession is further down the tubes than I think.
Nothing is more important than our health, the health and love of family and friends. Just ask anyone who has lost a loved one among the close to 350,000 (I can’t believe I am typing this number) who have died in the U.S. this year. Just ask someone who has had a loved one battle the virus and win, but whose life is forever changed.
Hopefully, we are learning that the things that matter are not billable hours, but as I said, the world continues to spin. As it does, thank those who have made it possible for us to continue living.
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 [email protected].