By Barbara Levenson

We are in uncharted territory. Even if we’ve been through fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes or hurricanes, nothing has prepared us for a pandemic and its incipient shortages. My mom said that the grocery shortages remind her of WWII rationing. I’m reminded of the “odd days” and “even days” of the oil crisis in the 1970s, waiting in a long line line of cars to get gas. Some people are reminded of the polio outbreak of the 1950s; others are reminded of the AIDS crisis.

No matter what your frame of reference, we are all experiencing uncertainty. With uncertainty, comes fear. Will I get sick? Will I die? Will I lose my job? Will I lose someone I love? How do I care for my aging parents if I can’t visit them? How can I focus on work when my entire family is at home 24/7? How can I get my work done when I have no one to talk to? What if I lose my job? How will I pay my bills? Are we going to have another Great Recession? Will this turn into another Great Depression?

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” No one knows what is going to happen. What I do know is: the only thing that we can control is our reactions to what is going on. We can chose to be led by our fears, or we can take control of our fears. This isn’t easy.
Some days are going to be better than others. Staying safe and staying healthy is the most important thing that we can do, the rest WILL fall into place.

Take a breath. Take another breath. Keep breathing. Focus on what is, not on what if. When your mind starts to race and you start losing focus, remember, we are all going through this together. This isn’t just happening to you. So unless you’re running a fever and experiencing other symptoms of coronavirus, you’re are okay today. And today is all we have.

Lawyers aren’t comfortable with uncertainty. We like being in control. Not having answers flies in the face our training. We are taught to look at issues from different angles. We try anticipate what the other side will do and strategize accordingly. However, in dealing with a pandemic, our training eludes us. When your dentist tells you not to come in for your cleaning, it feels like we’re in a parallel universe. When your doctors tell you to postpone your annual exams, it’s scary. When there’s nothing to binge-watch on Netflix, it’s scary. Keeping a sense of humor helps.

In California, we are starting our third week of sheltering in place. If you were working at home before the shelter in place order, you’ve probably noticed that the silence of the outside world makes our workdays feel different. It’s easy to lose track of time, which is not helpful when you’re billing in 6 or 15 minute increments. For those of you who have never worked from home, this is likely to be a huge adjustment.

Here are some tips to help you get through this difficult period:

  1. Get up at your usual time.
  2. Get dressed—do not work in sleepwear. It will make you feel depressed, sluggish, and unproductive.
  3. Check your work emails at the same time that you normally would when you’re going into your office.
  4. Check in with your partners and team members immediately after you check your work emails. This shows accountability and focus.
  5. Check your work emails as often as you do when you’re in the office.
  6. If you’re not having regular team meetings, suggest them and offer to coordinate.
  7. Exercise at your regular time. Many gyms/trainers are providing fitness classes online. Check out different Apps and You Tube.
  8. Be kind to the people you’re living with, and kind to the people you’re working with. “Please” and “thank you” go a long way, and not just when we’re sheltering in place.
  9. Thank the grocery store workers and bank tellers. Thank your healthcare providers. Thank the delivery people.
  10. Support your local businesses. Everyone who is working in an essential business, is a first responder. Without their willingness to risk their lives to keep ours as “normal” as possible, we’d be be big trouble. We wouldn’t have food, we wouldn’t have water, we would be truly trapped.

Once the immediate crisis passes, what can we do better?

  1. Mandate that when your employees are sick, they need stay home. Period. If they are well enough to work from home, they will. Sheltering in place has proven this is doable.
  2. Consider adding extra sick days to your employee benefits package. Until we have a Covid-19 vaccine, we won’t know if someone has a cold, influenza, or Covid-19. We need to focus on keeping our families and colleagues well. People are more productive when they are well. People are more productive when they feel cared about.

Ways for law firm partners and associates to do better once you are back in the office:

  1. Let your partners and team-leaders know that you appreciate working with them.
  2. Thank them for their mentorship and guidance.
  3. Volunteer to take on extra responsibility.
  4. Join committees.
  5. Write articles and blogs on topics useful for your clients.
  6. Mentor younger colleagues.
  7. Get involved with client development.

If a recession happens, you want to do everything you can to keep your job. In fact, you should exhibit that behavior no matter what the economy is doing. Nobody likes a whiner. Pay attention to your reviews. Has anyone commented negatively about your behavior? Do you take initiative? Are you an effective communicator? Do your colleagues like working with you? During times of crisis, leaders are made. There is an opportunity to you to re-write the narrative. Take advantage and let your positive, leadership voice be heard.

Barbara Levenson is a Principal with Levenson Schweitzer Attorney Placement. She has been a legal recruiter in California since 1989. Barbara can be reached at: barbara@lsattorneysearch.com.