No Man Is an Island
Each summer, Lawyers Mutual participates in the North Carolina Bar Association Minorities in the Profession 1L Summer Associate Program. This summer we have been fortunate to have Shawn Singleton from North Carolina Central University School of Law with us for six weeks. Shawn and I collaborated on this story, and I hope it helps you realize you are not alone in any of the emotions you have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shawn Singleton’s Story
My first couple of weeks in North Carolina were difficult. I moved to Durham from Virginia Beach, Virginia – hours away from all of my friends and most of my family. When I moved down, the country was still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, so there were not many places open. Since I knew no one and could go nowhere, I was stuck in my apartment.
A short time later, I started law school online at North Carolina Central University, which made things even more challenging. Taking classes online did not make law school easier. We still had to read all the material. We still had to come to class, with our cameras on. We still had to pray not to be cold called.
Some might argue that taking classes online was actually more difficult. Sometimes your Internet will go out, or your hand-me-down laptop will shut off randomly, or the professor will have technical problems and be incomprehensible. There is also something lost by not being able to learn in person, and even more lost when you are being tasked with learning from a pre-recorded lecture.
Despite the difficulties, I was able to stay on top of everything and do what was asked of me. I’m glad I didn’t have a breakdown, which is what some 2Ls and 3Ls said happened to them, but I was already starting to feel fatigued after just a few weeks in.
My Civil Procedure professor gave us a worksheet to do over a weekend on Rule 4. When assigning the worksheet to us, he encouraged us to get into study groups to work on it. My professor said no one makes it in the legal profession alone, and that he still helps and receives help from the people he went to law school with.
I had never been a part of a study group before. When it came to academics, I always worked alone. Since my grades were good, I never saw the need to change that. The statement that “no one can make it in the legal profession alone” made me remember lessons from previous jobs I worked.
The first lesson came during my time as a manual laborer at an event venue from 2017-2020. The job consisted of long, late hours, little pay, and few breaks. During these harrowing shifts, I would often think to myself: “What am I doing here? What are any of us doing here?”
I don’t know what my co-workers’ answers to those questions were, but I discovered that what kept me coming back was my team – our interactions and conversations as we worked throughout the night. That job taught me that I could get through anything if I was doing it with the right team.
The second lesson came while I worked at a summer camp from the summers of 2014-2019. My responsibilities during those times changed every summer, from being a dishwasher to helping co-run the camp. Because I worked so long and in so many different roles, I was able to gain a great understanding of how camp worked.
In my time there, I learned that the best determination of whether it would be a good summer wasn’t funding, weather, programming, or which kids attended. The biggest determining factor was the staff – picking good leaders able to motivate their staff, making sure that there is as little interpersonal drama as possible, and keeping workers focused on the mission. If those could be achieved, the summer would be a great one.
And so, out of a desire to listen to my professor’s advice, a belief in the idea that collaboration can make bad experiences bearable and produce great outcomes, and a need to get out of the house and talk to other people, I decided to join a study group. Joining the group was one of the best decisions I have made.
My study group helped me revolutionize my study habits so I could better perform in law school. I never needed to use flashcards before, but my study partners wanted them, so we made flash cards together. My regular tools for retaining information were only taking me so far, but flash cards took my retention to the next level. My study group helped me realize that.
My study group members are great at helping each other. If someone feels like they’re not understanding a concept, the entire group will help them catch up. We do this for two reasons: 1) No one is left behind, and 2) the members of the group ask thought-provoking questions, prompting each of us to have a deeper understanding of the concepts.
My social needs were also met by my study group. We are study partners, but also genuine friends. None of us are from Durham, so we have taken the time to explore the city together, we’ve celebrated birthdays and holidays together, and we provide support for each other. When I had a family member die in November 2020, my study group was there for me while I was in North Carolina and away from the rest of my family.
Our study group started with the goal of all of us making it to the top 10% of our class. For the most part, we have met that goal. Because of my amazing study group, I had a GPA that qualified me for the Minorities in the Profession Program. Through the program, I received an internship at Lawyers Mutual. It’s my belief that without my study group, I would not be where I am today.
Camille Stell’s story
As I mentioned in an earlier column, I have felt ALL the emotions during this pandemic. Anxious, depressed, tired, lethargic, happy to be home, sad to be isolated, and even guilty for having a job that allowed me to work remotely.
We began working remotely in March 2020 and by the Fall, I could begin to feel myself wearing down. I was physically tired and emotionally exhausted. I was sad about being isolated but scared to go out for fear of getting sick. I knew I needed to talk with a professional mental health provider, but I could barely muster the energy to keep one foot in front of the other.
I reached out to Laura Mahr, the mindfulness expert with Conscious Legal Minds, and she gave me some suggestions for finding a therapist. However, it was a challenge to find someone who was taking on new patients. I grew frustrated and once the holidays arrived, I stopped looking.
In early 2021, I started my search again. I had one disastrous in-person session before I found Jill. Through MindPath Care Centers, I was able to have video chats with a therapist. Jill’s advice and guidance helped me to take control of my mental health situation and to realize that asking for help was not a sign of weakness, but of strength. I continue to talk with Jill and have seen steady improvement since the Spring of this year.
I am more focused on work and able to accomplish projects with more concentration. My mood has lifted, and my emotions are more in check. I am feeling more hopeful and optimistic, much more like myself. I regret waiting so long to reach out. Of course, the depression was a factor in not being able to motivate myself, while the Pandemic had health care providers in short supply.
Don’t wait—reach out if you need help. There are many resources available through various bar associations across the state. Also, sharing your challenges with a group of friends as Shawn did can provide relief.
2020-2021 showed us that humans can’t excel when we are isolated, and we need community in order to thrive. Shawn’s professor shared a great wisdom that no one makes it in the legal profession alone. The poet John Donne expressed this sentiment in his poem, “No man Is an Island”, in part below:
No man is an island, entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
Any man’s death diminishes me, because
I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Shawn Singleton is an Old Dominion University Monarch, a rising 2L at the North Carolina Central University School of Law, a reader and writer who enjoys participating in the National Novel Writing Month Challenge each November. Shawn was a 2021 summer intern with Lawyers Mutual.
Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and works with law firms to modernize their law practices through strategic planning and succession planning.