When law students begin their journey, they have the same hopes and fears that many of us have experienced.
Nerves. Anxiety. Trepidation. But also joy and excitement as they leave one stage of life and start the next. However, the December 2019 Elon law graduates had no idea what would be waiting for them in early 2020.
All stories of the Hero’s Journey have an obstacle to overcome. And these folks identified their obstacle early on.
Recent Law Graduates
Richard Glenn is a December 2019 graduate who took the February 2020 bar exam. He beat the COVID-19 shut down by a few weeks with his February bar exam date. Yet, he still experienced the same shock the rest of us did as the world turned upside down in mid-March.
Richard is working as an associate with the Deuterman Law Group where he interned during law school. He is practicing personal injury work. Richard notes that he moved to remote work pretty soon after starting his new job because of COVID-19 restrictions.
When Richard was working in the firm’s office space, he could walk into his supervising attorney’s office at any time to ask questions. That simple arrangement ended abruptly.
Now he and his wife share workspace at home which can at times be tricky. Richard had to get used to utilizing the firm’s communication tools such as email, Slack and their case management messaging tool to communicate with attorneys, staff and clients. Richard has found his most important tips for working through a pandemic include patience and preparation.
“Being patient often helps me gain better perception. Preparation helps me to control what I can and acknowledge what I cannot.”
Richard goes on to say, “From a personal perspective, I do not believe that there will be a ‘return to normal’ for our society and for the practice of law especially. There will certainly be another adjustment once social distancing and other measures are lifted, but I do not think this adjustment will be to regress to pre-pandemic practices. Law is a progressive practice. These unprecedented times are setting precedent. The changes being made in response to this pandemic are not fugacious. The decisions made during this pandemic will have lasting impact on how our society functions. I am most nervous about whether those decisions being made are the correct ones.”
Lauren Zickert is also a December 2019 Elon Law graduate. She is working as an associate at The Elderlaw Firm in the areas of estate planning and elder law. Lauren interned with the firm during law school. In response to the pandemic, her firm offered free statutory form Health Care Powers of Attorney and they offer a Fast Track Program to get essential estate planning documents in place rapidly.
Lauren describes herself as resilient, entrepreneurial, and stubborn. “When the odds are against me, usually my first thought is, ‘we will see about that’. I am always up for a new challenge and love finding creative solutions to meet my clients’ needs.”
When asked to peer into the future, Lauren says, “I am most nervous that we won’t ‘return to normal’, and that this type of sickness will reoccur. If the new normal involves this virus, we must reconsider how we serve our clients. It cannot be ignored that we have technology to assist us and that we don’t need to put our clients at risk by requiring in person contact if it’s not necessary.
Our firm does a fantastic job of sanitizing surfaces, utilizing our resources and our space effectively to minimize client contact, and taking normal precautions such as frequent hand washing, sanitizing, and/or wearing gloves. It is still a risk, though minimal, for our clients, especially the elderly to come into an office.”
Perspective of a Law Student
In June 2020, Quay Wembley found himself with his first legal job. The only catch? It was remote.
Quay came to Lawyers Mutual through the NC Bar Association, Minorities in the Profession, 1L Summer Associate Program. He had completed his 1L year at NC Central University School of Law.
“As a law student during the time of a world-wide pandemic, it has been difficult to stay positive” he says.
Quay and I often talked via Zoom this summer. Sometimes our talks focused on work projects, other times we talked about the news of the day. And as you recall the summer of 2020, the news of the day was hard.
As we began to get to know each other, we had a few obstacles to overcome. We had race and a large age gap separating us, and added to that, we weren’t even in the same city. But each week, we brought our most vulnerable selves to the conversation. We discussed articles and books we were reading on race relations. We shared stories about who we were and what our experiences to this point had been. And of course, we talked about the legal profession – where I’ve spent my entire adult life and where Quay is just dipping his toe into.
This experience was valuable to me. As I see the “normal” workplace disrupted with no solution in sight, I learned that relationships can be built using technology. And that despite race and age differences, Quay and I had many things in common and those commonalities provided the basis of a new friendship.
I asked Quay to comment on his virtual experience.
“After reflecting on the events during these past few weeks, I realized that there is a silver lining to my experience. I can truly say that I am watching the practice of law drastically change and evolve right in front of me. Within the legal profession, people of all ages are beginning to utilize technology more than ever before. During my summer internship, I was able to take part in an online mediation via Zoom video call, which was a new experience even for my supervising attorney.”
“With the costs of travel and efforts to maintain social distancing, it is foreseeable that mediations, depositions, arbitrations, and other out-of-court proceedings will be conducted online more often. The use of technology and online software are likely to become the new normal in the practice of law. Stepping into summer employment during a pandemic has been challenging, but this experience will prepare me to adapt as well as develop resiliency for whatever lies ahead.”
We are in Uncharted Territory
Resiliency may be the lemonade we get out of the pandemic. Practicing law is hard. Surviving and thriving during a pandemic is hard. Building and nurturing relationships with our colleagues and clients using technology is hard. But this is our story, our Hero’s Journey, and building resiliency is certainly a part of our “new normal”.
Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and a specialist in working with lawyers and firms on strategic planning and succession planning. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at [email protected] or 800.662.8843.
Quay Wembley is an ECU Pirate and a 2L at the North Carolina Central University School of Law. Quay was a 2020 summer intern with Lawyers Mutual and gained valuable experience watching the New Normal of law practice develop in front of him. You can reach Quay at [email protected].