Unprecedented times. Navigating the crisis. Stay-at-home orders issued.
These are the headlines of the day. And every lawyer – regardless of age, experience, or circumstances – has been affected.
Many of you had high hopes for launching your legal career and the pandemic was not a part of your plan. Or perhaps your career is well underway, yet the pandemic is causing issues that are not yet fully defined.
Let us talk with a few people who started practicing law during or immediately after another crisis, the Great Recession. Their stories of evolving and thriving will provide us with hope and a blueprint for moving forward.
Persistence and Creativity: Heather Hazelwood
Heather Hazelwood practices estate planning and estate administration as the solo owner of Ampersand Law established in Durham in 2016. Heather is a second career lawyer having worked in the non-profit sector for eight years prior to law school. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in May 2011.
After two years of practice, Heather says she began to think about ways to do law differently. “I was especially interested in finding new ways of doing business to update the [slow-to-change] long-established traditional models for law firms. That’s when the idea of going out on my own began to form.”
Two years later, UNC-Chapel Hill recruited Heather’s wife, they moved to North Carolina, she sat for the NC bar exam and opened her own firm, Ampersand Law.
Advice for lawyers and recent graduates? Heather says that at some point in her career, she realized that success is not linear, and that the only real failure is never trying. “Running your own business is much more trial-and-error than you’d expect. And most of us do not spend much time advertising the errors. Nothing is as good or easy as it looks on Instagram.”
Be Willing to Wear Different Hats: Neil Magnuson
Neil Magnuson graduated from UNC Law School in 2009. “I clerked for Williams Mullen during the summer prior to my 3L year and received an offer at the end of that summer. Many firms at the time had to push back start dates for incoming associates, and Williams Mullen did so in our case but, fortunately, they were able to bring us in after a few months’ delay [during which they also provided us a stipend].”
What strengths did you develop by starting work during a recession?
“In hindsight, I suppose it would have been the efforts during my first two years out of law school to learn as much as I could, as quickly as I could, while trying to do good work when I had work to do. I also endeavored to never turn down work, so long as I felt confident, I had the time to get it done, and done well. The breadth of experience has also been helpful in-house, where one may need to wear different hats from time to time.”
Today, Neil works as Media Counsel for NASCAR Media Ventures. “I work on the media side of the NASCAR business, primarily doing transactional work for the digital and broadcasting teams. I draft and review contracts, advise on media and IP matters, and help maintain our IP portfolio, among other things.”
NASCAR sounds like a dream job that perfectly suits Neil’s skill set.
“Prior to law school, I was a software engineer in the sports television industry – more on the productions / graphics and statistics side of sports television. Certainly, I had great interest in someday returning to the sports world on the legal side but expected that those opportunities would not present often. Fortunately, a position opened at NASCAR five years ago that seemed to be a good fit and, luckily, I was hired. And it has been a good fit, and a wonderful place to work. I grew up on stick-and-ball sports, but I now love a NASCAR race.”
She Wrote a Book: Venus Liles
Venus Liles has a great pandemic story to share. An in-house attorney at SAS Institute in Cary, she also moonlights on the side, helping startups and small to mid-sized businesses with their corporate legal needs.
Venus has two small kids, Violet [age five] and Ivy [age three]. As Venus says, “I searched for a children’s book to help explain the coronavirus and social distancing to my kids. When I could not find one, I decided to write it myself. I knew from the beginning that although I wanted the book to explain the coronavirus and good hygiene practices to kids, what I really wanted the book to focus on was the emotional side of social distancing. I also wanted the book to have a hopeful ending. I wrote the whole thing in one sitting, but a significant number of late-night edits followed. It was such a time-sensitive subject matter that I had to act quickly.”
Venus devotes a portion of the book proceeds – as well as revenue from her law firm – to charity.
“I just really love the idea of giving back in different ways. With the book, I am able to help families have honest conversations with their children about what’s going on the world and donate funds to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Response Fund. With my company, I am able to help startups and small businesses with affordable legal services and give back to local nonprofits. All of that makes the hard work completely worth it.”
Recent Graduates Consider Effects of Pandemic on Their Career
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 Glenn, December 2019 Elon Law graduate
“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.”
Lauren Zickert, December 2019 Elon Law graduate
“Although it took some adaptation, the transition to working from home was fairly smooth. Programs such as Google voice have been a great help in transitioning to remote work.
Je’vonne Knox, Elon Law Class of 2019
Perspective of a Law Student
Lawyers Mutual participates in the NC Bar Association, Minorities in the Profession, 1L Summer Associate Program. This summer we were fortunate to have Quay Wembley intern with us.
“As a law student during the time of a world-wide pandemic, it has been difficult to stay positive”, he says. “After finally becoming accustomed to the rigor and fast pace learning in law school, I found myself having to start back at square one during the most crucial part of my 1L year. Within a matter of months, all law students across the country were forced to quickly adapt to remote learning. With tenacity and perseverance, I was able to finish my 1L year strong and in great standing, but that was only half the battle.”
“At the conclusion of my 1L year, the pandemic cases gradually increased. As a result, many of my classmates and colleagues had their summer opportunities canceled. Fortunately, I was able to continue my summer internship remotely with Lawyers Mutual. Although my internship became completely remote, I am grateful to have the opportunity to move forward as well as gain experience in the practice of law.”
“After reflecting on 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 change and evolve. Within the legal profession, people of all ages are beginning to utilize technology more than it has ever been used before.”
“With travel costs 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. You have probably never experienced a pandemic or had to develop a plan for surviving one. Both are scary. But with a plan, and the advice and counsel of our colleagues, we can survive this challenge.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.662.8843.
Quay Wembley is an ECU Pirate and a rising 2L at the North Carolina Central School of Law. Quay is a summer intern with Lawyers Mutual and gaining valuable experience watching the New Normal of law practice develop in front of him. You can reach Quay at email@example.com.