Promoting a Sense of Community during a Pandemic
The Bencher—July/August 2020
By Jennifer L. Eaton, Esquire
Litigators know that the nature of a litigation practice is cyclical—it ebbs and flows, often with little predictability. Unexpected settlements and clients’ changing litigation tolerances often steer workflow. Even so, never have we had to face the challenges presented by the current pandemic and the concomitant judicial emergencies and closures. Many scholars and academics have presented—and no doubt will continue to offer—suggestions for how litigation can move forward, but what also deserves significant attention is the need to maintain community among our legal colleagues during this uncertain time.
In yoga, instructors often talk about “grounding” or finding a sense of presence and strength on your mat. Community is much like that yogic concept of grounding, as it offers a sense of strength and balance through the chaos of a legal practice. Remember when we went to our offices each weekday? Remember how easy it was to walk down the hall and discuss the nuances of personal jurisdiction with your super academic, go-to civil procedure colleague? That is community. Connecting with others necessarily is different these days, but the casual conversations shouldn’t stop just because they seem less convenient or are somehow more awkward over the phone or via videoconference.
A sense of community is not something new that is needed only during a pandemic; rather, it is something we may have taken for granted before the current reality. Preserving a sense of normalcy by maintaining contact with our legal brothers and sisters takes effort and perseverance, but the corresponding benefits make it worthwhile. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has noted that social relationships are frequently used as biomarkers of health, with those lacking social relationships being at a higher risk for adverse health conditions. In other words, having a sense of belonging or feeling like you are part of something bigger than yourself can serve an important role in our lives and throughout the legal practice.
Preserving and promoting this sense of community can take many forms. Maybe you reach out to your colleagues and establish a virtual happy hour or weekly conference call to catch up. An even easier approach to staying connected might be something as simple as sending an email with an interesting case or news article. Or perhaps you find ways to stay connected with your pupillage group or Inn as a whole. If it has not done so already, your Inn’s executive board is probably putting plans together for the upcoming Inn year. Some ideas for maintaining Inn engagement include a virtual meet-and-greet for student members, small-group discussions with pupillage groups, and virtual monthly meetings with continuing education programming and speakers. Embrace the new look and feel of your Inn. If nothing else, try—in the midst of all that is going on—to shift your perspective. Instead of viewing the current time as a hiatus from social interaction, consider it an occasion to explore new ways of touching base with others. View change as an opportunity for growth and self-reflection.
Like embracing telephonic and videoconference hearings and depositions, maintaining a sense of community will require creativity and assertiveness. But it is essential to creating a sense of normalcy and protecting the well-being of those within the profession. As we continue to explore our new professional and personal realities, let us work together to foster and forge the sense of community of which we all can be proud.
Jennifer L. Eaton, Esquire, is civil litigator at Vandeventer Black LLP in Norfolk, Virginia. She is an executive committee member of the James Kent American Inn of Court. The views advanced in this article should not be mistaken for the official views of Vandeventer Black LLP.