Pivoting during the Pandemic
The Bencher—July/August 2020
By Dirk M. Jordan, Esquire
Pivot. This word is being used to describe the reaction of society to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have changed the location of our work (home), our method of communication (Zoom and other video platforms), the nexus of our work (courthouses, now a telephone or video conference), and socializing (Zoom again).
As the economy opens up we will need to be ready to pivot again. And as society opens up, you will need to consider the following pivots as we move forward to the “new normal.”
- Practice. You may need to broaden your practice areas. Some areas will be slower and others will pick up. My friends in the estate planning practice are covered up with work. I believe there will be a strong wave of small business and individual bankruptcies in the next six months. If you have time—and if you are like me, you do—consider taking continuing legal education courses about other practice areas.
- Productivity. You may need to invest and improve your technology both in your hardware/software and your training. The pandemic has shown that we all need to be competent in communicating remotely. I teach a class at the University of Texas School of Law, and it was a challenge to move to remote teaching. I have had Zoom hearings, which are actually pretty easy as long as you are not trying to use a lot of exhibits. I have not tried a Zoom deposition yet, but some are scheduled in the near future. Practice really helps one get over the unfamiliarity with the medium. You may want to pivot to a paperless office and use cloud storage to access your files remotely. Your home Wi-Fi may need to be updated.
- Participate. Strengthen your connection to a community. Solo practitioners tend to be isolated in the best of times, but the past few months have been tough for many of us, particularly extroverts. I have a goal of calling each member of my Inn—the Lloyd Lochridge American Inn of Court in Austin, Texas—just to check up and see how each member is doing. Each one I have spoken with is delighted to hear from someone outside their house. We have had Zoom happy hours and had our May meeting by Zoom, including a shortened presentation. We had 55 out of 63 attend. It is just good to see people again.
One of the great strengths of the American Inns of Court movement is to create communities in the legal profession. Maximize the opportunity and reach out to members of your Inn. Do not wait for others to reach out to you.
- Plan. How will the legal industry be affected by the ongoing physical distancing? How will you get clients? Take time to improve your website. Things we have done during the pandemic may become the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future. Do not be constrained by conventional thinking—we live in unconventional times. If there is ever a time for out-of-the-box thinking, this is it.
- Prepare. Take time to read, watch webinars, and any other way to learn more about your profession and how you can be more effective in representing your clients. Learn how to draft an LLC. Draft a simple will. Learn about election law, water law. There are many areas of practice that could turn into a profitable venture.
- Perspective. Although too much self-reflection can be paralyzing, most of us are usually too busy to take the time to reflect on who we are and who we want to be. Take some of the free time you have to journal, meditate, or just consider how fortunate you are. Learn to be grateful for what you have, not angry about what you don’t.
- Public concern. We are living in uncertain times. Perhaps you are one of those who is suffering. Unemployment will reach 20 percent. Over 100,000 people have died. Homelessness will increase as families cannot pay their rent and face eviction. Think about others around you and what you can do to help them, perhaps a kind word (over the phone or email) or a gift of money. In college I had a friend who worked two jobs but still had a hard time making ends meet. I talked to some of our mutual friends and we took up, for lack of a better word, a “collection.” Everyone gave $5 or $10, but it came up to about $500, which in 1975 was a nice chunk of change. Delivering the gift was one of the true highlights of my life. This helps the recipient, but I believe affects the giver more.
In summary, be careful, stay in touch with your friends and Inn members, and make a plan for what is coming next.
Dirk M. Jordan, Esquire, is a sole practitioner in Austin, Texas practicing commercial and construction litigation. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Inns of Court Foundation and is adjunct faculty at the University of Texas School of Law.