Common Among All of Us, However, Is The Upheaval The Pandemic Has Caused And How Much It Has Changed Our Lives, Personally And Professionally.
This article appeared in The Daily Business Review on June 9, 2021.
Commentary provided by Alejandra M. Iglesia.
In my lifetime, nothing has had a more universal and substantial impact on humanity than the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, the pandemic’s challenges have included relocating work and school to the home, quarantining, and social distancing, while others have faced health issues and devastating personal tragedies. Common among all of us, however, is the upheaval the pandemic has caused and how much it has changed our lives, personally and professionally.
I joined my firm just a few months before the pandemic lockdown when we were forced to transition to a completely remote work environment. I was the newest and youngest attorney at the firm, still getting to know my new colleagues, learning the firm culture and the practice of law. I felt unsure about how to work from home effectively without a home office. All in-court appearances and in-person events went completely virtual (Zoom fatigue, anyone?), and I was worried that the lack of face time with my colleagues would make it more difficult to establish relationships with my team. Without the daily face-to-face interaction, I wondered how much mentorship I would receive when I had just started getting comfortable popping into the partners’ offices to ask a question and other associates’ offices to bounce ideas about a case. Like many of us, overnight, I went from going to the office every day to being at home 24/7 with no distinction between my home and my job.
This transition presented challenges for me, both professionally and personally. On the one hand, it forced me to structure my time, so I could continue to excel at work despite the changed circumstances. While difficult to find this new routine, it helped me build confidence and reminded me of my ability to overcome any obstacle. On the other hand, at times, it tested my patience with myself and my self-assuredness. There were days that I felt isolated, which made it difficult to stay motivated. As time went on, however, I grew accustomed to “the new normal” and found other ways to remain more connected. For example, rather than sending emails or having phone calls, I would often FaceTime with my teammates to discuss work, which would often lead to personal conversations about our families, our struggles, and the new ways we were discovering to have fun and stay connected with our loved ones. I noticed that I was still able to foster close relationships with my colleagues and get the mentorship I was looking for without being in the confines of an office. I was grateful to see how those connections could still be established, perhaps even more so because of the unique shared experiences of the pandemic.
Perhaps the most important change to our practice has been an intangible one – a heightened sense of compassion, comradery, and civility. As a young litigator, I learned early on that a thick skin and a strong sense of self-confidence were necessary to grow and succeed in an inherently adversarial system. Certainly, all lawyers, including myself, have been faced with inflexible and obstinate opponents—even in situations where compromise and collaboration would have led to better results for both parties. But, when I tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020, I was humbled by the grace and support I received from opposing counsels, judges, and clients alike. The anxiety I felt about feeling ill and unable to work as much as usual, was quickly relieved by the patience I received from my firm and my opponents. During my three-week recovery, the resounding message I received was to take care of myself first and the constant reminder that my health should remain my priority. What is more, as I shared my experience, other attorneys reciprocated. I had countless conversations where attorneys unexpectedly shared the challenges they were facing during the pandemic, creating a more compassionate relationship between us. Not only did I feel that my well-being was prioritized, when I expressed feeling stressed about work or upcoming deadlines to my own team, I was reminded that they had my back.
The universal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of each other’s humanity. It has allowed me to see a more compassionate and caring side to the legal profession. The biggest takeaway for me has been an important one—we are all human beings first, a notion that is often lost in the day-to-day hustle of our lives and our work. Though the pandemic has been devastating in many ways, despite the physical distance, it has afforded all of us an opportunity to not only meet each other with more kindness and empathy but to have more grace with ourselves, as well, as we continue to adjust to this “new normal.”