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Finding Your Law Power in a Pandemic

by Jay Reeves |

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

For a mighty boost to your Law Life, add the above words to your firm’s mission statement.

The precise origin of the quote is unclear. It has been attributed to Winston Churchill, Homer Simpson, and Chicago Cubs president Jed Hoyer. One undeniable source is M.F. Weiner, who in 1976 wrote an article for a medical journal titled “Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own.” In it, he suggested there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned emergency to spark a change for the better.

He was writing about healthcare. But in the Age of COVID – as we cope with not just a pandemic but also the criminal overuse of perfectly fine words like unprecedented, new, normal, and takeout dinner – it’s good advice for our profession too.

Case in point: a midsize law firm I’ve been working with over the past year. With 10 lawyers and offices in North and South Carolina, the firm was struggling with the typical headaches of a growing, decentralized practice – remote versus office work, team cohesion and communication, forging a company culture – even before COVID.

“Then came the lockdown,” said the managing partner when we first met via Zoom. “Now everything is all messed up.” 


“Everything,” he said, with a look of discouragement that not even a Faux Fur Comfy Chair express-delivered from Amazon would relieve.


Look Forward and Up, Not Backward and Down

But he was wrong. Everything was not messed up. Disrupted, yes. But irrevocably and irreparably messed up? No.

“Let’s start by taking inventory,” I said, because that’s what you do in a crisis: you count your batteries, bottled water, and Beanee Weenees.

For this firm, it meant taking stock of its many strengths – starting with a talented and committed team, some of whom were already comfortable working remotely because they’d been doing it for years. 

“How about a virtual firm retreat,” said the lawyer. “We could come up with a pandemic plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

“Now you’re cooking with gas,” I said, and by gas I meant creativity, not Sterno 2-Hour Methanol Handy Fuel.


Letting Go of the Old Normal

And just like that, good things started to come out of a bad situation.

The firm designed a hybrid remote/office work schedule to accommodate each employee’s unique needs. It beefed up its cybersecurity. It reached out to clients through an email newsletter. It started holding weekly Zoom water cooler meetups so the team could compare notes and feel connected.

It also ditched some things – like a clunky litigation calendar – in favor of a new system that was better able to track online hearings and constantly-changing court rules.

A good definition of leadership is: staying positive under negative circumstances. This is not the mindset of Pollyanna. It’s the mindset of power – more powerful, even, than a Jackery Explorer Portable Solar Generator.


Choose to be Better

“When life knocks you down, you have a choice. You can choose to become bitter or choose to become better.”

I know who said that one. It was my late friend and mentor Doris Betts, a great writer and even better person.

So I say, bring on the next crisis. It’ll come whether I want it to or not. When it does, I hope I don’t let a single moment of it go to waste.


Come to Jay’s Shoeless Joe CLE Course!

Do you like baseball, apple pie, and Kenesaw Mountain Landis? Then grab your glove (please leave your Spider Tackat home) and plan to attend the upcoming CLE seminar, “Shoeless Joe’s Last Ballgame: Lessons in Legal Ethics on the 100th Anniversary of the Black Sox Ban.” This live, online webinar will be presented by Jay Reeves on different dates this fall during the MLB playoffs and World Series. Course materials include: Black Sox grand jury transcript excerpts; videos from Joe Jackson’s birthplace and museum, a copy of Jackson’s Last Will and Testament, and relevant Rules of Professional Conduct. Click here  for more information. Play ball!


Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over many decades. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, which would make an astonishingly perfect Christmas gift. He runs Your Law Life LLC and is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.




About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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