There will be life after the pandemic—I guarantee it! But I don’t know when that will be or what it will look like. The pandemic has affected everyone. No other event in my lifetime has changed the basic way that we live our lives on a day-to-day basis like the COVID pandemic. Every time a new routine is established, something happens to upset it. In this column, I will discuss some of what I am seeing and what our “new normal” may look like by making some “fearless predictions” sure to go wrong.
- Everyone is thinking and talking about getting back to “normal” and referring to life during the pandemic as the “new normal.” In my view, we are in a transition stage and will remain in transition until the pandemic ends. At that time, we will settle into whatever the “new normal” winds up being. One thing I am confident about is that the “new normal” when it arrives will not look like March 12, 2020—the day we closed our DBA headquarters building, and much of the country also shut down.
- Lawyers are finding that they can work effectively from home. While some people (like me) always will prefer the office environment, many members of our profession work just as effectively from home. What that means is that people can work from anywhere, meaning home can be in a rural area or in another state.
- There will be two camps of lawyers—those who can’t wait to get out of the house, and those who have found happiness and are content to remain working from home. A large percentage of lawyers will continue to work remotely once the pandemic ends. That trend will change the way law firms use leased space and manage their lawyers and staff.
- Video technology has allowed courts to continue functioning during pretrial proceedings, but it hasn’t effectively replaced in-person jury trials. One thing that we have learned is that Zoom technology is a great substitute for a lawyer flying from Dallas to Houston for a 15-minute hearing or a 2-hour deposition or a mediation. With the costs of litigation so high, innovations like the remote handling of hearings, depositions, and mediations are essential to allow litigants to be able to afford to participate in the system. With that said, it does not appear that Zoom technology will be a good substitute for in-person jury trials. Even then, though, it might work for some cases involving very few witnesses and small amounts in controversy.
- Wellness issues continue to plague the legal community, and it doesn’t seem to matter if lawyers are in their offices or working remotely. I wrote my last column on the inability of lawyers to “unplug,” and until the work-life balance is restored in some way, lawyers will continue to have a disproportionate number of alcohol and substance abuse problems and the highest suicide rate of any profession.
- The battle for social justice has been at the forefront of our society since the death of George Floyd. While the battle has risen to prominence at times in the past few years, it always seems to recede with time. I believe this time is different! There is a heightened awareness about social injustice in the white community, and I believe there is a strong feeling among most Americans that change needs to happen before this country can reach its true potential as a democratic society.
So, what does all of this mean to the Dallas Bar Association, and how we provide services to our more than 11,000 members?
- We have always been a physical bar association centered in our own fabulous building. When the pandemic ends, we will continue with virtual programming as well as have our traditional in-person meetings. The large attendance numbers that we have achieved—with more than 200 virtual programs since the pandemic began—confirms that this is a service our members need. We are reaching members not only in the Dallas suburbs but around Texas and in other states.
- Despite the increased use of virtual programming, lawyers are social creatures as a rule and want and need to meet in person. The biggest advantage of our building is that it provides a central gathering place that allows lawyers to have a feeling of fellowship. Also, while virtual programming is great, you can’t get to know people and build a referral network from home. That remains the biggest selling point of our traditional bar association model.
- Once a new normal is reached in the courts with a hybrid of virtual and in-person proceedings, our programming will be geared to help a new generation of trial lawyers be successful with that format.
- It is up to the DBA to continue to emphasize wellness programs. I have been gratified this year to see the big attendance numbers for presentations by our Peer Assistance Committee and for the State Bar’s TLAP program. The first step to recovery is acknowledging that there is a problem.
- Lastly, but I think most importantly, the DBA has to be in the vanguard of the fight for social justice. There is no more important issue in this country, and that probably isn’t changing anytime soon. The work of our Allied Dallas Bars’ Equality Taskforce has started, and we look forward to seeing its mission broaden and reach into the community at large. Regardless of our respective political beliefs and affiliations, all of us should be able to agree that everyone deserves an equal chance to share in the American dream. Together we can make a difference!
As I say in my videos each week, we will get past the pandemic, so let’s use this time as an opportunity to take care of each other and make things better for the legal profession and in society at large.