As I write this column in early April, we have been “sheltering in place” and “social distancing” for more than three weeks—with at least four more to go. These are unprecedented and difficult times. But we will get through them together.
Our way of doing things always has involved lawyers coming to the Belo Mansion at noon to hear great CLE, meet and work with other lawyers with similar practice areas and interests, and enjoy lunch. That changed overnight when we closed the Belo on March 12.
Vice-Chair of the DBA Board Bill Mateja called me on March 19 with the idea of forming a Coronavirus Task Force. We formed the task force the next day with Bill as the chair and DBA President-Elect Aaron Tobin, DBA Second Vice-President Cheryl Murray, DBA Board members, Amy Stewart and Vicki Blanton, and DBA members, Ladd Hirsch and Jeff Tillotson. The task force is providing members with news, resources, and online CLE offerings.
When you go to www.dallasbar.org, the first option is “COVID-19 Resources.” Since March 19, the website and scope of the Task Force has expanded. We have 12 categories on the webpage ranging from “Announcements” to “White Papers and Articles.” Many thanks to our amazing Executive Director, Alicia Hernandez, and the fantastic DBA staff who put all of this information together very quickly!
We are presenting virtual CLEs each week dealing with legal aspects of the Coronavirus pandemic via Zoom. Our attendance numbers have been substantial, so we clearly are meeting a need.
Zoom has proven to be a great tool to allow our sections and committees to carry on their important work since the Belo closed. We encourage sections and committees to continue meeting remotely while we are “sheltered in place.”
I miss going to the Belo almost every day, greeting old friends and making new ones. To keep in touch with our members, I have started making short video announcements on Friday mornings with key developments and a description of what we are doing the next week. We want to hear from our members with ideas, thoughts, questions, CLE topics, papers, etc., by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We also have a Community Outreach section that has many opportunities for our members to give back to the community. I am proud to say that our members have stepped up in a big way.
The Coronavirus crisis has crushed the airline, hotel, and restaurant industries. A raging price war over oil prices may put many energy companies out of business. The unemployment rate is soaring. Our profession will not be spared from layoffs and firm retrenching. We have set up a job resource center and will enlist the aid of seasoned attorneys to help displaced lawyers find new jobs.
What we have missed most about not having access to the Belo is our sense of community. I took a walk with my daughter the other day and asked her if she thought that living in 1900 would have been similar to the current situation. She said communication is much better now, so that is a big difference. Of course, she is right. But we miss face-to-face encounters—and I don’t mean ones that are six feet apart. We are isolated, and the familiar routine of going to the office, going to court, going to the Belo, going out to eat, going to the gym, or going to a movie stopped with almost no warning.
Lawyers suffer from substance abuse and depression in a much higher percentage than the public at large. In addition to the isolation of sheltering in place, even with modern communication tools, many of our members are dealing with childcare, schooling, cooking, and cleaning on a daily basis. These responsibilities are piled onto the stresses and challenges of doing legal work efficiently and accurately, while remotely.
Here are some suggestions. Lawyers in firms need to check on each other as well as their staff members. Their needs are critical to the current and future success of our firms. Everybody should remember that with everything in play, it is okay not to be perfect; just do your best! It is also essential to let lawyers know that they need to clock out for meals and sleep. Just because we are home doesn’t mean that we are on the clock 24/7.
It is one thing to have a family to have around you to break the sense of isolation, but very different to be alone. If you know someone who is alone, please call them just to check in and give them some much needed human contact.
Finally, if you are struggling, please get help! If you know someone who is struggling, please get them help. Our webpage contains a link to the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program. It is a model for wellness programs around the country. If you are getting help for someone else, it is anonymous. You may save a life by doing so!
Please remember, we are all in this together. Hopefully, not long after you read this column, I will see you in person at the Belo! Until then, please stay safe!