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Being Brave in This New Legal World

The only clear thing in this post-COVID world is a universal lack of clarity. Redefined work schedules and expectations, remote appearances, and ECF preferred filings have sent many offices into a tailspin of identity crisis as they look out on what appears to be a bleak dystopian landscape.

Crafting a future with so many unknowns is particularly stressful for attorneys, the people tasked with providing answers and solutions. Anxiety-burnout from the unknown is a very real post-COVID phenomena. Attorneys stuck in analysis-paralysis find that inertia is preventing them from seeing their path forward.

As one of the professions most susceptible to depression, anxiety, suicide, alcohol and substance abuse, lawyers have to take the stress that COVID has placed on them seriously. Your firm depends on you, so you have to be okay first, before you can help anyone else. Just like they tell you on airplanes, put your oxygen mask on first - then help others.

Our mental health is like a warehouse, with shipments in and shipments out. If you do nothing but make shipments out to others, and no one gives anything back to you, eventually you will be empty, and unwell. There are a lot of lawyers walking around empty right now.

Where does that leave us? 

So where does this leave attorneys seeking to provide for their firms’ future? They know they need to pivot, but where should attorneys look to know their post-COVID path forward when there are so many unknowns? The most promising way forward is always the one that leads to a field of practice you enjoy, with available work and clients, in an environment in which you can be productive. Sounds like Shangri-La, right?

Don’t feel discouraged if you can’t articulate any of those answers right now. Pave the way back to clarity by simplifying. When you don’t know your best path forward, it is always best to get back to basics. With a solid foundation, firms are in the best position to pivot and adapt. Now is the time to get your books in order, balance accounts, and sort out any outstanding client issues. [Check out our Six Steps to Success as you look to go back to basics!]

Clear Desk, Clear Mind…

A huge weight will be lifted if you begin your quest for your post-COVID future by clearing away the clutter of the past. For most firms, the area of bookkeeping and accounting is the most messy and stressful. Fortunately, there is freeware available that can assist attorneys with their IOLTA accounting. In fact, M&T Bank developed Nota specifically to help their attorney clients track client funds and demystify the whole scary three-way reconciliation process.

If you, like me, weren’t lucky enough to have known about Nota before starting your practice – let me spread the good news that their team will help you sort out your mess and start fresh. The kids will be starting school with fresh new notebooks this fall, nothing like a nice balanced client ledger to start a fresh path forward.

New world, new firm, new you

In this time of worldwide change, there is no better time to reinvent yourself and practice. Change doesn’t have to be frightening, it can mean finally getting to practice the type of law that you imagined in law school. The great thing about trying something new is that you can feel yourself learning and being creative again. Maybe that change is small, like just learning how to handle virtual appearances on Zoom. Or maybe you thought this was the opportunity to convert yourself to a paperless office. At either extreme, the net result is growth and future building.

The idea is to grow and adapt and find your place as the world bends and changes along with the demands of a fluid and ever-changing legal landscape. Many practitioners have told me, “I’m too old to change,” or “I don’t want to start over,” and while the sentiment is relatable, it just isn’t reality. The truth is the law changes every day. We are always one US Supreme Court case away from an entirely different legal landscape – as we all saw first-hand after a very eventful summer of decisions.

Circumstances are only as dire as we allow ourselves to believe them to be. We can always find a way to transition what we know into an area we don’t know as well. The only roadblock is our own belief that we can’t.

So what is the end game?

The irony of long dramatic discussions about growth and personal development is that the conversations often remain esoteric and unhelpful – something lawyers have little patience for. So, here’s the bottom line. No one likes having change forced upon them, but then again no one wanted to see a global pandemic either. Nevertheless, here we are. The end game is finding a way to help others through this difficult time, and manage to provide for ourselves, our families, and our staff in the process. That may not be the most eloquent statement on the topic but basics usually form the most solid foundation.

With this approach, your legal practice will remain poised and timeless, and its future will remain positive and bright.

- Heather Abissi

Heather M. Abissi, an attorney beginning her 15th year of practice, having served as an Executive Assistant District Attorney, Criminal Defense Attorney, Civil Rights Attorney, Tort Attorney, Family Law Attorney, Matrimonial Attorney, and Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of New York, and Corporate Outside Counsel, has a practice focused on legal writing, editing, contract negotiation, oral argument, trial support and strategy. The goal of her practice is to improve the work-life balance of attorneys by allowing them to outsource time consuming legal documents, and peace of mind to corporate clients who need detail oriented personal attention to their contracts rather than boilerplate. 

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