Life and practice in uncertain times

Fleming Strategic serves a global audience, and it’s safe to say that wherever you may be in the world, we’re facing unprecedented challenges. From the fact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the panic that’s generating to working from home, self-isolating, and social distancing to the economic hit that appears to be underway, times are uncertain.

More is currently unknown about these challenges than is known. What’s certain is that we have three choices: we can react or respond to the challenges we’re facing, or we can look for ways to innovate and initiate. And we face those choices in a wide variety of contexts, so it isn’t as simple as making one decision about how we will behave. We’ll make these decisions dozens of times in the course of a day.

Reaction is easy. It doesn’t require thought and simply zigzags from one development to the next, thriving on emotion and quite often fear. While our humanity means reaction may be unavoidable at times, I urge you to prime yourself to recognize the moments when you’re reacting, to take a breath, and to question whether a reaction is helpful.

Response is possible. Response requires a pause between stimulus and answer or action. News comes in, and you may choose to take a series of breaths, get up and walk around for a few minutes, or use a meaningful motto or prayer of some sort.  After you’ve created that break (which can be as short as a few seconds or as long as you need), then you can revisit the development and make a conscious decision about how you will respond. This is always possible, but it is not always easy. In times like these, it is often not easy.

Innovation and initiation require a clear view of reality and a focus on your objectives. It’s critical to know what’s happening in your world: health, culture, finances, general business. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the constant stream and the fear that it can generate, but stay updated. Most news outlets offer a daily newsletter that will catch you up, and the Washington Post offers a newsletter specific to corona virus news.

What are your objectives right now? Here are some I’d suggest:

  • Care for yourself, your family, and your community. Unprecedented times require unprecedented action. Please follow recommendations by the WHO, CDC, your local government, etc. And please look for opportunities to support your community where you can. The need is likely to grow and perhaps become overwhelming, but we can do so much if we pull together.
  • Maintaining the culture you’ve built in your office and/or on your practice team: consider virtual “watercooler” gatherings via Zoom or other virtual meeting platforms. Set aside a day for a group lunch via video. Be aware that others may be stuck in reaction mode and be prepared to act as a leader, whether or not you wear that official title.
  • Maintaining and developing your client relationships: Likewise, set aside time to talk with your key client contacts. Virtual coffee dates or lunches and telephone conversations may be easier to arrange now. Come to those meetings with an intention to help wherever you can. That may mean legal help to address what’s happening now, or it may mean helping to identify other resources. It may even mean something as simple as an email that asks, How are you doing? Connection is perhaps more important than ever before.
  • Thinking critically about your practice, identifying new opportunities, and spotting holes that changing circumstances may exacerbate: We don’t know what’s coming next. The news is suggesting a recession or depression. We know what happened in 2008, which offered a legal industry correction unlike anything most of us had experienced before, and indications are that the coming economy may be even more difficult. We don’t know what will happen yet and so we don’t know how to respond, but it’s important to be thinking carefully about your practice so that you can shift as circumstances change both to support your clients and your own practice.
  • Learning about new technologies and legal issues: If you’re an ABA member, check out the free CLEs that are available. Look into classes offered on the Ivy League MOOCs. Read business books that you often don’t have time for, including Blue Ocean Strategies (which will open your eyes to unappreciated opportunities) and its sequel Blue Ocean Shift, The Art of Gathering: Why We Meet and How It Matters (which may change the way you think about meetings and events of all kinds), and leadership books such as The Infinite Game or Leadership in Turbulent Times.

Finally, communicate with your clients to let them know how you’re handling current circumstances. Is your office open? If so, what structure is in place to make sure that it’s as clean and hygienic as possible? If not, what are you doing instead? How can your clients reach you? What other information do you need to share to allay client concerns? We’ve all been swamped by COVID-19 emails, most of which seem to have been written by robots. Please communicate like a human: clearly and factually, with compassion and care. 

I’ll be back next week with more ideas for how you can move with these changing times. In the meantime, stay safe, healthy, and mindful.

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