“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
These are, as John Lennon wrote, “strange days indeed”. And by all accounts they will be with us for longer than most of us are for the moment prepared to acknowledge. There are many things that will not return to where they were. Many other things that we have been prone to take for granted may not return at all.
For our law offices, this is a period of significant challenge. For the young lawyers working in them, it is an unparalleled period of uncertainty. In such circumstances, there is a temptation to play the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, which for many important reasons must be resisted: “As a psychological saying goes, “what you resist persists.” And what you find courage to face head-on changes life for the better”. (Jelena Kecmanovic, Ph.D.)
And so our younger colleagues must meet the changing world head on, with our encouragement and assistance. How can we help them do so? We will all be framing our own considered responses to this question as the pandemic (COVID-19) and its impact persists. Here is my effort:
We must make every reasonable effort to keep our younger colleagues informed as to what we seniors are thinking. What is the mediation plan? What steps are we formulating as options? And what choices are we making in implementing some and rejecting others?
We must ensure to the greatest extent possible that this brave new world does not destabilize practices, working relationships and roles that have been carefully fostered within our firms and among our associates. Extreme challenges inevitably reorder the status quo. In addressing COVID-19, different skills will come to the fore while at the same time the relevance and potential of others will be reduced. Retrofits will be required for the immediate term certainly, and possibly forever.
This phenomenon needs to be explained to our younger colleagues, and the impact of it introduced in a measured and balanced way. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, we will rise to this challenge not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
In these extraordinary times, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the curse of priorities. This too must hopefully be resisted. All firm assets will need to be protected, not the least being our developing associates. They will require, and deservedly so, our continued support and guidance.
Full Speed Ahead
Change of any kind inevitably comes with opportunities. As relates to our associates, we are well served to revisit what we expect from them and what in turn they can expect from us. But an even greater opportunity is the occasion to share the task of maintaining the on-going and critical demands of the practice with them, to rely upon them in no uncertain terms, and thereby to encourage them as never before. In times of crisis, we want our associates to feel that they are part of, and not ancillary to, the whole that is always but certainly now, greater than the sum of its parts. We help our younger colleagues, we create confidence and encourage maturity – we support them and further their development at times of obvious stress – not by demanding less of them but by demanding more. In doing so, we know that they will learn from us, and we will continue to learn from them.
And we take the measure of ourselves in recognizing, hopefully by actively enlisting their assistance, that this is a time to persist, a time to do more rather than less.