Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth.
It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded.
At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here.
There’s only one rule that I know of, babies:
‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’
– Kurt Vonnegut
Since we first heard the word “coronavirus” more than a year ago, every aspect of our lives has been impacted. For the majority in our profession, the pandemic has resulted in either unemployment or a year (and counting) of non-stop work and exhaustion. Already dealing with disproportionately high rates of stress, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental and physical health issues, lawyers, paralegals and law students now must also grapple with the new challenges of Zoom fatigue, the inability to physically separate our personal and work lives, and the constant temptation to never truly unplug from our screens.
Throughout this massive turmoil, I’ve been inspired by how colleagues, friends and complete strangers in our profession have made themselves available to listen and share their knowledge, acting from a position of kindness and generosity. These folks are serving, sharing and caring for the members of their networks, many of whom they’ve never met face to face or ever spoken to before.
I’ve been humbled to meet law students making their way through school, summering, articling and writing bar exams entirely online. I cannot imagine doing any of those herculean tasks online, and these folks deserve a lot of credit for the grit and growth mindset they’ve displayed. I’m heartened to know that they are the profession’s future.
Social issues have also gotten prominent seats in boardrooms and living rooms across the country. BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+ and other groups that have historically faced discrimination, along with their allies, have made great strides towards the dream of an equitable and inclusive society for everyone. This work must continue with even more urgency post pandemic, and lawyers are in a unique position to be able to defend democracy, equality and social justice. Use this time to foster more inclusive relationships and broader stakeholder engagement to promote fairness and opportunity, and workplaces free from discrimination. DE&I initiatives are not short-term efforts, and our work is never done.
My hope is that as we enter the brave new post-pandemic world, we will continue to practice with the spirit of kindness and empathy that I’ve witnessed time and again during the past year. This pandemic has fostered an environment of co-elevation and collaboration in the Canadian and international legal communities that I’ve never seen before. Our ability to collaborate, share knowledge, and participate in both mentoring and reverse-mentoring relationships has never been easier. If we are collectively able to retain these attitudes, we will make the practice of law more rewarding and (dare I say) fun, attracting the best and brightest to our profession, and taking a meaningful step forward together.
Few among us could have predicted a year ago where we find ourselves today. With that knowledge, also know that while where we will stand a year from now is equally uncertain, we can prepare and plan for a brighter future together. I think the following points will serve us well as we start to see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel:
- Be kind to your peers. Strive to bring a spirit of kindness and empathy to each interaction you have with peers, both within your organization and on the other side of your transactions, litigation files and other matters. Go beyond the obligation we have to be courteous, civil and act in good faith when dealing with others, and recognize that the person on the other side of the table or screen has fought a lot of the same emotional battles over the past year that you have. Pay someone a compliment or share a kind word. It’s something that both exceptional leaders and decent human beings do.
- Be kind to students and new lawyers. While technology helps bring us together, it must feel incredibly lonely to attend law school virtually, getting access to all of the course materials while missing out on all the extracurriculars and intangibles that law school offers. Consider becoming a mentor to help a student or new lawyer expand their network and pursue opportunities in the areas of the law that interest them. Mentoring is incredibly rewarding and can bring a great sense of meaning to your practice and life.
- Be kind to yourself. Perhaps the easiest action to overlook is the duty we all have to look after our own mental and physical wellbeing. Make time to get away from screens to pursue your hobbies and passions. Don’t feel guilty for prioritizing your own health, and do whatever you can to address the causes and symptoms of burnout you may be seeing. You can’t help others until you have first helped yourself. Be kind to yourself, cut yourself slack and give yourself more grace.
The pandemic is impacting everyone differently, and we can’t assume to know what others are going through. Similarly, the post-pandemic shift will present new challenges that will be different for each of us.
Empathize with your team as we collectively navigate a new normal that may feature some of the same burdens of the “old” world, like commutes and traffic jams, and new challenges, such as the emotional impact of days away from family and the extra effort required to communicate effectively from behind masks.
Remember that strong leadership practices remain the same regardless of whether your team is working on-site or remotely. Make the effort to lead with vulnerability and establish authentic connections to aid in your team’s transition to post-pandemic routines.
As we shape the future of the practice of law together, it will be tempting to either revert to our pre-pandemic work structures and routines or cling to the “always on” mentality that our new environment has propagated. I encourage you to chart a better path, retaining both the efficiencies technology has brought to your practice and the kindness, empathy and resilience we have fostered during the pandemic.
Let’s take care of ourselves and each other as we write a better next chapter for our profession.
Kevin Wentzel (he/him), CIC.C, is Senior Associate Corporate Counsel at VMware. He advises on a wide range of international technology and commercial transactions, including Cloud/XaaS, subscription licensing, open-source software licenses, professional services and other complex commercial agreements. Kevin also serves as a founding member of the VMware Canada Diversity & Inclusion Power of Difference (POD) community, a member of the VMware Canada Best Place to Work committee and a co-chair of the VMware Tanzu Change Agent Network Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Workstream. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him on LinkedIn.