Covid has thrown its own unique set of challenges at the world, the legal profession and, of relevance to this audience, sole and small firm practitioners.
Until recently, I had my own office space, and within its confines, a law clerk, legal assistant, another lawyer and his support staff. Clients would come in, even to discuss fairly routine matters.
Covid changed that. My staff expressed a preference for working from home. The other lawyer would often be away. I was finding it increasingly lonely going into my office. Clients readily, and through necessity, adopted Zoom as a platform to interact, presumably seeing no value in driving to my office, paying for parking, risking infection, etc. Corporate closings ceased happening in person. Documents were exchanged electronically, often using DocuSign. Clients would often email or text, rather than call. The result was an increasingly isolating experience and I longed for the camaraderie that one sees when, for example, you go into a coffee shop or a grocery store. In those places, you see people, you can make small talk and, in the case of the grocery store, see, smell and touch things – the very tactile experience that technology robs us of.
To mitigate my loneliness, I joined a law chambers. I also chose to serve on the executives of this section as well as the Business Law section, in order to feel more ‘connected’ to the profession. I joined an business networking group – online of course. I spent more time with friends and family.
In spite of these steps, I still find the profession a lot less social than I once did. We have all experienced Zoom meetings where people choose to have their cameras off. Screens freeze. With cell phone calls, the call will ‘break up’ and it will be difficult to hear people. With improvements in technology, we are less reliant on support staff. While this achieves cost savings, it also means we are working more and more with computers than with people. The cost to that is a lost sense of human connection, which can take a real toll on one’s mental health.
This is not an easy time to be a sole and small firm practitioner. I find I have to be more creative in order to achieve the socialization that I need. Joining a law chambers has been helpful and I have also started going out to clients’ offices, even if it’s to sign documents that I know can be handled through DocuSign. Invariably, I find clients really appreciate it and it sometimes leads to conversations about other work they may have for me.
The world has changed and it will never be the same. The danger of isolation is a real one – one we need to be mindful of and do our best to counteract. Fortunately, there are steps we can take and we will have to be increasingly creative in trying to replicate the sense of connection that once flowed so naturally and easily.
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