A recent New York Times article by Sarah Lyall caught my eye: “A Nation on Hold Wants to Speak With a Manager.” It described how, in a lot of different ways, the seemingly never-ending pandemic has had a significant negative impact on how people treat others. Quite simply, it was about how everyone seems meaner. Well, obviously not everyone, but basically everyone.
Not only do I agree with the article’s overall observations and analysis, but I couldn’t help but think about how this phenomenon has exasperated working in a profession where people are already mean to each other far too often. Seriously, being a lawyer is never easy, even in non-pandemic times. It often feels like our job is to disagree and fight—even if it’s not, or at least shouldn’t be. And this already takes a toll on our mental health and wellbeing. As early as our first week in law school we are given presentations on how lawyers are more prone to substance abuse, depression, and suicide and provided with resources.*
But now, things seem to have gotten even worse in an already difficult occupation. We should be able to advocate for our client’s and do our jobs to the best of our abilities without being jerks. I know for a fact this is possible because I have seen it from both sides. For example, I recently had to reach out to opposing counsels for references. I immediately thought of several folks—some I have defeated and some I have lost to—whom I have the utmost respect for. Their responses in kind filled my heart with joy. I was proud at that moment to be a member of this profession. But we should always be proud of it. We’ve worked hard for it. And we must uphold the standards that come with it.
However, it is difficult at times to be the bigger person. People tend to regress to the lowest common denominator when they feel they not being treated with the respect or professionalism they deserve—that we all deserve.
But we can change this. We can change this by controlling our own actions. This is truly the only thing we can control, so it should always be our focus. And it should not only be our focus to stop ourselves from being the instigators of bad behavior. It should also remain our focus when the other side engages in bad behavior first.
As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” These are words to live by every single day. And they are words of wisdom that I attempt to instill in my practice of law. I believe I can zealously advocate for each and every one of my clients while showing everyone involved—opposing counsel, my client, my colleagues—the respect they each deserve. I believe that continuously showing this respect will force them to return the treatment in kind.
I have made numerous jokes about how apparently, because everything is a holiday nowadays, there is a Love Your Lawyers Day. I believe it’s November 4th this year if anyone wants to get me a gift. But instead of just celebrating your love for lawyers only one day a year—couldn’t help it, a second joke was necessary—, just find kindness for each other every day. Seriously, we all deserve it.
I pledge to continue to do everything in my control to be kind in the face of a seeming never-ending pandemic and beyond. I hope you will too.
* If you need help, please reach out to the someone. The Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program is a confidential resource available to students and lawyers: https://www.tlaphelps.org/.