In July 2008, I left my job as general counsel to a school district without having another one lined up. It was impossible to look for another job because I worked very long days and couldn’t simply disappear for a few hours in the highly visible role I had.
But, I wasn’t worried. Over many years, I had built a reputation as a skilled education lawyer with expertise in a niche practice. I was networked, optimistic and confident I would get a new job quickly. There were some irons in the fire and before long, I even got an offer from an education law firm.
Then, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy making it the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history. It upended the world’s financial system and brought it close to complete collapse.
What plays out on the world stage has implications in daily life, I would soon learn. The offer I had was withdrawn and other firms that had been courting me were no longer interested.
Between July and September, my prospects dried up, my connections were scrambling for footing in the new scenario and now I was very worried.
As we tend to do, I played out the parade of horribles in my mind. What if I didn’t get a job? What if I ran out of money, lost my house and had nowhere to live?
I loved education law. After years of figuring out the perfect fit for me in the practice of law, I found it. Working with educators was interesting and I liked being the person who could help frazzled principals, administrators and teachers with the myriad problems that occur in school districts every day. I thought I would spend the rest of my career as an education lawyer.
The problem was, there weren’t any jobs.
A pivot was definitely required. A friend of mine (connections are so important in times like these) let me know about an opportunity, which led to an interview, which led to a job. It was not in my field and was located in Harrisburg, close to two hours away from my home.
Because the scope of COVID-19 is unprecedented and continues to change our world, many of us may have to pivot. Some will be safe or even thrive (the Purell company comes to mind). Certain industries and the professional service providers that work with them are poised to be even busier. Many already are. But, for some, that will not be the case. We have to find ways to keep working.
In the last few weeks, I have been amazed by the creativity, ingenuity and resilience of people and businesses and want to give a few examples to inspire you.
Hair salons have been devastated by COVID-19 because there is no way to service customers while maintaining physical distance. Or is there? When the threat of quarantine loomed, clients of Martino Cartier (stylist and salon owner) in Washington Township, New Jersey began asking about home coloring kits they could buy to tide them over.
Using the mantra “save your clients, protect your staff,” the salon came up with a plan. For each client, he mixed their custom color and prepared a bundle with necessary supplies and instructions. Clients can call the salon, where a bag is placed outside for the client to pick up while maintaining required physical distance. Cartier didn’t stop there. He recorded a video post on Facebook explaining the entire process and equipment needed, so other salons could follow suit—the embodiment of ingenuity and generosity.
Law firms, knowing that clients would need legal services immediately and urgently also sprang into action creating virtual options for activities that would normally take place in an office. Anderson Elder Law, a boutique law firm in Media, dedicated to estate planning, elder law and special needs planning, was quick to announce its ability to provide “virtual legal services” and anticipated that clients would find that now is an ideal time to complete their estate plan.
The firm “developed a protocol to provide virtual elder law and special needs services that include expedited, abbreviated virtual intake consultations.” It also implemented a new remote document review process and drive-by signing service. These steps position a firm to be able to help in new ways and continue the flow of revenue.
The work continues as firm founder Linda M. Anderson, says, “We are reinventing ourselves every single day.”
We are witnessing a renaissance of sorts in the way businesses and professional service providers are adapting to a changing world. Keys to these initiatives include resilience and the discipline to envision different ways of doing business or pivot to a new area if necessary.
Many lawyers struggle with resilience. Low resilience often goes hand in hand with a fixed mindset about what you’re capable of learning, being and doing. A growth mindset is more open to experimentation and allows for the idea that you can always learn, build character and change. These terms were coined by Carol Dweck, who studied students’ attitudes about success and failure and found that “some students rebounded while other students seemed devastated by even the smallest setback.”
This is not a time when we can afford to ruminate on failure.
Two major impediments to thinking your way out of a problem are fear and using the same thinking that created the problem. Fear will derail you and keep you in a triggered state of mind where no creative thinking is possible.
Figure out ways of taming your fear so you can think rationally and productively. In times like these, we tend to go to the darkest places and play out our worst nightmare outcomes. A few ways of reducing anxiety are to practice mindful breathing, step away from the news, connect with friends by phone, and get some sun and exercise while keeping a safe distance.
In order to think differently, try talking things over with a trusted adviser, mentor, coach or colleague. Different perspectives help tremendously with innovation. Brainstorming is instrumental in moving fear out of the way to examine the situation and determine action steps to take.
Build your resilience reserves. It may not come naturally, but you can become more agile. These are hard times and it’s not over yet, but hope accompanied by action will help you navigate through change.
Reprinted with permission from the April 8, 2020 edition of “The Legal Intelligencer” © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com.