Panic can pass more quickly than a virus.
“Lawyers often times find themselves having to process their clients’ fears while providing sound legal counsel,” said Libby Coreno, chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Wellbeing Committee. “We have clients who are nervous about how the Covid-19 shutdowns will impact their businesses or clients who are angry about the court delays or hosts of other pressing concerns.”
For example, for those with clients in the hospitality or restaurant industries, there are worries about having to close, pay employees or make rent without a steady income.
“There are serious strains on people’s ability to handle these levels of stress and lawyers are not professionally trained for emotional crisis. Yet, that is exactly where many find themselves,” she said.
As a young lawyer, Coreno lived through the Sept. 11th attacks and the 2008 recession and learned that, “We coach clients, create options and try to position them.”
With the coronavirus uprooting the lives of New Yorkers, lawyers are uniquely qualified to help mitigate problems, strategize and problem-solve under crushing pressure. But that doesn’t mean lawyers are immune to the stress that comes with these unique skills.
“We can see the overarching framework of near and far impacts. We know life will return to normal,” Coreno said. “But you can only take so many calls before you feel the clients’ pain and stress.”
“Being ‘the fixer’ can take its toll on our bodies,” she said.
In addition, lawyers who are running their own businesses may worry about the volume and logistics of their practices. Solo attorneys may be concerned whether their payroll company is going to be able to process their checks or whether there is enough redundancy should they become ill themselves.
Therefore, a key question lawyers must ask themselves is ‘How comfortable am I in the unknown?’ before they begin to counsel clients about how to find their own comfort level. So, self-regulation and self-care are the key messages for all lawyers to remember in the coming weeks.
At the top of the list, Coreno noted, is a self-evaluation about, “Who is my support system? Where do I go to replenish and process my own worry and stress?” She suggested that lawyers find healthy ways of releasing stress such as getting outside, doing yoga at home or participating in online discussions with other lawyers.
“There are lots of free videos on YouTube plus remote yoga and remote mediation sessions available. Develop a self-care plan that works for you. Reach out and connect yourself with others,” she said.
Lastly, just 5 minutes of deep breathing can help quell stress, per Harvard Medical School.