Tara Anne Pleat (Wilcenski & Pleat) is the chair of NYSBA’s Elder Law and Special Needs (ELSN) Section. She originally posted this message to the ELSN on-line community earlier this week, and it has been edited for publication here.
I wanted to take a moment to comment on the volume of questions, comments, concerns I have heard from NYSBA colleagues this past week.
We are all dealing with a sudden, transformative moment with lawyers being asked to both upload and download constantly changing information in real time for ourselves, our clients and our staff. For our profession in particular, the combination of rapidity and potential to get things “wrong” is anxiety producing.
Perhaps the best way to support one another through this challenging period is to collectively work to be encouraging of our colleagues as we all need to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps we must accept that this is a time when we can’t be certain how our decisions will be reviewed, if or when that time comes.
It is a known fact that lawyers have a perfectionism syndrome (“maladaptive perfectionism”), which can – if not properly contained – result in the mistaken belief that we are required to be perfect by controlling all aspects of cause and effect. Now, we find ourselves in a place where we have no control over what the next day will bring. It is a cause of unending anxiety for so many of us.
So what can be done? For my part, I have arrived at the conclusion that lawyers are trained to take positions and defend them. So many of us want certainty and want to be able to guarantee a result for so many reasons, not the least of which is the specter of malpractice. However, in uncharted waters, we have to begin to rely on processes and judgment calls. We have to trust ourselves to be good competent attorneys who take reasoned and defensible positions given the circumstances we find ourselves in.
We all have to make these decisions for ourselves. We all have to be able to look at our ethics, the circumstances and the law as we know it to be, and decide a course of direction that may have no roadmap. We have to be comfortable with the fact that those judgment calls may be challenged down the road. In short, we must work to become comfortable with the unknown and trust ourselves, and each other, perhaps more than we have in the past.
More and more clients are reaching out, out of fear, wanting to get together and solidify their plans and, sign their documents – all at a time when our government out of genuine concern for our safety and well-being is telling us to stay home, not to meet with people. We can’t meet with clients in hospitals and nursing homes in person, even if our government said it was okay to do so. How do we make sure we can support our staff, how do we support our practices, and how do we comfort our clients who are scared and riddled with anxiety?
NYSBA’s Elder Law and Special Needs and Trusts and Estates Law Sections are communities of incredibly bright, generous and collegial people. If we can help each other with those judgment calls, we should do that. We are all going to be making them. We have to develop a new playbook because the game has changed, albeit temporarily. If you have ideas, please share them. We can get ourselves and our practices through this time and we will all reach the other side of this crisis.
People are sitting in their homes contemplating their lives, contemplating what they could have done better, contemplating the end of their lifetimes. We are the professionals who bring them through that process.
Those clients for whom we work so hard in normal times need us now and they will need us even more on the other side. We may not agree with the play that is called, or we may have called a different play, but if we are exercising good judgment, caution and relying on our ethics at every turn, I have the utmost faith that we can defend any decision we make.
My best to you all. I am glad we are in this together.