In the beginning of the second act of the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day”, the protagonist TV weatherman Phil Conners, played by Bill Murray, begins to realize that he may be doomed to re-live the same day of his life, over and over, in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where he is reporting on the Annual Groundhog Day festival. After he repeats the earlier days’ events, including the requirement to begin his “on air” report, he expresses into the camera “It’s Groundhog Day...again.”
I suspect that for many of you, this is an identifiable momentary station in your own life. Many of us are either working from home or working from the office on a limited basis. Those that are working in the office probably have a skeleton crew that you see and might see another lawyer live and in-person once a week. For those that are accustomed to going to Court, they spend more time wearing blue jeans than courtroom attire and some have even worn shorts during a WebEx conference with the Court with the top half being courtroom attire. Client meetings have jumped to Zoom and/or Microsoft Teams. If you do run across a fellow attorney, perhaps you recognize them through their mask and you in yours and maybe you so dare as to “touch elbows” with them or “bump shoes.”
That does not even take into consideration one’s personal life. Many parents are rediscovering that indeed one of the biggest reasons they chose the law is that they really were bad at math, save for dividing by three. Parents in our profession have become part-time teachers while trying to carry on a full-time law practice. And for a minor respite from the stresses of the grind of life and the practice of law, perhaps you get to go get takeout, again, from your favorite restaurant, unless they have temporarily closed or potentially closed for good. Or perhaps you have binge-watched everything available to the point that you begin to tell anyone that will listen the various legal consequences in each episode of “Tiger King” or perhaps you begin to resent “Perry Mason” for not having to get a law degree. Perhaps your idea of a vacation this summer is just starting work a little bit later and coming home a little bit earlier as you don’t feel like spending money to go someplace to do precisely what you do inside your own house every day.
And it is not like the practice of law has slowed. Clients still have needs, and sometimes, more than traditional concerns. Unfortunately, however, just because the needs of clients have increased does not mean that they also have commensurate ability to pay. Many do not and will not for some time. For others of us, some areas of law have dried up completely or stalled out, such as those that make their living in Criminal District Court or Civil Court in the area of evictions, foreclosures or collections. In addition, those that have predominately office practices have had delays in processing their documents and/ or in closing their deals as there have been equal slowdowns in the contiguous sectors that either complement or act as conditions precedent to that work. And Thursday feels like a Monday, which feels like Sunday, and so on and so forth.
As for your Bar, we are no different. The natural community that we offer as a Bar is greatly diminished as we cannot engage in the traditional in-person fellowship of our committee/section events, swearing-in ceremonies or even recreational leagues. We do conduct Zoom meetings and Zoom events, but as we all know, everyone is part of the same conversation in a Zoom meeting and none of the important side conversations exist. The side conversations are truly where the magic of a legal community begins and is where we foster those relationships that create the idealistic lawyer collegiality that one, I am sure, “has heard tell of.”
Those that know me know that I am heavily influenced by the fact that I grew up living in a United Methodist parsonage. One of the traditions in Methodism is John Wesley’s annual “Covenant Renewal Service,” which was designed as an opportunity for self-examination, reflection and dedication. During this arguably stressful and uncertain time that we live, perhaps the conceptual process of “renewal” is something to consider, albeit from a secular level. Perhaps, like Phil Conners in Groundhog Day, this time is also a good opportunity to reframe our practices, our work-life balance and find a new renewal to the practice of law.
At some point, there will be an end to the pandemic, but when that occurs, we must be all be ready to move forward. I encourage all members that have not been struck ill by COVID-19 and that are able to self-reflect to consider doing the same. Perhaps that means taking the day-long CLE to learn that new area of practice that one has been considering. Possibly it means finally working that long client “to do” list and clearing it up. Maybe it means reorganizing and closing files or even down-sizing one’s office to a more effective and efficient space now that working from home has become a reality. We will never have a more conducive time for “catching up” and “re-focusing” than we will at this time.
We at the MCB are working to help supplement our members efforts on renewal during this period of time. Despite the fact that we are unable to carry on the business of the Bar in the traditional form, that does not mean that we will stop doing the work of the Bar. As I provided in my remarks at the annual meeting and subsequent newsletter article, we as a Bar are charged with an ultimate goal of improving and preserving the administration of justice. We have begun that process in earnest this year with the implementation of the Justice Access Initiative (JAI), which I encourage members to provide their input to help the JAI Core Committee with their report. It is our hope that JAI will provide that critical way forward for all of us, and potentially other Bars by way of our example, to find a way forward and perhaps introduce and implement some levels of reformation of practice sectors.
For many years, those in MCB leadership have encountered the perception that the Executive Committee and the Board does not listen to its members. I can assure our members that this has never been my experience during my time on the Board. Nevertheless, this year, I have asked our President-Elect Fred DeVore and Vice President Erin Taylor to serve as a unofficial board liaison to the MCB Committees and MCB Sections, respectively, so that we at the Board level better understand and are able to respond to the concerns of those groups on a grassroots level.
We will offer to our Bar leaders the opportunity to take part in virtual training, including in the area of multiculturalism. For our members, we are in the process of developing multiple continuing legal education courses, including one on implicit bias, which will be offered without cost as part of your MCB membership. Finally, we will continue to find innovative ways to speak to the concerns of our members in their lives and in their practices albeit virtually for the time being.
At the end of Groundhog Day, Bill Murray as Phil Conners delivers one of the most poignant speeches of the film which serves as an allegory to the film theme:
“When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”
This “Groundhog Day” that we all are living under will eventually pass. I encourage you to use this time as an opportunity of renewal.