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Sybil Procedure: Staying connected, upbeat working in isolation

Sybil Dunlop//April 27, 2020//

Sybil Procedure: Staying connected, upbeat working in isolation

Sybil Dunlop//April 27, 2020//

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Last month, I wrote a lighthearted piece about the trials and tribulations of sheltering at home. I miss my ergonomic office chair! I am finally using my Peloton! My daughter is going stir crazy! This month, however, things feel darker. We continue to shelter at home. I miss people. I worry about sick friends. And I wonder how our profession will fare as courts stay litigation, postpone deadlines, and cancel hearings.

Many law firms are struggling. Major national firms, including Arent Fox, Baker Donelson, Ballard Spahr, Bryan Cave, Dentons, Faegre Drinker, Foley Hoag, Hinshaw & Culbertson, Stoel Rives, Orrick, and Venable (to name only a few) are cutting salaries, furloughing workers, and laying folks off. And I get it. Clients are suffering, so firms will suffer. Litigation is postponed. Mergers and acquisitions are on hold. Public sector folks are not necessarily faring better. Government workers are feeling pressure to cut costs recognizing that, as tax revenues decrease, so will their budgets.

This reality can inspire depression, fear, and a deep sense of uncertainty about the future. Making matters worse, I know lawyers who have lost their jobs—good folks who certainly would have continued employment but for a global pandemic.

So what can we do?

I have no answers, but I can share my current approach. Here’s what I’m doing to stay upbeat, plan for the future, remain a productive member of my firm:

I’m staying in touch with clients. Many clients are sheltering at home, struggling to home-school while remaining productive workers. I don’t want to push any legal services, but I do want to remain present for folks I care about and hear about the issues impacting their life and business. I want to listen. I want to be a friend. I want to help if I can (even if helping means leaving a roll of toilet paper on someone’s doorstep instead of taking on a new matter).

I’m staying in touch with my colleagues. Every day, I try to reach out to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, just to make sure they are doing OK. Working from home can be lonely. If I can, I want to bring a few moments of connection to one of my colleague’s day (and I’ll selfishly confess that I need connection too). Today’s good news (ripe for sharing with a colleague): Sweet Farm, an animal sanctuary in California, is offering the opportunity to invite a llama, goat, cow, or other farm animal to make a cameo appearance on your next video conference.  Proceeds from “Goat 2 Meetings” help support Sweet Farm in its mission to rescues farm animals.

I’m trying to work a “normal” schedule. There is a popular internet meme saying, “for those who have lost track, today is Blursday the fortyteenth of Maprilay.” When I first started working from home, all the days felt the same. So did the evenings. I could work constantly, so I did. This never-ending workday began to feel oppressive. I bought a paper calendar and pinned it to my wall so that I have a visual reminder as to what day it is. And I’ve made a concerted effort to go to the “office” during the day (my bedroom desk) and leave the “office” in the evening and weekends. On the weekends, I try to do weekend things. This past Saturday, we walked around the sculpture garden, took the dog to a dog park, and spent some time making a nice dinner. I felt a bit better about the world.

I’m thinking about ways to improve online presentations. Prior to COVID, I was scheduled to speak to the Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum about depositions and legal writing. I’m still on deck, but now, I’m giving my two-day lecture via the interwebs. Offering an interesting (six hour!) online course is a challenge. My stepdaughter, home from Columbia, shared that the professional professors at her ivy-league school can’t hold the students’ interest for an hour online. They are failing miserably to translate their compelling courses into compelling webinars. I want to do better—so I’m thinking about ways to incorporate audience participation, video clips, and visiting guests to ensure that I won’t torture anyone for six hours.

I’m preparing for a post-COVID world. Part of my practice includes speaking on the topic of Diversity & Inclusion, in particular, biases that impact our profession’s diversity. I’ve always thought that writing a book on this subject would help my practice (and I want to write this book!). So I’m taking some time to put pen to paper and write it.

Here’s what I’m not doing:

I’m not trying to start a new practice. Bankruptcy anyone? How about Zoom law? I know there are great bankruptcy lawyers already out there. And I have no desire to expand my practice inauthentically to attempt to assuage my fears or meet a perceived business need that in no way aligns with my existing skill set. I’ll refer any bankruptcy needs to the good folks I know who do this work.

But mostly, I’m trying (with mixed results) to stay upbeat. Not just for my husband and my daughter. But for me. Research shows that if we act an emotion, we are more likely to feel that emotion. If we put a pencil between our teeth (forcing us to smile) we can actually feel happier. While these are difficult times, I would like to find moments of joy in my Maprilay. Walks. Family dinners. Bedtime stories. Writing. And dreams of a post-COVID world where I’ll get to see you all again.


Sybil Dunlop joined Greene Espel in 2010. Her practice focuses on representing individuals, corporations and public-sector entities in business and governmental defense litigation. She can be reached at [email protected].

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