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Sybil Procedure: Pandemic’s new normal is still wildly strange

And the pandemic goes on …

If you told me, when I left the office on March 12, that I would still be working from home on Dec. 17, I would have been gobsmacked. I truly believed that we would all go home for two weeks, conquer the disease, and be back in the office within a month. How little I knew …

In many ways, I’ve adjusted to this new normal. I get up early and crack open my laptop to get some work done before my daughter wakes up. I hop on the Peloton in an attempt to get some sort of exercise. And then I work at home for eight hours, occasionally interrupted by a 7-year old looking for a hug or her math book, my husband asking if we should order lunch, or the Amazon delivery folks. At the end of most days, my cellphone tells me that I’m a slug who has walked six steps all day. And we order pizza or Chinese food for dinner.

But this new normal is still wildly strange. There are aspects of it that I love. And aspects that I detest. But as we peer around the corner into 2021, I’m thinking about ways to improve my world in 2021.

Here’s what I love: Wearing leggings every day. No commute. Hugging my daughter throughout the day. Seeing colleagues’ kids and pets bop in and out of Zoom calls. Sitting next to my daughter when she’s in online class and really understanding what she’s learning. Bumping into my husband throughout the day and having lunch together. Watching my daughter take her virtual tap-dancing class in our bathroom (the best floors for tap). And taking some time this year to really think about what type of legal work I find meaningful and fulfilling.

Here’s what I hate: The work feels unending. I get up and start answering emails at 5:30. I check my work email and respond to items right before I go to bed. The lines between work and home have completely blurred. My daughter’s online classes seem like they are mostly filled with requests from the teacher that pupils mute themselves, and I wonder if she’s learning anything. I feel like I could just work constantly. There are no vacations to look forward to. No trips planned. Not even eating out. I know these are first world problems. My family is healthy. I have a job. But there have been days of late when a sort of malaise has overtaken me. I realize that I haven’t left the house in days. Or that I’ve been on six hours of Zoom calls and my social time, after work, involves another Zoom event. And I think, “Ugh, how much longer will this last?”

But there is a third list, beyond the lists of what I love and hate. It’s what I miss. I miss walking down the hallway and stopping by a colleague’s office to share ideas or talk about a case. I miss running out for coffee with a colleague during that moment around 2 p.m. when I realize that I could use some more caffeine. I miss sitting at a bar and sharing a drink with a colleague, friend, or my husband after work. I miss walking through the skyways at lunch and running into friends. I miss in-person events — the FBA dinner dance, the MABL gala, the HCBA Judges’ Social. I miss having a reason to get dressed up. I miss mingling with acquaintances — those folks that you’re not really friends with but always enjoy saying bumping into at events.

So what does this all mean for 2021? It means that I need to make some changes, even before we are all vaccinated and return to the office sometime in 2021 (I hope!) Last week, we started walking every night. We head to our local co-op to grab dinner (It’s a date! It’s exercise! It’s both!) which will inevitably be healthier than pizza and take-out Chinese food (which I do still plan to order at least once a week). I’ve started declining Zoom evening events. Until I can see people in person, I’ve realized that I find staring at a screen all day and night to be just too much screen time. I’d rather talk on the phone with friends at night than Zoom more. We’ve signed up for better internet! Before the ground froze, we asked the fiberoptic internet people to connect it. I think we made it just in time. I will ice skate. I will sled. I will play in the snow this winter to ensure that I get outside.

And I will continue to think about what legal work makes me feel most fulfilled. In this crazy year, I’ve had the opportunity to work on real issues affecting our state. I’ve helped expand voting rights. I’ve taught and counseled clients on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. I’ve helped prevent the spread of counterfeit personal protective equipment. I’ve worked hard to ensure our judges reflect the diversity of our communities. In times of trouble, I take the most comfort in thinking about the things I’m grateful for. I’m grateful for all of this. That, as lawyers, we have the ability to play a role in the most pressing issues of the day. And this is the practice I hope to keep long after 2020 is over.

Sybil Dunlop joined Greene Espel in 2010. Her practice focuses on complex commercial and intellectual property disputes. She can be reached at sdunlop@greeneespel.com.

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About Sybil Dunlop

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 sdunlop@greeneespel.com.

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