Getting Our Sea Legs Back
Lawyers are used to waking up each morning ready to do battle and solve the world’s problems. We are leaders in our communities and move forward with confidence and with the support of our teams and the people around us in courthouses and offices throughout this great state and nation. But in these unprecedented times, the rules have changed. The world has changed. It is incumbent upon the Bar to help our members weather the pandemic brought on by COVID-19 and support their recovery efforts. I pledge the Bar will do just that.
While I have always focused on the mental health of our members, as I begin my year as president, now more than ever, it is vital to help our members navigate stressful times as we are asked to suddenly abandon our familiar work surroundings, shift to conducting business in a new way, and follow a fresh and ever-changing set of rules. We are increasingly video conferencing — an activity that requires a different level of concentration and stress. Not having the support of legal assistants and partners physically at arm’s length has become an uncomfortable reality for many. The profession is already highly demanding, and the essential need for social distancing introduces additional challenges.
If we thought we were under stress before, it’s only become magnified. Health issues are magnified, anxiety and mental-health issues are magnified, financial issues — they are all magnified with this completely unexpected turn of events. Having to immediately adapt to change has had an impact on overall mental health and wellbeing.
That is why The Florida Bar accelerated the launch of a Florida Lawyers Helpline that offers Bar members access to a 24/7/365 toll-free number (833-351-9355 or “833-FL1-WELL”), where they can receive — from a mental-health professional — crisis intervention and a referral for up to three free visits with a locally based, licensed mental-health professional. Telehealth therapy sessions will be available until it is safe to go back to in-person sessions. The Florida Lawyers Helpline also provides professionals to assist with other aspects of the member’s life, such as case managers to help find long-term care facilities for family members; childcare specialists that can find and vet available centers or summer camps that have openings in the member’s area; or financial consultants for assistance getting out of debt, budgeting, and planning for retirement. These services are completely confidential and at no cost to eligible Bar members.
We have been on tilt. All of us are experiencing similar stresses due to the pandemic. The urge to be unpleasant toward opposing counsel or others may be strong. Being kind can go a long way in dispelling tension. Being polite and maintaining professional decorum can make a difference. Compromises, flexibility, and setting reasonable deadlines is more essential than ever before, because everyone simply has a lot going on. I’m a big believer that we must lead by example, as we want the public to continue to hold lawyers in high regard, and look to us for answers in these difficult times.
This year is going to be about rebuilding, becoming stronger, and proving ourselves resilient. Every day, I wake up ready to do my best and I believe you do, too. It is a challenge being away from my office and my colleagues. But in the end, the safety of our members and our clients is paramount, and we are all making the best decisions possible to secure society’s wellbeing. The pandemic has taught us there are real dangers out there, but we are adapting to limit the danger, and still serving the public. And there are lessons we have learned. How can we apply some of those lessons? How do we get our sea legs back so we can move forward in a positive way? Now is the time to ask: What is really important? I think there’s some good that will come out of these uncertain times.
For Bar members who are vulnerable — or have vulnerable family members — I pray for their safety. The Bar continues to serve its members even in times of crisis and is answering the call for help one step at a time. Along with your other Bar leaders, I am committed to doing everything we possibly can to help you. Please visit FloridaBar.org/covid19 for the latest information, resources, and services. We all want to do our best, and be at our best, no matter what happens beyond our control. We are all in this together.