By Jimmie McMillian, 2021 IndyBar President, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
COVID-19 has made us all acutely aware of the importance of our physical and mental health. In our effort to protect ourselves from the virus, we took steps once thought to be unthinkable to take care of ourselves and our family. We retreated from our corporate offices to the comfortable and safe confines of our own homes. Extra bedrooms were transformed into virtual office studios. Living rooms were transformed into virtual classrooms for our kids. Exercise equipment previously utilized primarily as a coat hanger was pulled out of the corner, dusted off and in most cases, still used as a coat hanger. Kitchens became cafeterias for feeding family members with seemingly bottomless appetites. Cats and dogs became our gleeful coworkers and virtual meeting co-stars. No one seemed to be able to finish a workday without keeping their complete load of laundry washed and dried and every dish in sight cleaned and stored in its proper place. Our homes became our sanctuaries and, in that yearlong transition many of us have found our happy place.
I actually returned to work in June of 2020, and I was very thankful for it. While I enjoyed being at home with my wife and kids every day, I started to notice the growing distance between me and the leaders in my organization. The daily impromptu camaraderie and joviality that characterized our typical workday in the “Before Times” was replaced out of necessity with quick conference and video calls. I missed the sound of laughter from other offices, random chances to pop in and vent frustration and the occasional kitchen area donut snack surprise. I missed the ability to simply walk by an office and get pulled into an important and exciting issue that I did not even know existed. I missed the arrival to work and the departure from work as the important place marks for the start and stop of the professional workday. I missed all of the non-verbal interactions that take place in board meetings and the friendly and informative conversations that often take place for 30 to 45 minutes after the board meetings. I missed meeting with my mentees in-person at new restaurants and the awakening of my five senses in those exciting environments. I missed the uplifting compliments on my suits. I missed the closed-door meeting with a colleague that you simply cannot have on Zoom. While working at home, for albeit a relatively short period of time, I realized that the health of my professional working relationships was suffering. Perhaps you are still working from home. Perhaps you are still primarily attending meetings virtually. Perhaps you feel the same way.
Many of us have been vaccinated but many of us have not been. A respectful fear of the serious effects of contracting COVID-19 remains, as it should. Some people have health conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated. Some people are not being vaccinated based upon their religious beliefs, which should certainly be respected. Some people are still not convinced that the vaccines are safe. Whatever your status, it is fair to examine at this point in our battle against COVID-19 whether our professional relationships have survived the pandemic. What important relationships and ties have we lost with the people who are essential to our professional success? Are we still sufficiently connected to our work streams, our organization leadership, our clients, our political connections, our leadership opportunities and our community engagements? How healthy are we professionally and what can we do to vaccinate ourselves from the deadly disease of isolation?
“Don’t cure the sickness but kill the patient,” as the old doctor’s warning goes. Those words may in fact be applicable to the health of our professional relationships as we emerge from the pandemic. The cornerstone of the practice of law is each of our academic and ethical reputation as lawyers as is often times witnessed and attested to by our colleagues, judges, clients, mentors, mentees partners, associates and even legal adversaries. The close relationships that we cultivate through our numerous daily interactions are pivotal to the development of our careers. From those meetings, lunches, offhand conversations, walks around the Circle, receptions, awards dinners and conferences, we learn from others what type of lawyer we may want to be and what type of lawyer we may not want to be. Unexpected golden professional opportunities that you never could have even considered existed suddenly emerge on the off chance that you showed up at the event and met the right person at the right place and at the right time. It is from both those intentional and random encounters that we become the lawyers that we are destined to be.
It may be easier and more convenient to attend the meeting virtually. The thought of putting on pants, makeup, doing your hair, wearing a suit or looking for a parking spot may make you cringe inside, but trust me, the professional health of your relationships needs you to reengage live and in person. The IndyBar plans to offer you a multitude of magnificent opportunities to do so, including reconnecting with your section, division and committee colleagues at meetings and CLEs at IndyBarHQ, by attending the IndyBar Block Party on May 27 (register at indybar.org/blockparty) and by attending the Bench Bar Conference June 17-19 (register at indybar.org/benchbar)! We want to be the cure for what ails you!