If you live in Auckland, you have had a lesson this week in how quickly your life can change. We were all living lives almost as normal, feeling we had this pandemic thing in hand, when we were suddenly thrust back into level 3 lockdown. Most of us seem resigned to our lives now being a tide that moves in and out of lockdown. For how long? Who knows?
I had feedback from some friends and family outside NZ who were astonished that with “only 4 cases” we were battening down the hatches. From the daily clusterf!&$s they are living amid, I understand that it may have appeared an over-reaction. As my brother in Melbourne was experiencing new cases in the hundreds each day, our 4 seemed barely worth donning a face mask for. Likewise for my friends in further flyng corners of the world.
From here, once the initial shock dissipated and we scurried to get our face masks out, the transition felt more seamless than previously. We’ve done this before. We know we can run our practices remotely. There was little having to think “how can we make this work?”. We did that thinking and learned lessons last time around. The resulting processes and systems could be deployed this time. Forget the routine office fire drill. I read of one law firm that now has routine “lockdown drills” to see how quickly they can get from being office based to home based. Similarly the Courts and other providers have pulled out their protocols from last time around and jumped into them.
Given we come to this lockdown from a place of experience, this time (and the next and the next) should be easier right?
Logistically and practically, yes. Emotionally and mentally, probably not.
Last time around, there was a sense of camaraderie, “we’re all in this together”. Now, a sense of feeling chuffed with how we had got out of lockdown has given way to the “psychological whammy” and emotional adjustment of:
… going about life, thinking we had this and then realising we didn’t
… disappointment, frustration and anger
… the feeling of having control of one’s life only to have it snatched away again
… the realisation that this is “it”, a new future, and all the uncertainty that comes with that
… ‘blame and shame’/pointing the finger reactions in others and, uncomfortably, possibly in ourselves.
With this, family law practice just got a whole lot more challenging. With each move in and out of the alert levels, this is likely to compound.
Firstly, we’re not immune to the psychological whammy. Moving in and out of lockdown means drawing on all our resilience building tools to ensure we look after ourselves so that we maintain our mojo and can serve our clients. I certainly found myself automatically defaulting to one of my resilience chestnuts, my “control what you can and leave the rest” mode, as I whipped out my diary and planned around what I am actually able to choose day to day.
Our interactions with our clients may be less than ideal as we are mentally and emotionally stretched but also, as they too are stretched. Each time we move into lockdown, our clients' emotional responses pile up on top of the troublesome, emotional and psychological terrain they are already traversing.
When you think about it, many of our clients were already confronting some or all the emotional challenges I have described in respect to our lockdown “psychological whammy” and likely to a more heightened level. The client who discovers her partner of 30 years was having an affair, the client who was served suddenly with parenting proceedings that threaten to diminish his time with his tamariki/children, the young mother who has had Oranga Tamariki come in and remove her tamariki. All will already be struggling with a similar, more heightened, version of the psychological whammy we have all just had. As family lawyers we can tap into our experience of this to access greater compassion for, and insight into, the emotional journey our clients are already on.
If we are to meet these challenges and emerge from lockdown v2.0, v3.0 and beyond, having experienced satisfying connections with our clients during this time, I suggest we need to be less of a lawyer and more of a human! I say this even if we are not in lockdown but now is the time to double down on it.
I often hear colleagues say the words I used to mutter, “we are not social workers or counsellors”. That is true BUT we are still human beings who can show empathy, heart and compassion when our clients’ worlds may be seriously lacking these. We can listen. We can be curious about how it is to walk in this world as them.
We are also humans with skills that go beyond our technical legal skills. We can coach our clients through this time, supporting them to identify what is going on for them and strategies for building their own resilience. We can assist them to focus on what they can control, not what they cannot. Together with our clients we can create some certainty in their cases amid the bigger uncertainty we are all experiencing.
Putting yourself in the shoes of a client, would you rather see a lawyer who sees the human aspects of your situation as being "someone else's job" or one who works with you as a fellow, vulnerable, human being who just happens to be a lawyer?
What are you noticing is going on this time around in Lockdown? I'd love to hear! Add a comment or head on into The Law Lighthouse Private Facebook Group to share so we can all learn from one another and help each other out.