After a summer that felt somewhat “normal” and an autumn filled with in-person gatherings and holidays, the arrival of the Omicron variant was, to put it mildly, disheartening. “It just felt like deja vu all over again . . . quite candidly it didn’t feel good.” That sentiment, expressed by Bob Frank, chair of the MSBA Solo & Small Firm Practice section, was shared by many. In an hour-long Zoom discussion titled “Beating the COVID Doldrums,” nearly 40 MSBA members talked about their frustrations, feelings, and tips for coping with the latest COVID setbacks. The discussion was co-hosted by the MSBA Litigation, Solo & Small Firm, and Young Lawyers sections.
Ann Sheridan, vice-chair of the Litigation section council, shared her own frustrations with continued COVID-related restrictions, especially as she continues to work from home. “I miss the camaraderie of being able to hop into my colleague’s office and engage in small talk or just actually brainstorm about a case.” With business being conducted remotely, she finds it more difficult to make connections.
On the issue of making connections, Jessica Gorsky, Chair of the Young Lawyers’ section, agreed that it can be difficult to engage when people are suffering from a very real Zoom fatigue. A positive, though, was the fact that the Young Lawyers section’s “remote structure of working has expanded our base.” Prior to COVID, many MSBA and YLS events were geared towards central Maryland and, because of logistics and geography, often left out young lawyers in the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland. “We now have leaders in all of these counties. Our reach to young lawyers has really expanded.”
Guest speaker Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Director for the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) described the pandemic as an emotional rollercoaster. She urged members to work on “being comfortable with being uncomfortable” and recommended some kind of mindfulness and meditation. “We tend to think about past and future,” she said, but noted “it’s important to bring yourself back to what you’re doing in the moment.” Caplan also emphasized focusing on the “anchors” in your life, the things that don’t change, whether it’s something simple like your daily cup of coffee or watching the sunrise.
The interactive session allowed peers to offer their own tips on how they have coped with the frustrations of another winter under restrictions. Some of the tips shared include:
- Use meditation apps for 3 minute breathing exercises.
- Ask for help.
- Adopt a dog.
- Listen to music, with suggestions ranging from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, to Ozzy Osbourne.
- Take rides in the car and listen to audiobooks.
- Ride horses, no matter the weather.
- Be careful how much alcohol you drink.
- Reach out to friends or colleagues and meet up regularly even if for 15 minutes.
The discussion clearly demonstrated that feelings of frustration, exhaustion, and sadness are common. The fact that it’s winter, and that we are two years into this, adds to the disappointment. “Earlier in the pandemic we could focus on fresh air, nature, other things that can be done without a grouping,” one member shared. “But now with winter and the worry of whether schools will close, quarantine … it’s just getting tough, man.”
Despite the negatives, some members noted that some of the changes brought about because of the pandemic have been beneficial. Sheridan described being in trial shortly before the pandemic, extremely sick, but said that in the past you didn’t take a sick day unless you were hospitalized. She also noted that opposing counsel has been more understanding of unexpected circumstances.
Caplan urged members who might need help coping during these times to contact LAP, which provides free confidential counseling for life’s challenges. LAP is a great place to start, and can help with any type of issue at least as a starting point. LAP’s services are available to ALL lawyers, judges, and law students in Maryland, even if not members.