How Coronavirus Uncertainty Is Good Practice For Working In Law

How Coronavirus Uncertainty Is Good Practice For Working In LawThis week we welcome back guest writer Hillary Vaillancourt to talk about lessons learned during COVID-19 and how these are useful to practicing law!

The last few months have certainly presented numerous challenges for law students and legal professionals alike. With many firms closed, others still considered essential, and still more in a gray area trying to figure out where they stand, the legal profession has been significantly impacted (like other industries) by the Coronavirus pandemic.

I’ll admit, when the pandemic hit, and my state (New York) closed all court houses, I was nervous to say the least. My law practice in New York was only a few weeks old, and suddenly I couldn’t go to court for any of my clients or pursue the court appointed work I expected I could complete to make ends meet.

However, as the weeks went by, I learned how to adapt my law practice in ways I never anticipated. The result was a much stronger practice, a much more confident attorney, and a happier lifestyle all around. Here are a few lessons I learned about practicing law in a pandemic.

Cases Are Unpredictable

Court cases are at best unpredictable. Even the most straight-forward cases can present unexpected twists and turns, just like practicing law during the pandemic.

For example, I have an uncontested divorce case. Very simple. A legal-aid referral where the client has been amicably separated from his wife for years. No kids. No property to distribute. Nothing needs to be done but submit the proper paperwork for the judge to review and sign.

However, unbeknownst to me, the court was in the process of moving when I sent in the paperwork. For more than three weeks I tried to call to find out the status of the case. A case that should have wrapped up in less than three weeks has taken far longer.

In the last few months I have dealt with defendants not completing their waiver of service properly, not being able to get their documents notarized during the pandemic, clerks sending paperwork to the wrong address despite an updated change-of-address notice on file, and numerous other roadblocks in various cases.

This is part of practicing law. Just like the governmental shut-downs instituted during the pandemic were largely unforeseen, there are constant unforeseen issues in practicing law as well. Learning to roll with the punches is a must if you want to be an attorney.

Clients Are Unpredictable

Not only are court cases themselves unpredictable, but clients can be unpredictable, too. Four years of college, three years of law school, questioning dozens of attorneys about their career paths, and nobody once told me that clients will lie to you.

It’s true. The sooner you learn this, the less complicated your practice will be. In many cases, clients don’t necessarily lie maliciously. Mostly, in my experience, clients withhold facts, because they are afraid of what will happen if certain information gets out, or they feel they may have a better outcome if their attorney doesn’t know certain things. In other cases, clients simply don’t take legal advice to heart and do what they want to do anyway.

What most clients fail to realize is that this only sets them up for failure. As an attorney, being able to be well-prepared is critical to a successful outcome, but we have to do our own due diligence to find out whether what our clients tell us is in fact the truth.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been so much contradictory information, particularly as experts have learned more about the virus. It can be difficult to know what is true and what isn’t. Learning to question everything you read, see, hear, and feel can make the difference between being well-informed and well-prepared as a lawyer and getting a less-than-desirable outcome in a case.

Resilience

No matter how hard you fight for a client, no matter how justified your cause may be, no matter how much you believe in what you are doing, you will lose cases. Clients will fire you. Judges will correct you. You will get things wrong.

Whether you hang your own shingle or work under a trusted mentor, being resilient is a key trait in successful lawyers.

Similarly, the last few months have been (for most of us) rather challenging. I never expected when I launched my own law practice that the courts would completely shut down in my state just a few weeks later. I had two choices at that point: find a way to make my practice work or find another full-time job.

I decided to buckle down and make my practice work. I focused my work in areas of law that weren’t as widely affected by the pandemic including more transactional work, I hustled to get freelance legal work, and I networked like crazy. Months later, my practice is thriving.

This Too Shall Pass

The fact is that nothing lasts forever, even a pandemic. By recognizing that cases will not go as you hoped, clients will not always be forthcoming, and you will have to dig for the truth even from your own clients, and that being resilient is a valuable trait for any lawyer, you can take the lessons learned from this pandemic and become an even better attorney.


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About Hillary Vaillancourt

Hillary Vaillancourt is a lawyer and writer at The Vaillancourt Law Firm, LLC. She has experience in a wide variety of matters including food law, education law, real estate law, family law, criminal law, contracts, and estate planning. She earned her JD from New England Law|Boston and is licensed in Virginia.

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