Day 4 of working in the SLS vitrual law firm. My home office is slowly becoming a mess of boxes and files on the floor and I am now helping clients deal with the initial flood of coronavirus notices from tenants and contractors etc. But today I want to reflect on more personal thoughts. It was last Friday that it hit me that I, my family, my law firm, my community were in the beginnings of a radical change to our lives. Last Friday started with discussions among my partners in which we recognized that we needed to immediately plan for transitioning our law firm from the traditional central office based law firm to a virtual one. That discussion and the intense planing effort which it set in motion was a jolt to my reality but did not compare to what I would confront later in the day. Fridays are always shorter work days for me as I leave at 3 pm to prepare for the Sabbath. Ever since I was in high school, when I did not have school on Fridays (but had school on Sundays), Fridays have been the day on which I slowly transition from the world of work to twenty-fours focused on the spiritual, prayer, and family. Last Friday afternoon, as I was getting ready to begin the Sabbath with a prayer service at my synagogue, I was abruptly informed that due to the coronavirus and the Governor’s order limiting public assembly to no more than 250 people ,that every synagogue in our community (of which there are many) was cancelling all prayer services, classes and programs for the foreseeable future. Unprecedented! I can not adequately describe the impact of this announcement. The synagogues and other religious institutions are the core that unite the hundreds of families that live in our close knit community. Beginning on Friday evening and continuing all day Saturday the streets are full, from morning to night, with people going to and from their synagogues, families visiting friends, kids playing in the parks ,and teenagers socializing with one another. But last Saturday the streets were literally empty. Everyone was hunkered down in their homes. It was Snowmgeddon without the snow. It was then that the impact of the pandemic came into crystal clear focus for me. This pandemic that came out of nowhere was radically changing my life – everyone’s life – and the challenge was to adapt to the radical changes. Over the last few days as I have been confronting all the many changes, I have resolved that I will not let this pandemic change who I am and who I strive to be as a person and as a professional. So my focus has been helping others – colleagues, staff clients, friends,and community members to get through this “thing” secure in the knowledge that we are all in this together. This is how I am trying to keep my “sanity” as we move closer to the day when we will be ordered to “shelter in place”.
Shabbat Shalom. May the Sabbath Queen enter in peace and bring gladness and good cheer to all.
Day 3 of intense social distancing and working remotely. I am trying to keep my regular schedule. Up at 4:30-4:45, shower at 6, daven (pray) at 6:55, work beginning at 8 or 8:30. I am making a point of dressing as I would for work (sans the tie – sorry Steve!) and working my regular hours. I miss the drives to and from work and more importantly the personal face to face interaction with my friends and colleagues.; I am maximizing my use of video conferencing to maintain personal contact within the requirements of “social distancing”.
While so far during this first full week of enforced social distancing most everyone I have interacted with is “with the program” there remain large numbers who are either coronavirus ignorant or worse – coronavirus deniers. Hopefully, very quickly, the ignorant will become better educated about the enormous task incumbent on us all of slowing down this deadly virus and conduct themselves accordingly.
The deniers, however, are of much greater concern to me. Whether it is because they foolishly believe (contrary to all the obvious evidence) that the coronavirus is just like the flu, or that G-d will protect those who do His will and therefore life can proceed as usual, or that those under 30 are unaffected and will not get sick, their behavior is risking thousands around them; risking not only that they contract the virus but that older and weaker individuals could die. Where have we, as a society, gone wrong when thousands of college age students can celebrate spring break on the beaches of Florida with not only no concern for their own health but no concern for the spread of the virus in their communities? How is it possible that hundreds of people attend weddings and celebrate as though everything is normal?
This pandemic is a challenge to mankind. Whether we like it or not we are all in this together.We can each rise to the occasion and act with concern for our neighbors – whomever they are and wherever they may be. Or we can be selfish and watch as the world pays an enormous price. Social distancing and remote interaction is no fun but it can be a tool to make us better people if we rise to the occasion and act to protect those around us and think a bit less about ourselves.
Yesterday SLS implemented our “virtual law firm”. The first phase allows a controlled limited number of lawyers and staff to work in our building while everyone else works remotely. It got off to a great start. Everyone was busy. Clients were also for the most part working remotely and seemed to expect that we would shift to remote operations and were appreciative of our “not missing a beat”. We also began to receive some pandemic related questions regarding project delays and business interruption claims and insurance coverage issue. I made a short video for clients announcing our shift to remote operations as I do not want to lose the personal connection with the many individuals with whom we work. On the home front Marilyn is also working at home and having some difficulty transitioning to a home office. Given what I expect to be a long duration for this new work environment I think we will need to quickly set up and equip a really functional home office for her.
Our elementary school grandchildren have all begun on line classes to some extent though this will surely be a long haul for families with children at home. Today my ninety year old in laws are driving back to NY from Florida (yes that is what i said!). The advice we received was that since they were unwilling to remain in Florida, driving was safer than flying. Another example of how the world has been turned on its head! As we take more and more steps to implement stricter and stricter “social distancing” Caring and loving are taking on a new definition. I have always understood them to mean bringing those you love closer; drawing them nearer in both a physical and emotional sense. Today during this pandemic they mean the opposite. The more we care for others, the more we love our families, the more we need to maintain distance between us. Perhaps this is an irony. Or perhaps this is a manifestation of the essence of caring and loving – doing whatever is necessary to protect those you love.
I began focusing on the Coronavirus as I traveled to Houston on March 2 to teach an industry course. During my stay in Houston it became clear to me just how difficult, no impossible, it would be to keep myself healthy while conducting my daily life “as usual”. How effective could all those hand sanitzers strategically placed in the public spaces really be? Not much, I thought – as I regularly used them. I came back from Houston and flew to fly to St. Louis with my wife for a family event. Over that weekend and upon my return my learning curve increased but not to the point that I really understood what needed to be done by society as a whole to get through this pandemic. Other than a doctor friend who works at NIH I could not find reliable explanatory information. Based on his advice I began cancelling all my upcoming travel. I informed a friend that I would not be attending his son’s wedding in New Jersey. I worked on canceling the many out of town depositions I was scheduled to take over the next few weeks. Initially my efforts were met with skepticism. “It is no worse than the flu” was a familiar response. One lawyer objected to the cancellation of the deposition because there were no domestic travel restrictions. Others thought I was an alarmist. President Trump was saying that the virus was not that big of a deal and that it was “under control”.
Really? How could that be? Why were thousands being infected the world over? Why was Italy in a lock down? Why was Israel self quarantining thousands? It was not until I watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the Israeli public that I gained detailed relevant information regarding the virus, its behavior and risks and the public health strategy that must be implemented if we are to survive this pandemic. The virus infects in geometric progressions. The number of people infected will double every 6 days. The health care systems will be overwhelmed if the rate of infection is not slowed down. The only means of slowing down this virus, for which a vaccine does not presently exist, is by practicing personal hygiene and limiting social interaction. This requires a radical change in everyone’s personal habits and behavior. Even though large percentages of the population are likely to be infected, the rate of infection and infection curve must be flattened and the virus slowed so that hospitals are not overwhelmed. In a week’s time the situation in the United States has changed dramatically for the worse. The number of infected individuals is multiplying daily and the number of deaths is increasing. Testing is insufficient. States have begun to impose “radical” restrictions to daily life to try and contain the virus. And slowly we are all acknowledging and accepting the raw fact that we are all in uncharted territory.