The challenges and tribulations of professionalism in the practice of law, and specifically in the Worker’s Compensation community, have been in the fore lately. There has been much discussion of the separation that came through the advent of technology, exacerbated and leveraged by SARS-CoV-2. In no way trivializing the great human suffering of the pandemic, it is possible one of its most lasting human effects will be societally and socially on the way we interact.
There is growing recognition that the workplace of yesteryear had deep social and interactive benefits. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently noted that "for older generations, work was the sole place of connection." The virtuality of the pandemic reaction is seen as impacting us all in terms of social interaction, with a particular emphasis on the young. The article concludes that "without offices, young people have to get clever about making friends."
Making friends is a challenge in any setting. Many struggle with the social interactions that society deems normal or expected. And, the BBC features young people who conclude that their pandemic isolation fueled feelings of being "anti-social." They lost human contact, and it seems, simply became accustomed to their isolation and lack of contact. Generation Z members who had been "very sociable" simply lost focus on "cultivating relationships," and became reticent or resistant to meeting new people. There was some degree of emotional discouragement regarding the social environment.
I am persistently hearing anecdotes of people whose "interactions" are long distance. One fellow "boomer" lamented recently that a family member's sole engagements with others in the same age group are through social media. The only "friends" are names on a feed, pictures on a "wall," and none are within even a reasonable day's drive. There is engagement there, but there is a perceived faux nature and persistent disconnect. There is nothing like being there.
Various bar leaders approached me last year regarding their perceptions of the challenges of professionalism in the practice of law. We strove to meet in October, but our nemesis Ian intervened. However, since mid-November we have been trying to brainstorm some ideas for moving the ball forward in terms of professionalism and the practice of workers' compensation law. There is enthusiasm, and in some instances perhaps we find ourselves struggling to keep pace with the efforts.
The outgrowths of this have been multifaceted. I think the most effective progress has come at the hands of the Section and the OJCC, though many are contributing.
Phillip Augustine, the current Section Chair, is striving to bring back the Town Hall setting for discussions and interaction. There was one last week, and two more are already on the agenda for this spring:
- February 21, Workers’ Compensation Section Town Hall (Case, Hedler, Sancerni), ZOOM
- March 10, Workers’ Compensation Section Town Hall (Anderson, Grindal, Moneyham), ZOOM
- May 16, Workers’ Compensation Section Town Hall (Kerr, Young, Pitts), ZOOM
These are exceptional opportunities to connect with the community, see some familiar faces, gain some insight, and ask some questions. If you have thoughts on making the programming better, contact Mr. Augustine. If you see him, thank him for making these real.
The Chair-Elect, Paolo Longo is already engaged in his upcoming term as Chair. He has launched an in-person adjunct to the Town Hall. These are bring-your-own lunch meetings that focus on small-table interaction with a variety of judges in a particular district. The first was in Orlando in December. The next is April 5 at the Jacksonville District office. I am honored to have been included in that gathering. These are more intimate, interpersonal, and may require us to get out of our shells a bit more than the Town Hall. But, in-person is a great alternative.
These lunches are being planned in other cities. The intent is to gather the bench and bar. The benefit is in the collaboration, commiseration, and collegiality. Stay tuned for more such opportunities to come. If you want to help one happen in your geography, contact Paolo and volunteer to make a difference.
Also in April, we will be at the Forum in Orlando. That will be a two-day opportunity for education, communication, and interaction. There will be bread to break, stories to recount, and catching up to catch up. Some of it may seem distracting, non-billable, non-income producing. Your perceptions are not wrong. It is intended to be a step back, a social environment. There is value in the education, but more in the interactions. Let's take a selfie together there?
In May, the OJCC will offer the first Work Comp Academy. This is focused on the next generation. We will gather in Orlando (recurring theme?) to present the nuts and bolts of practice for those who will soon enough inherit it. This practice and community is losing the old and greying at an epic pace. As we fade from the scene, who will step forward? That is the target audience as we launch this in-person initiative for increased knowledge, experience, and interaction. The response to this has been overwhelming and a second iteration will occur in Tampa in October (an event not in Orlando!).
There is always enthusiasm for the Inns of Court. There is praise for the Miami district “meet the judges.“ There is grateful recognition of the participation in programs with the Worker’s Compensation section, the WCI, and beyond. The program the OJCC and WCI produced last week in Tallahassee was phenomenal. There are opportunities in every geography, community, and population. The effort is being made to put the water out there. The leaders are leading you there. Will you drink it?
The professionalism panel moderator, starting the last panel of the day in Tallahassee, noted some chilling facts. This profession we have chosen is persistently among the most lonely. It ain't just the Generation Zs mentioned above. Loneliness and isolation are endemic. The practice of law is stressful, energy-sapping, and at times frustrating. We toil here and too often see little progress, unsatisfying results, and frustration. I talked with a millenial lawyer last week that laments the level of satisfaction from this work, and expressed a desire to be a car mechanic instead. Recognize it, talk about it, and let's somehow begin to remedy it.
There is, to be blunt, a tremendous amount of effort being expended in the interest of professionalism. That effort is, however, admittedly sporadic, diverse, and perhaps too easy to overlook. As we turn our eye to professionalism, we truly miss the boat if we fail to acknowledge the various efforts of so many in both bench and bar. Let us not forget their efforts, their initiatives, and their enthusiasm.
We can complain about our challenges and their impacts on us. Or, we can strive to make the practice, the community, better. We can move mountains if we begin by “carrying away small stones.” You do not have to plan a Town Hall, just attend one. You need not coordinate a lunch gathering, just attend one. Attend the forum, meet someone new, and tell your friends. You can make a difference through your decision to engage in these opportunities. Or, you might make a bigger difference by putting forward your ideas for some other engagement opportunity. If you have an idea, say so.
We are resolved that professionalism is a concern. We are convinced that human contact is a critical element. We are enthused at the consensus of hope. We are eager to begin a conversation. We are in need of your contribution, participation, and inspiration. How will you contribute to this conversation? How will you leave this community better than it found you? Figure it out, get in the game, and call or write if I can support you in any way in that effort.