Dedicated as we are to analyzing “the economics of law firms” and their brethren, we are all of us in stupefying times. A few thoughts for those of you on the front lines.
Closing your offices, remote working, and diligent adherence to “social distancing” are not aspirational and not optional: They are mandatory. The difference between a modicum of disruption and personal inconvenience, for most of us amounting to little more than suspending preferred habits, can be one of life and death. Contagious diseases that thrive when “community transmission” is available can be stopped in their tracks if all of us behave like the disciplined adults we would like to think we are.
We’ve seen this work with Covad-19 (compare the vastly different “curves” of China/South Korea/Singapore vs. those of Italy/Iran), and for good measure here’s a lesson from over 100 years ago and the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. Almost immediately after general public awareness arose that the flu was out there and killing people, Philadelphia held a parade with 200,000 in attendance. St. Louis did the opposite, closing all nonessential businesses, banning public gatherings, and urging (and enforcing) self-confinement at home. The results? Philadelphia’s hospitals were at once completely overwhelmed and 4,500 people died within a week.
The economy is in for what is shaping up to be one of the most severe downturns in a century. And you know what? That’s exactly what has to happen. (See above.) The least privileged in the most precarious financial straits will suffer immediately are taking it on the chin already. We will all sort out the money later, but in the meantime nothing is more critical than making sure we are around to sort it out. Believe me, I look forward to returning to our “regularly scheduled programming” as soon as anyone, but now is not that time.
Get creative! Can’t go out? Host a virtual cocktail hour with colleagues or friends. Humans need community, and when traditional ways of being together screech to a brick-wall halt, use your imagination. A laptop with a Zoom session running works splendidly (we know, we’re doing this).
There’s a moral dimension.
If you’re at all like me, you’ve already seen some leaders–in BigLaw, in corporations, government, religious organizations, academe, and the nonprofit world–rise spectacularly to this occasion, providing exemplars for all of us, while others indulge in the most depraved dereliction of duty. Crises like this (in my book a global pandemic earns being called a crisis) tend to bring out the true colors in people.
That will be knowledge, about particular individuals, that we will have on the other side that we don’t have now.