The Power Of Attorneying-At-Home
I…am Superwoman. Faster than an approaching filing deadline. More powerful than four young, boisterous children. I possess ultimate knowledge on how to simultaneously cook at least three gourmet meals per day and keep an immaculate home and maintain the upward trajectory of my high-flying career.
Lies! All of it. No one is more powerful than four cute but mouthy young children. Also, I have a limited palette and hate cooking. My house is clean, but I am not who cleans it. Sheltering at home is like an awful form of mental health kryptonite. And I do not ultimately know what keeps this locomotive of marriage, family and career moving forward. I do know superpowers are not behind it; that it is through wishes, prayer, luck and maybe even the pity of the ancestors that my children are still alive and that I continue to have a rewarding career.
I do, however, have a few insights, habits and even daily tricks that have helped keep me, my family and my colleagues grounded during these difficult times.
1. I do not do more than what must be done during any 24-hour period.
I hold myself accountable to this by writing down what has to be accomplished on that specific day—not what would be great if I could finish it. Not what might grab my attention in lieu of an inspiring Netflix queue. I write what must be done. And if a task on that list makes me anxious and does not have to be done immediately, I give myself permission to do it later.
2. I do not do more than I genuinely want.
Self-accountability means paying attention to our feelings. For example, if I finish my must-do work and want to get ahead on other work, I do so. Yet recently, when my 3-year old wanted to fully produce a 15-minute happy birthday video for her teacher, I knew I did not want to make the high-quality, Ava DuVernay-esque opus my daughter envisioned. Instead, we made a 3-minute, cute hair, cute outfit, cute home video. Problem solved (somewhat) sans extra anxiety.
3. I focus my tasks on what I can believably solve, while ignoring as best I can anything that seems beyond my control for that day.
I embrace this cliché and truly live it because what else can we possibly expect one another to be capable of right now? I am giving my all to those things that I know I can positively impact and that I have the energy to do well. I truly cannot ask more of myself than that. I certainly would not expect more from someone else. I strive to be as kind to myself as to everyone else. I deserve that.
4. I am intentional about allowing myself the grace that I afford everyone else.
As an arbitrator and mediator, the pandemic means I now spend multiple days each week in work-from-home mediations conducted via video conference. Imagine the…cognitive dissonance of mediating in this situation. Exerting hours and hours of concentration and focused nuance on the law. And just as you’re considering the possible impact of multiple jurisdictions on the lawsuit’s outcome, your kids force a separate mediation on whether you or your husband must pause work to make them a snack.
Praying that four kids will be quiet for six-plus solid hours seems like an unrealistic expectation, does it not? That’s because it is. I tell my kids (ages two, three, six and eight) that Mommy is working so they need to be quiet—an ongoing ritual that of course, does not work. My “best practice” is to Zoom up in whatever part of my home happens to be the quietest on that day and to distract my little quartet with lots of snacks and unfettered access to movies. And try as I might to alternate muting the audio/turning off the visual functions, my children will occasionally be seen, and they will occasionally be heard.
And that is okay!
We are all grappling with these issues right now in ways big and small. I love seeing and hearing everyone else’s kids and pets over the video feed. Or hearing fiancés and spouses bargaining over who is braving the outside world to gather groceries and other supplies. It is a powerful reminder that we are all human—and that can do nothing but help the negotiations in a mediation where the parties may have spent years dehumanizing each other.
5. I ask for help and encourage my family, friends, colleagues and yes, even you to do the same.
If you are not sure what you should be doing next, reach out for help. Also, accept help from those who offer it. If you have sent out your discovery requests and responded to opposing counsels’ discovery requests, yet seem to have hit a stalemate, there are mediators who can help. Perhaps your case is viable for virtual mediation. Or maybe it would benefit from a separate and thorough case evaluation. I am one of those mediators and offer you my help so that you figure out that next step. There is no need to go it alone!
What has been unexpectedly great about social distancing is that while it proves I am not Superwoman, I have discovered the power of being Winter Wheeler, Attorney-at-Home. My daily approach gives me so many options for what to do—or not do—and that kind of empowerment is rare in our profession. It means I am simultaneously a wife, mommy, mediator, and arbitrator, and that I choose to live and work through this pandemic on those most human of terms.
ABOUT WINTER WHEELER
Winter Wheeler mediates complex disputes in areas of wrongful death, catastrophic injury, personal injury, premises liability, legal malpractice, medical malpractice, products liability, automotive and trucking liability.