Paul Bartels
Somer & Heller
April 2020
3 Min Read

The Biggest Challenge of a Lawyer’s Career: The Daily Improv

I graduated law school from St. John’s University School of Law in May 2009. Law school was a daily grind, from the hundreds of pages of assigned reading a night, to the two-hour lectures, each day was exhausting. After graduation, I studied for the New York State Bar Examination for six weeks straight. Every morning I sat through three-hour lectures, and in the afternoon and evenings I studied for an additional four to five hours. The bar exam itself was a sixteen-hour test, taken over two days in the Javitz Center in Manhattan.

When I graduated law school, the country was in depths of the Great Recession, and there were no jobs to be had. I took the only job offer I received, working at a headhunting company in Woodbury, New York. My luck would soon change, and I was offered a job at a small Garden City law firm in December 2009. My legal career was finally on track, and now it was time to learn how to lawyer. I soon realized that law school teaches a law student a very small portion of what a lawyer needs to know to practice. As such, the first few years of my career were spent learning my trade. This process was filled with challenges, from dealing with nasty judges to sparring with older lawyers, each day brought new obstacles.

However, notwithstanding the pressure of law school, and the process of learning my trade, my biggest career challenge arrived in March 2020 with Covid-19. I am married with two kids, a two-year-old and a six-year-old. I was accustomed to my daily routine. Wake up, go to court, go back to the office, and come home between 7 and 8 p.m. each night. My kids went to school, and my wife went to work. We had all settled comfortably into our daily routine. And then Covid-19 crashed ashore from overseas. Within weeks, the courts closed, schools closed, and non-essential businesses closed. There were no contingency plans for this scenario, because this has never happened before.

With no contingency plans, Federal, State and Local governments improvised by the day. My family has been forced to do the same, and this daily improv has been the biggest challenge of my career. While my open court cases soldiered on, my children’s schooling did the same, and at first, it took a backseat, as I was still in my pre-Covid routine. Then came the realization that I had to teach my children reading and math, because if I didn’t, they simply would not learn for an untold number of months. So, like tens of millions of other Americans, I logged in to Google Classroom, and started the process of home schooling my kids. All the while, I continued to work on my own cases, network, and maintain my sanity. This balancing act has proven to be incredibly challenging.

At times, I wonder if the lockdown is worth this chaos, and if this is all necessary. However, rising from the ashes of the Covid chaos, are stronger relationships and greater appreciations for things and people I took for granted. My relationship with my son, for example, has been immensely strengthened as a result of our increased time together. He has transitioned from a true mama’s boy, to dad’s pal. I have a new appreciation for the time and work my wife puts in to take care of the children during dinner time, when I am usually working. Finally, I have a deeper appreciation for the hard work, dedication and patience of my kid’s teachers. Homeschooling has taught me that teaching is incredibly challenging and requires a level of patience only teachers and saints can possess. Everyone has their own unique experiences and lessons from this unprecedented time. As the doors to the world re-open, and we slide back into our pre-Covid routines, we should all strive to keep these lessons in mind and never let our new appreciation for those around us fade away.