Decades ago, I attended a lecture series at the National Institute of Health down the street from my house, where the now ubiquitous Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease was one of the speakers. Truth be told, I hardly remember the topic of Fauci’s talk, nor could I predict back then that he’d become a national cult hero — our generation’s very own Bernard Rieux, protagonist of Albert Camus’ class, The Plague. But here we are.
Today, Fauci commands both our attention and respect because he’s a knowledgeable, trustworthy and comforting source of information in these frightening times. Even when Fauci shares bad news, he tempers it with a shot of hope. Fauci never asked for his current notoriety – but he’s using his platform to influence policy and save lives.
You don’t need to have Fauci’s stature to attain cult hero status. Consider this recent viral video by Dr. David Price, a doctor at Cornell Weill Medical Center in New York City who treats coronavirus patients and reassured three million viewers and counting with practical tips on avoiding infection. Viewers value Dr. Price’s video because he’s a trusted source of information but also because his advice for dealing with coronavirus is practical, measured and eminently do-able. Dr. Price’s videos empower viewers because they realize that they can take steps to effectively avoid coronavirus.
As solo and small firm lawyers, we too have the opportunity to attain similar cult status within our communities provided that we are willing to step up. To be sure, most of us lawyers can’t help the public with health or immediate issues. Yet, there’s much we can do to resolve uncertainty, put people at ease and make them feel that they have more control at a time when we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
So what can lawyers do? For starters, attorneys – whether you practice estate planning or not – can vet and share resources like state-sponsored health care proxies and POAs, and information on online notarization. For clients with more complex needs, attorneys lacking estate planning experience could make referrals.
Attorneys can also dispense information on the wide range of benefits now available under recent CARES Act legislation – either to colleagues, clients or small businesses like daycare providers or dog walking services that you might be using yourself. Many of these individuals may be unaware of the programs available to help and lawyers can serve as a resource there as well.
Finally, most jurisdictions have now adopted shelter-in-place laws now in effect across the country which are not all models of clarity. Attorneys can offer guidance on complying with the new rules. Attorneys who practice in states where legal services have been deemed essential can explain what they are doing to keep practices open and ensuring that court cases move forward even though much of the world is shut down.
Dr. Fauci’s brand of cult hero status – born of a long history of experience – is one that most attorneys feel at home with and frankly, one that is more appealing to most consumers than the stereotypical ambulance chaser hawking services or promoting fear on late night television commercials. Plus, as lawyers, we have an ethical obligation to uphold the rule of law and serve the public, and a fiduciary duty to clients which enhances our trust and credibility.
Yet in spite of the special skills that we have, many lawyers are reluctant to step up. Many of us expect our bar associations to take on the task – and to be fair, many state bars have stepped up. But bars are impersonal entities, lacking in the personal touch so evident in Dr. Fauci’s public appearances or Dr. Price’s viral video. We solo and small firm lawyers have a chance like never before to lead with the traits that set us apart from faceless online forms and institutional biglaw: Our scrappy spirit. Our knack for helping clients not just with legal matters, but solving their practical problems too. Our willingness to have our clients’ back no matter what. Our all too intimate relationship with hardship. And most of all, our humanity.
Fellow solos and smalls, we have an opportunity to use this crisis to do the work of helping others and influencing policy that many of us went to law school to for to begin with. Now is the time to step up and stand out, to lead and inspire and comfort by experience and example. This might just be our finest hour.