Tonight, at sundown, the Jewish holiday of Passover begins. Many of my Jewish friends and colleagues have opted to skip the Passover rituals this year, finding a virtual seder and all the other rigamarole too overwhelming in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But Passover this year brings me comfort and hope because just as the Jews’ escape from Egypt and the subsequent forty years wandering in the desert lead to freedom, the legal profession’s journey through the coronavirus will forever transform the legal profession for the better.
The parallels between the Passover story that we dutifully recount at tonight’s seder and the coronavirus’ impact on the legal profession are uncanny (even leaving aside the part of the Passover story involving plagues). The story begins with the Jews beating a hasty retreat from slavery in Egypt, fearing that Pharaoh could change his mind about their release. In their rush to leave, the bread baked for the journey had no time to rise so the Jews made due with unleavened matzah. Likewise, coronavirus came on as a surprise, forcing lawyers to make due with makeshift video meetings and virtual work arrangements to replace in-person hearings and carry on with work; employing online notaries to execute documents and e-signature platforms to finalize paperwork online. And just as the Jews wandered in the desert and lost hope about where the arduous journey would lead, lawyers now face a lengthy drought in legal business that may try their patience and lead to despair as old business models die hard.
But time – be it forty years in the desert or four months of stay home orders in a pandemic – affords ample opportunity to reflect and regroup. For the Jews in Egypt, forty years allowed an older generation to die off, enabling those who reached the “promised land” to build a new world lead by those who could not recall slavery or the prior way of life. Similarly, the pandemic will likely destroy bloated law firms set in their ways without the flexibility to pivot in a matter of days to life online. Pandemic will force older lawyers, on the verge of retirement anyway, to accelerate their plans thereby creating new opportunities for younger attorneys. Just as the holiday of Passover commemorates the transformative journey from slavery to freedom, so too, we will look back at the coronavirus as a transformative force that pushed the legal profession forward from narrow-minded and stodgy to nimble and resourceful.
As Passover begins, our legal profession is staring down the road at a long, hard journey through lean disruptive times – one similar to the one that my ancestors made centuries ago, and the one I personally embarked on almost five years ago as I navigated through the fog of grief over the loss of my husband. Based on my past, what I know about the future is this: our profession will weather this storm and emerge from this pandemic stronger and more relevant than before. That is something to celebrate.
Happy Passover my friends – next year in Jerusalem!