Inside View: The Pandemic as Accelerant

2020 was a year of disruption and change. For many in the legal profession, it was a year of working from home, with even the most fervently old-school quarters forced to adapt to the technology of “Zooming,” ensuring you weren’t muted or unmuted at the wrong time, that your internet connection was “stable,” and that your client wasn’t casually snacking during a hearing.

The pandemic has sped up the evolution of our courts and how we do our work. In a little less than a year, Zoom hearings and even trials are routine and this has saved many clients considerable time and money, as two writers in this issue note. Some of these processes may outlast the pandemic and help ensure courts, interpreters, and legal assistance are accessible far more often and broadly than before. Our profession and our court systems have rapidly adapted to the virtual world and that’s a testament to both; given the right pressures, we can find ways to deliver services and justice more conveniently and efficiently.

Unfortunately, the pandemic didn’t halt orsuspend legal problems. Some of the most vulnerable in our society have seen debt and stress skyrocket. While we as lawyers and legal professionals may have found our lives adaptable to the world of remote business, for some of our clients, the pandemic has not postponed anything except a key hearing or the end of their cases. While court hearings were continued and backlogs of motion hearings, default hearings, and trials built up, justice was delayed as the courts were adjusting to business in light of public health protections. As two writers in this issue describe, these delays coupled with the harsh realities of the pandemic have highlighted some of the fractures in our system, with problems worsening for those on the brink of losing their home or their immigration status. Stopgaps and automatic continuances have maintained an already tenuous status quo while disparities based on wealth, race, and status appear to have worsened.

And our own stress hasn’t subsided either. As two other writers in this issue observe, working from home is not itself a solution for achieving work-life balance. In a pandemic, we’ve found ourselves shut off from the socializing of our off-time with co-workers and friends and the invasion of work into our private spaces. It’s easy to guilt ourselves into doing more work when what we need, for both our personal health and our productivity, is to intentionally take care of ourselves, whether it’s through routine breaks, connecting with others, or getting out of the house.

There is a cliff awaiting us at the end of the pandemic, whenever that may be. It’s the cliff of “going back to normal.” We’ve all heard and perhaps thought often enough: begone 2020! But there’s no erasing 2020 and there’s no forgetting it because we still live there. We live in the difficulties and anxieties that 2020 pushed in front of us and those aren’t going away once everyone has gotten the vaccine. The “normal” pre-pandemic was in many ways an enemy to change; for years the legal profession and the courts have been tentative about certain adaptations to our way of doing things and now the pandemic has brought to the fore just how untenable some parts of our legal systems are. This past year, the pandemic year, was an accelerant of change for us all and these changes, at times positive and at others inflaming, will be with us into the future. Rather than pushing past that fact in search of a return to normal, it may be wiser to retain what we’ve learned and move forward with renewed focus on serving the needs of our clients and the public, particularly the most vulnerable. 

Cresston Gackle
March/April Issue Editor
cdg@cresstonlaw.com

Cresston Gackle is a solo practitioner of juvenile and family law and a part-time public defender of children in child protection and delinquency matters. Before entering solo practice, he was a law clerk in the Fourth Judicial District. Originally from Iowa, Mr. Gackle pursued his education at the University of Minnesota as an undergraduate and then as a law student. Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Gackle was an avid fair and festival goer and he now spends most of his leisure time learning and playing modern board games online.