I started 2020 energized, excited for work, and full of hope. I had recently returned from two weeks of vacation visiting several countries in Africa, with a couple months to go until our first baby was due to arrive in mid-March.
Professionally, I was looking forward to working on a full portfolio of cases I loved and just starting to think about the allure of potential promotion to partner at the end of the year, as well as the hard work that would go into it. Then, 2020 gave my husband and me a sneak peek of the havoc the year would soon wreak on the entire planet.
In early February, we got a call that our son was arriving over a month early and that we had to get to our surrogate in Oregon immediately to be present for the birth. We were on a flight less than three hours later and made it just in time for the life-changing moment. Two weeks later, we boarded a Portland to New York flight, suddenly a family of three, acutely aware of germs because of a certain contagious virus that had recently arrived in Washington state and was moving into Oregon.
Suffice it to say that I arrived back to the office in late February tired, nervous about balancing my caseload and, like all new fathers, uncertain about the weeks ahead. The pandemic hit full throttle shortly thereafter but, I managed to navigate the gauntlet of work, fatherhood and pandemic sufficiently well to get promoted with Cadwalader’s Class of ’21. Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful.
It Takes More Than Your Village
One thing to keep in mind, pandemic or not, is that promotion usually takes more than the support of the partners in your practice group. For this reason, while my first month back from paternity leave was one of the busiest and most stressful of my career, I believe it was invaluable to my promotion.
Even though the courts were closed, litigators’ cases continued to move along and require constant attention; at the same time, our transactional colleagues needed our help as the pandemic roiled the markets.
What exactly is a force majeure clause, and does it apply to global pandemics? How is my client supposed to deliver a notice of default when delivery must be made to a business closed by order of the governor? These were complicated questions that sometimes lacked a perfect answer but allowed me the opportunity to work with partners I had never worked with, in groups across the firm, and market myself and my skills internally.
While the unique circumstances of 2020 helped me in this regard, junior lawyers hoping to progress their careers should look for early chances to work with attorneys in other practice groups: the more visibility you have across your firm, and the more varied your experiences, the better.
Finding Balance in an Unbalanced Year
In 2020, our apartment becoming my office coincided with the arrival of a needy baby, so I quickly realized it was important for me to come up with a new schedule and be flexible.
My goal each day was to start work much earlier than I did pre-pandemic, around 7 a.m., and put in several productive hours before giving myself something many lawyers, including myself, often have to forsake—actual lunch and dinner breaks to spend time with my family and pitch in with the baby. I knew those breaks might set me back, but I also knew that babies go to bed early, and I found my most productive pocket of the day was after 8 p.m.
Another work-from-home difficulty became apparent in the summer and early fall when the promotion push gained steam. Of course, an important part of the process involves meeting with partners from other practice groups to discuss your career, goals, and skills. Those conversations typically would happen either by informally stopping by a partner’s office or over drinks after work. Neither option was available; it had to be a Zoom meeting or a phone call. I was worried that would make these conversations more awkward, so I thought about how to avoid that.
My solution was that, before each meeting, I made a list of the matters I had worked on with that partner, other matters I had worked on relevant to her or his practice, and ways I could be helpful going forward. I found this advance preparation created a structure to initiate and enable the flow of these conversations. And since the substance focused on points of commonality and intersection between our work, I believe these meetings uncovered new insights and synergies that have proven mutually beneficial for myself and the partners with whom I engaged.
Especially for litigators, presentation is key. Over the years, I had become very comfortable presenting to my case teams, in court to a judge, to slightly larger groups in CLEs or at clinics, and even to nearly the entire firm at our LGBT Network’s annual Pride event. I learned over the years how to make eye contact, look from side to side where appropriate, how to talk with my hands, and read the room.
That did not prepare me for presenting via Zoom. I discovered immediately that it requires much more enthusiasm and, most difficult for me, if you’re looking at the audience, it seems to them that you’re avoiding eye contact. I think Zoom is here to stay and it behooves young lawyers to learn how to present via Zoom, Webex, and similar platforms.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Jared Stanisci is a partner in Cadwalader’s Global Litigation group, where he concentrates his practice on complex commercial and securities litigation. His practice includes representation of financial institutions, institutional investors, public and private corporations, and directors and officers in a variety of industries.