Why There is No Such Thing as a New Normal

Why There is No Such Thing as a New Normal

I’ve been telecommuting for over a decade now, so when a COVID-19 stay at home order finally made its way to Montana, not much changed for me personally, at least in terms of my work routine.  In fact, it actually got a bit better due to the adjustments ALPS had to quickly implement in order to enable everyone else to work from home.  Within a few days, I felt more connected than ever because everyone at ALPS had to communicate virtually, and communicate we did.

Of course, there were more significant changes in other aspects of my life.  The gym closed, personal and work travel came to a standstill, neighbors started crossing the street to avoid having to pass by too closely on the sidewalk, and several of our kids went into panic mode worrying over us.  To this day, I still don’t get what caused the kids to worry so much.  Not to diminish the risks with COVID-19; but at the time I was just thankful that as a Costco guy, we were good on the toilet paper front.

But now that we’re all well past the early stages of this pandemic, most of us seem to have settled into what more and more are coming to describe as the new normal.  I don’t buy it; and as a risk manager, this perspective worries me.  Here’s why.  To me, texting is to distracted driving what describing the changes that have occurred in response to the pandemic as the new normal is to distracted lawyering.  Texting has become such a ubiquitous behavior that far too many people view it as normal in settings where it should never happen, such as while driving.  In my mind, the risk that comes from trying to normalize all the significant changes that have occurred during this pandemic is that some will fail to appreciate the consequences of the change because they are too distracted by the process of normalization.  All normalization does is create a false sense of comfort.

Recognize that change is constant.  Sometimes change occurs gradually and at other times, for instance during a global pandemic, it comes at us like a tsunami.  Regardless, in order to responsibly adapt to change, we must recognize the change itself and also understand the consequences thereof.  If change is too quickly normalized, the consequences too easily become minimized, if not completely ignored.

These are trying times in so many ways and I do understand the need to find some sense of normalcy when change is happening at warp speed.  Just don’t become distracted by the effort because that’s when mistakes happen.  Consider the work-from-home transition that continues to impact lawyers all across the country.  In terms of any particular lawyer’s response, if the entire focus is solely on trying to find comfort in a new normal with family routines, work hours, virtual schooling, and communication channels, what consequences are not being thought through and responsibly addressed?  For example, home networks are often far less secure than the office network, in no small part due to the use of home tech resources by all family members who reside in the home.  Have you addressed this issue and others such as confidentiality, file documentation, and diligence while working from home?

In addition, it’s vitally important to understand that the odds of a malpractice misstep go up when you or a member of your staff become distracted, depressed, overwhelmed, stressed, scared, exhausted, overworked, or concerned about job security, all of which are common reactions to rapid and significant change. Trying to settle into a new normal only further masks these issues.  It’s a way to avoid having to address reality, which is that a change has occurred and that change needs to be recognized and its consequences need to be understood.  That’s the only way internal firm processes and procedures can be responsibly adjusted so you and your staff can not only move forward in a competent manner, but also allow everyone to leave any unhealthy responses to these changes in the past.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make.  There is no new normal, only ever-present change, which means that the better you become at navigating change as it happens, regardless of its pace, the more successful you will be in all your endeavors.

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Since 1998, Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq. has been a Risk Manager with ALPS, an attorney’s professional liability insurance carrier. In his tenure with the company, Mr. Bassingthwaighte has conducted over 1200 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented over 550 continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States, and written extensively on risk management, ethics, and technology. Mr. Bassingthwaighte is a member of the State Bar of Montana as well as the American Bar Association where he currently sits on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility’s Conference Planning Committee. He received his J.D. from Drake University Law School.