The Ebola Epidemic:
3 Lessons For Lawyers

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I already know what you’re thinking: I’m overreaching. But hear me out. Sometimes I view current events or cultural phenomenons through my unique lens and somehow manage to relate them back to the intersection of law and technology. Look no further than my post “Lessons for the Legal Profession from the Real Housewives Franchise” for an example of this in action!

So it should come as no surprise that today, while reading a New York Times article about the Ebola epidemic, three takeaways offered by the W.H.O. Chief, Dr. Margaret Chan, jumped right out at me–mainly because it struck me that these universal lessons are as equally applicable to a wide scale outbreak of disease as they are to impact of technology on the practice of law.

In this article, which focused on the need for a coordinated, international response to the epidemic, Dr. Chan set forth three lessons to be learned from the Ebola crisis. Each of these three points offered interesting insights when placed in the context of the legal profession’s collective response–or lack thereof– to rapidly changing technologies.

1) The world is changing–and quickly

Dr. Chan emphasized that the impact of health epidemics is increasing as modern events rapidly change the health care landscape. The author of the NYT article explained Dr. Chan’s first lesson as follows:

(I)nadequate health care means that the kind of shocks the world is experiencing with greater frequency — including extreme weather events resulting from climate change, armed conflict or “a disease run wild” — could “bring a fragile country to its knees.

In other words, in a world that is rapidly changing, the failure to keep up with the pace of change will have long lasting–and sometimes quick-acting–effects. This is a lesson lawyers should take to heart–especially when it comes to technology advancements.

Stay abreast of newfound technologies and their application to your law practice, not only because the revised commentary to the ABA Model Rule 1.1 requires you to do so, but also because your clients rely on you to provide effective representation using 21st century tools. Which brings us to the next lesson: arm yourself with knowledge.

2) Knowledge is power

Dr. Chan also stressed the importance of knowledge and the dangers of relying on rumors and conjecture grounded in fear. The author of the article described this lesson:

A second lesson drawn from the crisis was that “rumors and panic are spreading faster than the virus, and this costs money…”

In essence, fear mongering based on groundless assertions and knee jerk reactions causes nothing but problems. Fear can lead to costly missteps at the very time that decisive, forward thinking action is needed. But in order to move forward, knowledge is necessary to combat the fears of those resistant to change.

So lawyers seeking to prosper and provide better client representation in the midst of a rapidly changing legal landscape should take every opportunity to educate themselves about new tools and technologies. Because it’s only through knowledge that you’re able to accurately assess their utility and effectiveness in your law practice. In other words, be proactive when it comes to modernizing your law practice, which is our final lesson.

3) Be proactive

From the start of the Ebola epidemic, a number of experts have repeatedly called for a unified, proactive international response. In fact, beginning nearly seven months ago, Doctors Without Borders began to issue repeated and dire warnings of what we could expect to occur as a result of our failure to act. Despite their calls for action, little was done and no coordinated effort was launched to help those in the affected West African nations while simultaneously preventing the spread of Ebola.

As a result of this failure to be proactive we find ourselves faced with an epidemic, leading us to the last lesson issued by Dr. Chan, as described in the NYT article:

The final message…(was that) the world is ill-prepared to respond to any severe, sustained and threatening public health emergency.

So because of our collective failure to act we’re now faced with the limited ability to be reactive in the midst of a looming international health crisis. Had we been proactive, the effects of Ebola could have been reduced and possibly contained to the West African nations where it originated.

The lesson for lawyers? Learn as much as you can about the rapidly changing legal landscape and take proactive steps to position your law firm for future success. Being proactive will lead to better, more informed decisions, making you a better lawyer and improving your ability to provide quality representation to your clients.

Sure there’s less at stake when it comes to making decisions about running your law practice than there is when it comes to managing the Ebola crisis. But the success of your law firm is just as important, albeit not on a global scale. So take the lessons gleaned from the response to Ebola to heart and apply them to your law practice. Keep your eyes on the big picture and make proactive, informed decisions. Look forward toward the future rather than clinging to the past.

–Nicole Black

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