I confess. When the impact of COVID-19 first set in and there was constant talk of social distancing, I was confused. Social distancing is what I have been doing my entire life! I was initially lulled into a false sense of satisfaction that in this pandemic world, I would not be overly impacted. I was wrong.
After some reflection, it dawned upon me that as one of the very few indigenous barristers at the NSW Bar, myself and other First Nations barristers would now have to make alternative arrangements for meetings. With social distancing in place, a room the size of a telephone booth was no longer a viable venue. However, little did I know that looming on the horizon was a more pressing challenge, namely home schooling. After a few weeks of googling what a factor of a number is and reacquainting myself with other long forgotten skills from primary school, I found myself longing for the opportunity to be publicly humiliated again. Whilst the experience of a dressing down in a virtual courtroom from a judicial officer who is uninspired, unimpressed and most definitely not persuaded by my carefully crafted contentions was not as unpleasant as appearing in an actual courtroom, it still had a more visceral attraction than the prospects of another day of teaching my children on the long lost art (for me, at least) of long division.
My delusion that the pandemic would have little impact upon me was finally vanquished when my subconscious was altered and I started to have dreams in ‘gallery view’. In the face of pending dysphoria at this realisation, I turned to existential inspiration. I began reminding myself almost daily that ‘whatever [my] fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say ‘This is what I need.’ It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment – not discouragement – you will find the strength is there. Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege!’ (Joseph Campbell)
With my wine cellar depleting at a fast rate (another side effect of home schooling), and armed with my philosophical outlook, I resolved to embrace technologies that as a self-confessed Luddite I had previously avoided. With a face made for radio, it was initially my strong preference to appear in virtual courtrooms by telephone. Besides, telephone appearances had the added potential bonus of comic relief when a judicial pronouncement was interrupted by hold music or a voice over saying ‘Your call is important to us…’
As the experience of being in ‘iso’ continued, I broke from the safety of primary reliance upon telephone as a medium of communication to making fumbled attempts at mastering the audiovisual experience of virtual ‘drinks’ with colleagues from chambers. The shared experience of watching one’s peers struggling with technology gave me hope for the future.
In addition to my concerns about appropriate venues to meet with fellow First Nations barristers, my limitations as a school teacher, and my technical failings, the onset of the pandemic led to rumination about the only two problems a barrister ever has – too much or too little work. For a while the briefs continued to come in at about the same pace as they always did. However, perhaps because the risk and gravity of the impact of public humiliation when appearing in virtual courtrooms is reduced, I noticed solicitors who would rather home school three unruly siblings about the battles of Fromelles and Pozieres than speak at the lectern in a courtroom suddenly began ‘volunteering’ to attend virtual courtrooms without Counsel. Not a particularly disturbing development for me, but my thoughts did and do go out to the very junior Bar, especially readers. With the luxury of six months to comply with a creditor’s statutory demand, the prospects of an application in the Corporations List to set one aside grew dimmer by the day.
Not to worry I told myself, this is an opportunity. With varying degrees of success I took to completing my ‘chamber work’. To break the monotony, I would occasionally turn my mind to matters of administration and aspirations. Read that three foot pile of cases I had printed and piled in a stack in a corner in my chambers? Tick. Clean my chambers? Tick (well sort of). Prepare my application for Silk? Definitely too soon! There was an abundance of opportunities for growth and accomplishment. Overcome my anxieties about social gatherings to prepare myself for a post COVID-19 world where social gatherings become the norm again? Maybe later …
... the onset of the pandemic
led to rumination
about the only two problems
a barrister ever has –
too much or too little work.