Web Exclusive: Lawyers adjust holiday plans as COVID cases surge

Photo courtesy of Lee Christie.

Several smiling faces surround a table set for two at Evansville attorney Beverly Corn’s home. The people aren’t in person though, but rather found in picture frames arranged lovingly on the table.

Forced to celebrate Easter without her family due to social distancing concerns posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Corn made sure earlier this spring to include her loved ones in the festivities, even if only in spirit.

But as coronavirus cases across the Hoosier state spiked to record levels in recent weeks as winter quickly approached, Corn and her husband again made the hard decision to distance themselves from family for the holidays.

Corn

“We are this year going to fix, just the two of us, our own little Thanksgiving dinner and we’re going to make it as nice as we can for ourselves,” Corn said. “We made the decision to try to be a good neighbor and family member and stay away.”

Other members of Indiana’s legal community are making similar decisions to avoid getting together with family for safety reasons as Hoosiers’ holiday season begins to look different this year. But that doesn’t mean traditions will fall by the wayside completely.

For 2020 Indianapolis Bar Foundation President Lee Christie, a typical Thanksgiving get-together means dozens of his immediate and extended family gather together at his home. That tradition has taken place for the past 20 years, Christie said. This year, things will be much quieter.

To keep everyone safe, only Christie’s immediate family will be getting together for Thanksgiving. That alone is a big change, he said.

“It’s just very disappointing. We have 40 to 50 people for Thanksgiving and Christmas and my brothers and sisters and their children, they have grown up together and have seen each other on every holiday,” he said.

A Zoom call on Thanksgiving Day might be one way to still see family who are far away, Christie said, and his family is planning to set one up. Corn’s family is also considering meeting virtually for Thanksgiving to say hello to everyone and share their love for one another.

“We are both disappointed because it’s a couple of days that we always look forward to,” Corn said. “But we have had fun putting together a little menu and trying to come with some ideas of things we can do to still make it special and to give thanks.”

In the office

The same is true for office gatherings, with many law firms similarly pulling back from their traditional holiday parties that can’t be completely socially distanced.

During Christmastime, Christie said that his office is a magical place. At the office of Cline Farrell Christie Lee & Bell, nearly 20 Christmas trees adorn the hallways, making the space feel like a winter wonderland. But because of the restrictions posed by COVID-19 and fewer people going into the building, Christie thinks they will scale the decorations back this year.

“We are not doing many mediations or depositions there, so attorneys aren’t visiting, the in-person meetings have pretty close to stopped, so we are going to scale back to 10 or 15% of the decorations that we normally do,” he said. “It’s a bummer.”

The firm is also canceling its annual holiday dinner for employees and their families, switching to a catered lunch at the office.

“But honestly we may change that,” he said.

Suzanne Wagner, chair of the Allen County Bar Association’s Family Law Section, also decided to cancel her section’s Christmas party.

“That was really tough. With the spike, I didn’t think it was good judgment to have everyone get together. They aren’t going to be wearing masks and maybe after a glass of wine, even if they’re social distancing, that’s not going to happen,” Wagner said.

“These holidays are going to be different as well. It’s going to be different for everybody.”

Importance of connection

Whether it’s family, friends or co-workers, the attorneys agreed that separation at this time of year is difficult.

Wagner, whose mother resides in an assisted living apartment, said they have limited contact with her and that she wouldn’t be traveling for the holiday this year.

“It’s horrible. It’s really tragic. But certainly missing her and not having her around at Thanksgiving this year but being able to celebrate hopefully the next several is worth the sacrifice,” Wagner said.

Christie

“Staff interaction is so important, I think, for the staff to interact with each other and have that closeness on cases and our mission, which is to serve our clients,” Christie said of his work team. “I think it’s important for staff to know each other, and that’s why we have always try do events.”

That includes attending baseballs games in the summer, going to lake houses, and attending winter functions, all of which were canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19.

“It’s depressing in that you don’t have that opportunity to interact with friends, family, loved ones, but it’s something you so look forward to,” he said.

“I think that this pandemic is going to affect a lot of people in a lot of different ways for years to come, whether they change the way they lead their lives because this becomes more normal or easier, or whether there are some mental illnesses that will manifest themselves out of this,” Christie said. “Because people are isolated.”

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and authorities stress calls for Hoosiers to be cautious, Corn says it’s possible she might not be going anywhere for Christmas.

“We are trying not to dwell on it, but we are trying to be smart and be as proactive with our health and to just be mindful,” she said.

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