Members encouraged to wear a mask

August 14, 2020
President’s Message By Elizabeth Hughes

Right now, we would be revisiting the highlights of Bench-Bar Conference, planning for the annual Civil Litigation Section’s Lunch with the Judges and rounding out the summer with happy hours and other in-person events for our members. None of that is happening.

How many of us working at home suffer from the dog barking or your kids having a meltdown during an important call? And while I love seeing my colleagues on Zoom, it is no substitute for human contact. We need to get back to “normal” and hopefully in time for the next passing of the gavel to take place where it’s supposed to take place.

So please wear a mask.

It’s not a political issue or a point of debate, it is just the smart and reasonable thing to do based upon the evidence. As lawyers, evidence is basically our holy grail. At the time of this writing, there are 105,000 cases of COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) in Pennsylvania and 7,074 people have died across the Commonwealth. Infections in the United States are over 4 million and 143,000 people have lost their lives. These are family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, BFFs, daughters, sons and grandchildren. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the simple act of wearing a mask, along with practicing social distancing, can reduce the spread of the virus from person to person by possibly as much as 80% as compared to not wearing one.

Lawyers are uniquely situated to set the example for others on a wide range of behaviors. We are required to follow codes of ethics and rules that prescribe that we conduct ourselves with civility and in an ethical manner at all times. Being a lawyer is not just what we do as a profession, but it is who we are at our core. We live by rules every single day, whether it involves rules relating to how we conduct ourselves in the courtroom, rules pertaining to the method of filing and timeliness of pleadings, rules regarding our courtroom attire or the dress code imposed by our employers. Basically, all of us do things every day that sometimes we don’t agree with, things we think are stupid or a waste of time, or things that we feel put us out or inconvenience us in some way. Sometimes we even do it with a smile pasted on our face and gripe about it afterwards. But the bottom line is we do it and we do it for stakes much lower than life and death.

We do things every day that we don’t want to do for one of two reasons: 1) to achieve a desired result (like the eventual resumption of the events above); or 2) for the benefit of someone else and in consideration of their physical and/or emotional well-being. Maybe you wore that stupid costume to your best friend’s 80s themed birthday party. What about the time that you wore that ugly bridesmaid’s dress for eight hours straight and let someone document you wearing it through photographic evidence, without complaint? Or maybe you went out and stocked up on a closet full of polo shirts so that you can always play a round of golf at your favorite club where a collared shirt is a requirement. We wear shoes that pinch our toes because they look good with our outfit, or that suit with the pair of pants that are digging into our waistline, or that tie that is almost choking you because we decide that doing so will achieve a desired result or because we want to make someone else happy.

We also place expectations on the behavior of others, and we tend to get upset if they do not meet those expectations. Who doesn’t get upset when people are talking during a movie or standing blocking your view during the entirety of a concert or at a Steelers game? Is it that individual’s “constitutional right” to talk or to stand? Sure. Is it discourteous and insensitive towards others? Absolutely, and it is not even something that involves the health and well-being of those around them, like wearing a mask during a pandemic, yet it makes us angry. It makes us angry because the fundamental truth of co-existence is that we are all in this together at all times and the things that we choose to do or not to do inevitably affect those around us. If we do not collectively care about those around us during a pandemic like we do during a movie or a football game, then we are lost.

We negotiate and give and take as lawyers every day. We wrangle and compromise during settlement conferences and contract negotiations and we advise our clients accordingly on “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Even if you are skeptical of the science or think that something might not work 100% of the time, isn’t it worth the momentary inconvenience if there is even a small chance that you could keep even just one other person from getting ill? If I am prescribed medication for high cholesterol, I am not just going to decide to flush that medication down the toilet when I become aware that it isn’t 100% effective at preventing me from having a heart attack someday. So maybe your argument is “but the side effects are terrible!” That doesn’t count if the side effect is just your pride. That is not the hill we should be choosing to die on and certainly not the hill we should be choosing on which to expose others to risk. Be the example.

So please wear a mask.

That’s it. Just wear it.