How’s Your 2020 Been? One Tale of a Small Business Owner
October 30th, 2020 | By: Matthew I. Paletz, Esq.
The new year always brings hope. For me and my firm, the new decade was going to kickstart the Roaring Twenties 2.0 and accelerate our ascension as the market leader in landlord-tenant law since making this tactical pivot and re-brand in 2017.
If our first quarter was any indication, we were well on our way. But, like many small businesses, COVID-19 drastically changed our strategic landscape and our well-intentioned plans fell by the wayside.
There are no “How To” books on managing a once-in-a-century global pandemic. I’m sure they’re being written right now, too late for the majority of us. More specifically, there are also no manuals for a firm like ours to survive a Michigan Supreme Court erasure of 60 years of eviction law, replaced by dubious administrative fiats. So we took the approach every business from fitness centers to restaurants have had to take during the pandemic – “adapt or die.”
For me, that phrase has personal and literary context. One of my favorite inspirational books for business is Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball.” I’m sure most have seen the movie adaption where the underfinanced Oakland A’s try to compete with big money and big market baseball teams. The A’s had to embrace some (at the time) very unconventional and analytic-heavy methods to achieve eventual success. In the movie version, Brad Pitt, who plays “Moneyball” architect and A’s general manager Billy Beane, tells his old guard scouts when questioned about his methods to “adapt or die.” He did. So did we.
When the shutdown came from Lansing, my firm had to furlough a significant amount of our payroll, from attorneys to support staff. Then, when the subsequent statewide eviction moratorium was enacted, we “adapted” again – on the fly.
Since that time, between the CARES ACT, the CDC enforced eviction halt, the Michigan Supreme Court’s incessant meddling and local municipalities instituting their own unconstitutional policies, we have had to constantly retool our systems, reallocate personnel and find new ways to keep our collective sanity on behalf of our clients.
Thankfully, this devastating virus has not directly afflicted my team members personally. However, every one of them has had to deal head-on with our new reality and like me, they have been put to the test at a greater velocity than many have ever experienced.
Our property-owning clients are no different. This year has continuously assaulted their rights and freedoms as landlords. The legal system has turned its back on them and our representation of their rights and responsibilities has never been more vital to their survival. It goes without saying that I’ve always taken my fiduciary duty to my clients seriously, but this year, my team and I have had to summon additional resolve we weren’t even aware we had, to keep up the fight on their behalf.
Despite the intellectually lazy characterization that has appeared in many media sources, this was never a fight against tenants going through a rough time. On the contrary, my lawyers and I have the utmost empathy for people who are struggling, and we’ve gone out of our way to treat them with dignity and respect. I have been extremely impressed with the fight these tenants have also exhibited to work out reasonable resolutions.
I have also been humbled (according to my friends, a rare apocalyptic event in its own right) by a pandemic that I could not control or outsmart, which drove all of us to our collective precipice. Thankfully, our firm’s core leadership has stayed intact and most of my valued employees have come back after months of uncertainty.
We always look for “teachable moments” and “silver linings” in a crisis such as this, and for many businesses it’s the incredible commitment of employees who have exhibited a dedication that has gone above and beyond our highest expectations. That’s certainly been the case of the employees in our firm and I’ve been awed by their work.
We have always said we operate Paletz Law as a family and I have thought I’ve shown a deep caring for our staff. But the effects of this pandemic have made me even more conscious of the toll it’s taken on their home lives. Like many of your employees, they have had to cope with death, sickness, layoffs and struggles with kids’ online learning which have become the family norm. Pre-COVID, I probably matter-of-factly asked them how things were going at home while walking past their desks. But our “new normal” (I hate that term, but it’s the most accurate) has made me a more empathetic and intentional leader.
While this year has made me a more caring manager at work, it’s probably also contributed to my less than stellar performance at home. Even factoring in our temporary shutdown, I’ve lost significant Dad time with my two elementary-aged sons, while trying to keep this business performing at the high level we have worked so hard to establish.
Thankfully, we somehow managed to squeeze in a shortened little league season (1st place in the regular season – not too shabby), but the constant demands brought on the firm by rapidly changing laws, additional paperwork to be filled out almost daily, and new onerous scheduling mandates that don’t take into account the confines of a real work day, has caused me to miss wake-ups and bed times with my boys. Likewise, my relationship with my wife Amanda, has been tested, but she consistently proves to me that she’s in this for keeps in the love and dedication she affords me as I work hard to navigate all these changes.
The Bottom Line: Yes, it’s “adapt or die,” but I’m also a strong believer in poet Alexander Pope’s famous line, “hope springs eternal.” And in that we HAVE TO believe that 2021 is going to be better. At Paletz Law our foundation and resolve has become stronger than ever because of the human capital that we are lucky enough to surround ourselves with. And sometimes not even a pandemic, and the nonsensical laws it spawned, can screw that up.