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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    June 04, 2021

    Final Thought: What Do We Got on the Spacecraft That's Good?

    During the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises, lawyers should take a page from NASA. Instead of being overwhelmed by the negatives, figure out what we already have that is good.

    Emily Stever Kelchen

    Nearly every week during the pandemic, my husband and I watched a movie at the same time as one of our good friends. We texted back and forth, commenting on aspects of the plot, the costumes, or whatever. We often tied the movie of the week to a current event.

    Emily KelchenEmily Kelchen, U.W. 2011, is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin Nonresident Lawyers Division Board and the Communications Committee. She is the owner of Kelchen Consulting, a government affairs and legal marketing firm.

    In April 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the mission, we watched Apollo 13. Because I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, the movie is one of my favorites. I am usually sucked into the plight of the crew, h​olding my breath as the drama unfolds. This time, however, I was captivated by the team on the ground.

    When things are falling apart, and nobody really knows if the crew can be saved, lead flight director Gene Kranz urges everyone to be calm, then asks his team, “What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”

    Immediately, Mission Control staff shift their focus away from identifying all the things that are broken to figuring out what is still working and how those good pieces can be used to get the crew back home safely.

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    It struck me that this is exactly how we should be acting during this coronavirus crisis. Tragedy has struck, things are falling apart all around us, and we have no idea how bad things might get. Instead of being overwhelmed by the negatives, is there a way for us to figure out what we have on this spacecraft that is good?

    I’ve been reminding myself to look for the good over the past year. One of the good things I see is the State Bar of Wisconsin. Before the pandemic, we took for granted the fact that the State Bar would give us opportunities to further our legal education and network with fellow attorneys. We are no longer able to do those things in person, but they are still occurring. In fact, some virtual events have a higher turnout than their in-person counterparts ever did.

    The crisis has also highlighted the important advocacy work the State Bar does on our behalf. While the State Bar has always served as a bridge between the legislature, the court system, and members of the legal profession, that linkage is now more visible. Concerns about the practice of law and about laws themselves are aggregated and amplified by our State Bar leaders. This allows State Bar members to communicate our individual concerns without drawing the ire of the courts or telegraphing our personal struggles to our adversaries and potential clients.

    Nothing today looks like it did a year ago. The problems we have faced have shown us that lawyers, as people and as a profession, are more flexible and resilient than we ever could have imagined. Although I’m ready for things to calm down a bit, I’m not ready to stop innovating. To quote the fictionalized Gene Kranz again, “I don’t care about what anything was designed to do, I care about what it can do.”

    I can’t wait to see what we all can do next … and that is good.

    » Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 72 (June 2021).

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    What are you most looking forward to in the next few months?

    Emily KelchenI am moving from New Jersey to Knoxville, Tenn., in the next few weeks. So, over the next few months I am looking forward to settling into a new home and exploring the area.

    Emily Kelchen, Kelchen Consulting

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