International legal life in lockdown: Cynthia Sequeira and Natalia Callejas

We explore the effects of the coronavirus on Guatemala, both economic and sociological, through the personal experiences of two legal professionals based in the country.

Natalia Callejas“For a developing nation COVID-19 was always going to be a challenge,” says Natalia Callejas, a partner at Aguilar Castillo Love in Guatemala. “We already had an economic crisis and now we have a medical one.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Cynthia Sequeira, special counsel with BLP, also based in Guatemala. “It’s a huge challenge as a lawyer, as a mother and just as a human. We see the human side of the crisis as lawyers because we’re there when things go wrong in people’s lives but I believe that we as women have the strength to be optimistic and to draw positives from what is a very negative situation.”

“In this crisis, lawyers have been ‘first responders’,” says Natalia. “There is widespread poverty and a lack of access to government benefits, which is something we have been able to advise many people on and get them the help they need. The lockdown measures introduced by the government in Guatemala have been among the strictest in Latin America and this has obviously affected the economy. Part of our job as lawyers has been to make sense of all this for companies, to help them understand the labour laws and what measures are appropriate.”

“I think lawyers are definitely an essential service in this situation,” Cynthia agrees. “Because of our role we can obviously counsel people and help them with their legal affairs but we can also simply be human to them, treat them with kindness and listen to them.”

Looking to the future, Cynthia believes that the legal market in Guatemala will change after the crisis. “Not all law firms will survive this crisis, only those that are flexible and adapt to the situation. Firms with big overhead costs are in a very different situation to other firms that have been able to reduce their expenses in response to the pandemic.”

Survival tips

Cynthia SequeiraCynthia and Natalia both have useful ‘survival tips’ for those in lockdown. “I would say that being grateful is the most important thing,” says Cynthia. “Try to enjoy every moment, ask God to bless every decision and be thankful that you are alive and that you can be part of the agents of change that may potentially give a new hope to the world in this time of crisis. I would also say that it’s important to live your emotions in a situation like this, don’t try to suppress them but don’t let them control you either.”

“I think that doing enjoyable and creative hobbies is very important right now,” says Natalia. “I have enjoyed drawing and exercising but also experimental cookery. Faith has been my cornerstone throughout this situation. Of course, you will have good days and bad days but as long as you can tap into something deeper and more meaningful you will be able to maintain a positive attitude.”

Both agree that despite the obvious negatives of the COVID-19 crisis, there are definitely positive effects. “The crisis has allowed me to refocus my attention to the important things in my life: my family and friends,” says Natalia. “It’s taught me the importance of unplugging from tech, which is good for your mind and health.”

“For me, this crisis has been important for finding the purpose in our lives,” says Cynthia. “All I have now is my home and my family around me and this has taught me just to be grateful for what I have which is an invaluable life lesson.”

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS