2020 Has Reminded Me to be Grateful … for Lawyers

by Stacy R. Horth-Neubert, WLALA Foundation President 2019-2021

November 2021

2020 is a bad year …

2020 is a dumpster fire …

2020 is almost over …

If you Google “2020 is a,” the phrases above are the first three options that auto-populate. It is hard to argue that 2020 has been anything other than a dumpster fire of a bad year – a year of a devastating pandemic, devastating racial injustice and strife, devastating wild fires, devastating economic hardship, devastating losses of beloved American heroes like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Lewis, and devastating political and social division. But … 2020 is almost over.

Of course, we grownups know that the turning of the calendars to 2021 is not going to magically erase all of the problems of 2020. But it will serve as an important symbolic reminder that a new year brings new hope and new opportunities.

And even now, during these remaining weeks of 2020, I am working hard to cut through the despair by cultivating gratitude for the heroic work of so many — work that will provide the foundation upon which the hope and opportunities of 2021 will be built. Medical professionals have put their own health at risk to care for the sick and to keep the virus in check. Small businesses and individuals have pivoted to help their employees and their communities survive the pandemic, with restaurants becoming marketplaces selling scarce provisions like toilet paper and eggs, liquor distillers making sanitizer, and architects, clothing manufactures and grandmas converting existing equipment to make masks for medical professionals and the rest of us, too. Millions of people from all walks of life have come together across the country and around the world in unprecedented numbers to stand up to racial injustice, demand systemic change, and work towards achieving it. Volunteers around the country have stepped up to help register people to vote and to ensure that Americans are able to exercise their right to vote in a free and fair election.

And from my vantage point as a pro bono coordinator, I have seen a remarkable and sometimes overlooked group of people helping make all of these good things possible: lawyers. Lawyers have helped entrepreneurs find innovative ways to get much-needed PPE to medical professionals. Lawyers have advised small business working to navigate the legal and economic challenges of the pandemic. Lawyers have worked to protect the First Amendment rights of protestors, including those who have been injured or arrested while exercising those rights. Lawyers have helped artists and athletes set up non-profits to raise awareness about racial injustice and voting rights. Lawyers have helped low-income individuals suffering economic hardship from being evicted from their homes. Lawyers have manned voter call-in centers that assist people in registering to vote and in understanding their rights, and lawyers have worked to protect those rights from legal attack.

As lawyers, we often hear the adage that with the privilege of practicing law comes the responsibility of providing legal services to those who cannot afford them. In 2020, I have seen lawyers own that truth in a remarkable way. Thank you to each of you who have headed the call of 2020 to be better, do better.

If you, too, are moved to gratitude for those lawyers who have stepped up in 2020, I humbly suggest that one way you can do your part is by helping the next generation of lawyers– and a great way to do that is by generously donating the WLALA Foundation Charitable Fund. The annual Charitable Fund giving campaign is now underway. The Charitable Fund raises money to support the WLALA Foundation’s scholarships and public interest fellowships, including the ICLC Fellowship. We promise to put every donation to work for GOOD.

And if you are moved to perform some pro bono work yourself, please check out the volunteer opportunities offered by the WLALA Domestic Violence Project, or the Inner City Law Center, or check out these other amazing public interest organizations:

The holiday season is traditionally a time for giving thanks. Though our holiday gatherings may be smaller and more somber this year, they will not be lacking in gratitude. To each of you who have stepped up and shown the practice of law to be a noble profession, after all, thank you.