President's Letter

Lawyers and the ABA must show resilience in tackling pandemic challenges

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Photo of Judy Perry Martinez © Zack Smith

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great tragedy and unprecedented social and economic change in our country and the world. The legal profession and justice system have been forced to adapt on multiple levels over a compressed time period. Changes in how we work that most technologists thought would occur over the next decade were embraced in less than a springtime and continue to evolve quickly.

Lawyers are working to adapt their remote operations, manage employees’ safety and attend to their own and their families’ health. On a professional level, lawyers are employing new skills for the benefit of their clients. Across major cities, small towns and rural farmlands, we have singularly and collectively come to appreciate and understand how our roles in society and our responsibilities to others affect our neighbors. In some ways, our forced separation has brought forth an acute awareness of our oneness.

The American Bar Association has been working proactively throughout these challenges to bring useful new resources to lawyers while continuing to advocate for the profession we serve. In the interest of safety, the ABA has transitioned its 2020 annual meeting to a completely virtual one.

The ABA’s Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic was created within days of the initial shelter-in-place orders. It taps the knowledge and creativity of legal experts in disaster response, health law, insurance, small business, criminal justice, civil rights, medical and employment benefits and more.

The task force’s website contains information and updates on new benefits, protections against evictions and other actions due to job losses, court closings and mobilization of pro bono efforts. The site, which is regularly updated, also includes:

  • Free resources and guidance for lawyers in all practice settings with short videos and links about working remotely, disaster response, planning/preparedness plans, laws on quarantine orders, protecting against cybersecurity threats, and lawyer health and well-being.
  • Pro bono opportunities: For example, lawyers in 42 jurisdictions can participate in ABA Free Legal Answers, which allows them to answer civil legal questions from their homes without expectation of long-term representation.
  • The ABA CLE Marketplace, which has nearly 600 widely accredited online and on-demand programs on pandemic-related and other topics free to ABA members.

Throughout the pandemic, the ABA has continued its robust advocacy for the profession and our clients. For example, the ABA urged federal officials to consider “essential” critical legal work that cannot legally or practically be done remotely during stay-at-home orders. We also promptly released guidance to state supreme courts and bar admissions officials urging state licensing authorities to adopt rules authorizing 2019 and 2020 law graduates who cannot take a bar exam because of the pandemic to engage in a limited practice of law with supervision by a licensed attorney.

Legal aid and criminal justice continue to be a focus of our advocacy. The ABA urged House and Senate leaders to include $100 million of supplemental emergency appropriations for the Legal Services Corp. to serve pandemic-related legal needs of low-income Americans. The ABA also requested federal officials promote public health by instituting protections against the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons.

During this time of challenge and change, resilience is critical. We must be flexible in our processes and traditions but firm in our commitment to our principles and justice.

The ABA, through its committed staff and dedicated volunteer leadership, will continue to lead our profession through the pandemic. We are all part of a historic chapter for the ABA, the profession and our nation as we perfect new ways of interacting and learning from one another.

Much work remains to be done, but our embrace of resiliency will lead us down a new path that positions us to best serve our clients and the public in this time of need and beyond. Together, we will emerge a stronger and more vibrant profession.

This article appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Resiliency Is the New Normal: Lawyers, ABA adapt and lead in tackling pandemic challenges.”

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