I Can See Clearly Now

By Bob Glaves | CBF Executive Director

That Johnny Nash classic set the theme for this year’s CBA/CBF Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon, underscoring the widespread feeling of optimism coming out of the pandemic and being able to gather again in person to honor some unsung heroes of our profession.

We all could see clearly from this year’s honorees that wherever we are in the legal community, we have a unique ability to make people’s lives better. And we can also see clearly the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have to modernize our profession and justice system to create a fairer and better system for the future.  

Last July, it was just settling in that the pandemic and its attendant restrictions on our lives were going to be with us for the foreseeable future. Our first ever virtual awards affair appropriately chose one of Springsteen’s best, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, to set the theme, as it genuinely reflected what we all were feeling at the time.

Hard times really had come to us all, and all at once due to the pandemic. However, it already was apparent that the people already struggling as a result of inequality in our community were being hit particularly hard.

As always is true in times of crisis, lawyers and legal professionals had a distinct role to play in helping the people hit especially hard. And as this year’s honorees showed firsthand, our legal community stepped up in a big way to do just that. If you were not able to attend the event or watch it later online, I encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more about this year’s honorees. They are a real credit to our profession and a true inspiration for the special power we all have to make a difference.

And that brings me to that second note of optimism that we can see clearly, and the amazing opportunity we have in front of us to modernize our profession and justice system to create a fairer and better legal system for the future.

The experience of the past year proved that our profession and our overall justice system were far more adaptable and innovative than we ever imagined before. We all have now seen firsthand what an impact technology can make in improving access, and what may have seemed like a pipe dream to many before the pandemic, we now know can be done. 

As I’ve been writing about in my New Year’s Resolution for the Profession series over the past few months, seamlessly integrating remote access into the system for the long haul will not only make the system more efficient and accessible for all, but it will have a huge impact on the ability of lawyers to be more accessible, affordable, and innovative in serving their clients. We can see this clearly now, and now is the time to make it happen.

As I also have been stressing in my resolution series, the past year created new openings for discussing and tackling some tough issues we have known are lurking in the background and perpetuating inequality, especially our overdue reckoning with racial inequality that still pervades our justice system and our community. There is an unprecedented commitment to continuing those conversations and moving them into action, and we need to build on that momentum to create the more equitable and just system we now see clearly as well.

For all the optimism in the song, just because we can see clearly what we need to do does not mean it is going to be easy to get there. Far from it. As Johnny Nash sang, we can see all obstacles in the way, and seeing those obstacles clearly gives us the chance to tackle them, work through them, and move the ball forward.

And let’s face it, most of those obstacles are going to be human. Too many among the bench and bar are all set to go back to their old comfort zones, which may have been working well for them, but we know were not working for the majority of the people in our community.

We also now know that as we continue down the road to reopening, the pandemic and its variants are not quite all the way behind us yet. That too is a human obstacle that those resisting the vaccine are perpetuating, but thanks to those vaccines and the great majority among us who are doing our part by getting the jab, there is no reason to let that hinder optimism or fortitude. We are not going back to last year’s lockdowns any time soon, but there just may be some added inconveniences along the way. We now know from the experiences of the past year what we need to do to get past this bump in the road, and we will get there.

To sum up, while it will be choppy and uneven on the way there, we all have to do our part to create that fairer and better system we can see clearly, and to fight through the obstacles we know will be in the way. And we can do it by drawing on the resilience and spirit of collaboration and innovation that our legal community collectively showed this past year to blaze the trail to this better future.

A quote from an enlightened private equity executive that I used in one of my prior posts is very fitting here: “The goal is not to return to a “normal” that wasn’t working for far too many. The goal should be to imagine, and create, a new normal that is better, fairer and more just for everyone. There is no going back.”

As Johnny Nash said it so well, “it’s going to be a bright, bright sun shiny day” if we embrace this moment and lead by example. We got a lot of inspiration to do just that from this year’s Luncheon honorees, and let’s get on with it.