GPSolo Magazine - October/November 2005
A Time of Challenges
I once heard someone speak of a close mutual friend as the kind of person “who doesn’t like things that don’t come with guarantees.” Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, forever altering and disrupting—if not ending—the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans during the week I wrote this column, just before Labor Day. The entire country is still reeling from the devastation and destruction of this apocalyptic storm and its aftermath of despair. We have all been forcefully and unequivocally reminded that every day is precious and that this life comes with but one guarantee.
By early estimates, fully one-third of the lawyers in Louisiana—5,000 to 6,000—have lost their offices, their libraries, their computers, their client files, and likely their clients. These lawyers are now scattered from Florida to Arizona and beyond. One early e-mail from a lawyer anxious to help those lawyers in need observed, “what good is all the data backup in the world, if you have no clients left, no office to return to, and no hardware to restore the data to?”
Throughout the area, in those law offices and courts that miraculously remained intact, paper files stored at ground level or in basements were obliterated—their contents and the documents and evidence memorializing untold legal matters are lost forever.
Undoubtedly, our colleagues and the justice system will not fully appreciate the impact of this devastation upon our profession for years to come.
From the very beginning, lawyers raced to the forefront of every aspect of the recovery efforts. Here are some notable examples on several levels:
- One of our Division’s leaders, New Orleans lawyer Mark E. Morice, armed only with a paddle and without regard for his own safety, single-handedly rescued at least 100 stranded flood victims with his small flat-bottom boat in the days following the storm.
- Another Division leader, Houston lawyer Melanie D. Bragg, immediately opened her home to volunteers helping coordinate assistance to evacuees relocated to Houston.
- Yet another Division leader, nationally recognized technology consultant Ross L. Kodner of Milwaukee, began organizing a nationwide electronic relief effort almost immediately; he was promptly joined by hundreds of lawyers to provide lawyers from the affected region with technology, office space, and related support as they attempt to regroup and restore their practices and serve their clients.
- Within days of the storm, the ABA mobilized efforts in Chicago to begin focusing relief efforts—both humanitarian and professional. The week following the storm, a Presidential Task Force composed of a broad consortium of ABA leadership and staff converged in Chicago to begin the urgent task of determining how the entire Association should respond to this national tragedy. Our Division was a leader in this critical endeavor and was ably represented by Chair-Elect John P. Macy. Detailed information about the efforts of both the Association and the Division and, more importantly, how you can still contribute both dollars and expertise to the relief efforts is located at www.abanet.org and www.abanet.org/genpractice. A resource page dedicated to Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief can be found at www.abanet.org/katrina.
One can only imagine the financial donations lawyers immediately made to humanitarian relief efforts or the volunteer hours (with their incalculable value) that have been and will continue to be donated quietly and expediently to all aspects of these efforts.
I’d intended in this column to share with you my great excitement about the ABA House of Delegates’ decision to transform the 30,000-plus member General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section to a Division of the ABA, a move that will enable the Association and this Division to better serve America’s Main Street Lawyers. Sad necessity defers that discussion for another day.
The task at hand is daunting. In addition to healing broken bodies and rebuilding destroyed infrastructure, we must also address the shaken confidence of citizens nationwide and of our neighbors around the world in our government’s concern for these victims, as well as its ability (or willingness) to quickly and effectively respond to a crisis of this magnitude. For a brief time, we collectively watched in horror the consequences of ignoring the rule of law when some of the victims of the ravages of nature themselves became lawless predators. The upheaval caused by the mighty winds and waters also resurrected allegations of the ugly specter of racism, which many of us idealistically hoped had been largely relegated to the history books of this country.The thoughts and sentiments of the Division are with those lawyers and others who have suffered mightily from nature’s onslaught. The call to Defend Liberty and Pursue Justice has never sounded more loudly or clearly. Fortunately, we know that Americans in general and its lawyers in particular are remarkably resilient. Together, we will persevere to endure, meet, and overcome these formidable chall