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August 05, 2019 From the Chair

From the Chair: Vision of Joy

George "Buck" Lewis, Chair, Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service

In a recent interview on CBS, Jeff Wiener, CEO of LinkedIn, articulated his view of the three most important components of leadership: clarity of vision, courage of your convictions, and ability to communicate your vision and your courage. Wiener explained that these elements will lead to the inspiration of others. My vision for the Access to Justice community generally,
and for the ABA Pro Bono and Public Service Committee in particular, involves these elements:

  1. Leverage every tool possible to prevent legal problems before they occur. The need is just too great for us to believe that we can ever satisfy the need to resolve legal problems after they occur. We won’t resolve all the problems by focusing on prevention either, but we must work as hard on prevention as we do on resolution.
  2.  Fully utilize new technologies. By the first of the year, for example, ABA Free Legal Answers volunteer lawyers from across the country will have fielded approximately 100,000 questions. That is exhibit A as to how technology can help fill the gap between the need and the resources. In the meantime, we are using advanced tools to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of telephone banks. The country’s first legal wellness checkup has been created and made available to the public. Online dispute resolution has become a reality in other countries and our ABA Section of Alternative Dispute Resolution is working with us to make available a quality low-cost online dispute resolution program. Visionaries around the country are creating chat boxes for everything from family law to housing. This year, Legal Services Corporation will unveil its web portal that utilizes artificial intelligence to get the client to the best place for help as quickly as possible. My vision, therefore, is for us to continue the development and use of new technologies that will allow us to scale up resources on a national level.
  3. Make litigation easier for pro se litigants. This would include video hearings, phone hearing for routine matters. Plain English forms which could be completed online then filed electronically. These tools only make sense for both represented and unrepresented parties. We must, of course have the courage of our convictions. Our work is just too important. As you read this column, there is a dedicated pro bono lawyer in some court defending a democratic institution.

Somewhere there is a pro bono lawyer helping form, operate, and fund a non-profit. There is a veteran who needs benefits and medical care and has been wrongfully denied them. There is a single mom who can’t access healthcare for her children. There is a battered spouse who needs an order of protection. There is a bright, hardworking person who needs to have a ten-year-old record expunged in order to get a decent job and pursue a career. There is a person who can’t get a construction job or any decent job because their driver’s license was improperly and unconstitutionally revoked, or a senior citizen who was scammed by a shade tree mechanic or an unethical contractor, or a modestly paid employee is being discriminated against based on their gender, race, religion or who they love. Somewhere there is a farmer who is facing bankruptcy of his family farm next week due to an historic flood. Somewhere near our southern border, our government has separated children from their parents, and lost track of where they put them.

The latest book from best-selling author David Brooks is entitled The Second Mountain. On page one, the author discusses joy:

Every once in a while, I meet a person who radiates joy. These are people who seem to glow with an inner light. They are kind,tranquil, delighted by small pleasures, and grateful for the large ones…They live for others, and not for themselves. They know why they were put on this earth and derive a deep satisfaction from doing what they have been called to do…When you meet these people, you realize joy is not just a feeling, it can be an outlook.

There are temporary highs we all get after we win some victory, and then there is also this other kind of permanent joy that animates people who are not obsessed with themselves but have given themselves away.

Joy tends to involve some transcendence of self. It is when the skin barrier between you and some other person or entity fades away and you feel fused together. We are pleased by happiness, but we are transformed by joy. When we experience joy we often feel we have glimpsed into a deeper and truer layer of reality. A narcissist can be happy, but a narcissist can never be joyful, because the surrender of self is the precise thing a narcissist can’t do…My core point is that happiness is good, but joy is better. Moreover, while happiness tends to be fickle and fleeting, joy can be fundamental and enduring. The more you are living a committed life well the more joy will be your steady state, the frame of mind you carry around with you and shine on others.

I am at the end of my three years as chair of the ABA Pro Bono and Public Service Committee. I am more than proud of the work we have done together. I have become addicted
to the feeling of joy that Brooks describes in the book. I have no interest in removing from my life the joy that comes from helping clients who need help so desperately or in withdrawing from our wonderful access to justice community. When I see the commitment in the hearts and minds of our staff, it brings me joy. When I feel the support of ABA presidents and past presidents, it gives me courage. When I learn about the contributions made by our committee members, or our
partners in the states, or the recipients of our Pro Bono Publico Awards, it inspires me. When I witness a community of 1,150 activists gather for our record setting Equal Justice Conference in May, it brings me joy, courage, and inspiration.

These joyful friends also give me energy, perseverance, and passion. I am grateful for each one of them for all that they do. My successor, David Bienvenu of Louisiana, is an
example of one of those leaders who has given himself up to the service of others. His leadership, along with the steadfast leadership of counsel to the committee, Cheryl Zalinski, puts
us in very good hands for the future. Our challenge is daunting as it always has been and always will be, but we will never yield because this community is too committed and too inspired by the joy that service brings to our lives. Thanks to you all for bringing that joy to mine