September 30, 2020 Chair's Column

Chair's Column: September 2020

By Michael J. Van Zandt

As I write this column, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is lying at rest at the United States Supreme Court. We all should take some time to reflect on this remarkable jurist and the contributions she has made to the rule of law, justice, and equality for all. Justice Ginsburg was a true friend to SLD and every year that we sponsored a swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court, she would always stop by our reception and spend some quality time with the newly sworn-in members of the U.S. Supreme Court. She was as gracious as she was kind. We will all miss her.

We are also on the eve of a national election. The country is deeply divided. Many people are still suffering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and many of our cities are experiencing protests that turn violent with lootings, shootings, and destruction of property. We are also being assaulted by wildfires and hurricanes at the same time. Turmoil and unrest seem to abide.

On the other hand, life still goes on. We still care for our families, our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors and friends. We still practice law and support our clients' needs. We still engage with our communities as best we can, albeit remotely, to support various social, charitable and philanthropic endeavors. Our lives have become virtual, with more emphasis on electronic communications. SLD is about a professional family that is willing to listen and to speak for its members on important issues of our day.

As I was approaching my term as Chair, I was struck by the amount of effort that was being expended by the SLD staff and by our various committees and publications to communicate with our members. With over 46,000 SLD members, effective communication is paramount; yet SLD did not have a coordinated and efficient mechanism for expressing to our members all of the excellent work that SLD was undertaking. As Al Harvey was winding down his term, Judge Louraine Arkfeld and Jack Young were hard at work on a new strategic plan for SLD. I asked them to include a provision for a Communications Committee. The Communications Committee now has been formed under the leadership of Chair-Elect Carole Worthington and Vice Chair Jim Schwartz.

The Committee has four goals: 1) prepare an integrated communications plan, including welcoming messages and follow-up to new members; 2) establish an effective messaging program and outreach for the existing members; 3) establish outreach programs to all sections, divisions and forums of the ABA to share resources and presentations; and 4) establish an outreach program to state and local bar associations with entities similar to SLD to share information and programs. We solicit input from all SLD members to enhance the communications of SLD and to avoid overwhelming the members and the SLD staff on emails and other communications.

We would like to make the SLD website more interactive, a place where we can exchange ideas and ask questions, a place where our considerable resources, experience, wisdom and knowledge can be shared. The more we reach out and help our members and others, the more we can convince others to join our Division and help with its vital work.

As part of our strategic plan, I have asked the SLD Diversity and Inclusion Committee to conduct a top to bottom review of our policies and practices to ensure that we are inclusive and we make opportunities in leadership positions to minorities, women, and people of color. The committee will report on its progress in November 2020. As part of this important process, racial and social justice are extremely important to SLD and its diverse membership. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee will assist in ensuring SLD recognizes the dignity and worth of every human being.

I do encourage each of our SLD members to help out at their local polling places this November 3rd. Our democracy depends on transparency and the right of every citizen to vote their conscience at the polls. Check with your local voting agency and volunteer to help not only on election day but also during the counting of what is expected to be a record number of mail in ballots. If you do volunteer, let me know so I can count you as one of our SLD "Heroes for Democracy."

As I write, our committees are hard at work developing our plans for this year based on our strategic plan. We have many preliminary plans already and will have more formal plans for each of our substantive committees in time for the November Council meeting. In the meantime, if you are interested in the work of any of these committees, you can express your interest to me or to our Director Emily Roschek. We would love to see more members get involved and to have you attend our November Council meeting which will be by Zoom. Details will be on the SLD website

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Michael J. Van Zandt is a partner and co-chair of the Environmental & Natural Resources group at Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. He is the current Chair of the Senior Lawyers Division; a representative for the ABA SLD to the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources Special Committee; a Litigation Counsel of America senior fellow; and an American Bar Foundation life fellow.