August 2020 • Volume 108 • Number 8 • Page 8
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The Challenges Ahead
The 2020-2021 bar year may be full of obstacles, but we can overcome them together.
I don’t need to tell anyone reading this column that we are living in unprecedented times.
As I begin my term in office, we are faced with a civil rights reckoning, a global pandemic, and a fragile economy. The ISBA and its members are affected by each of these and we must all rise up to meet the challenges they present. While Zoom and other video conference meetings have become the daily norm for the ISBA, courts, and law firms around Illinois, we must do our best to address the needs of our clients and of our Association.
My first act as the newly installed president of the ISBA was to preside over its first ever Zoom Assembly meeting, which took place shortly after the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. At that meeting, Assembly members Dr. Mary Milano and Kenya Jenkins-Wright offered a resolution on racial inequality, which passed overwhelmingly. The resolution calls for the membership to “undertake an affirmative and association-wide program” to, among other things, promote equal justice, eliminate barriers to full inclusion, and create affirmative approaches to professional responsibility. I encourage all ISBA members to read the full resolution, found on the homepage of the ISBA’s website, isba.org.
I am committed, as are my fellow officers, to carry out the provisions of this resolution. While the resolution represents the words of the Assembly, it is up to all of us to act upon its words. (See also, “All Things Being Equal” on page 10 of this issue.)
I have been appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to serve on its COVID-19 Task Force, which is charged with addressing several issues associated with the coronavirus pandemic such as: reestablishing in-court proceedings (including jury trials); prioritizing cases that will be heard with live in-court proceedings; and examining health and safety concerns for attorneys, litigants, and court personnel at courthouses around the state. These recommendations and implementation by the courts will greatly impact how lawyers are able to address their legal practices.
We have yet to fully understand the impact the pandemic will continue to have on the ISBA and its members. Law firms have been forced to reexamine how they practice law and deal with the loss of clients due to the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. The ISBA will continue to reach out to its members to offer assistance in addressing these problems.
Room for aspirations
Much of my year and beyond will be spent addressing the impact the matters discussed above will have on our profession. However, there are several additional programs I intend to pursue during my year as president.
Rural Practice Initiative. The main program during my year as president is the Rural Practice Initiative. Illinois is experiencing a growing crisis as attorneys retire or leave the practice of law in less-populated areas of our state. I have appointed a special committee, cochaired by Daniel Thies of Webber & Thies of Urbana, and Lois Wood, former executive director of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, which covers 38 counties throughout southern Illinois. This special committee is tasked with creating a viable program to support the establishment of young lawyers to practice law in rural parts of the state where lawyers are needed. This program may include, for example, a clearing house to connect young lawyers willing to establish a law practice in rural areas with experienced practitioners looking to transition out of their practice. The committee has already conducted its first meeting and is off to an excellent start with dedicated lawyers, judges, and law school deans who are committed to addressing this issue. This project will address a growing need in Illinois counties where few or no attorneys reside and where it has become difficult for those with legal needs to find an attorney. I look forward to working with the committee and with President-Elect Anna Krolikowska and Second Vice-President Rory Weiler, both of whom are committed to supporting the Rural Practice Initiative.
Young Lawyers Division. Another project will be to expand our Young Lawyers Division (YLD) throughout Illinois. I have appointed young lawyers to serve on the YLD Section Council from central and southern Illinois and develop more YLD programs for younger members who live in these regions. The goal is to create more geographic-based events and to get more downstate lawyers involved in the ISBA.
There are three existing ISBA programs initiated by my predecessors that I also intend to continue to support. First is the ISBA Leadership Academy, which graduated its first class in June. This program identifies and provides leadership skills to young members of the ISBA and prepares them for leadership roles, whether in our association or in their firms and communities. The second is to continue exploring ways the ISBA can offer a health insurance plan to its solo and small-firm members. The third is a commitment to assist lawyers in Illinois struggling with economic, health, and mental health issues, which have been accentuated in recent months. There will be a need to work closely with the Lawyers’ Assistance Program to make certain that the well-being of lawyers during these difficult times is addressed.
I hope you and your families continue to be safe and healthy. By the way, the voting is in on your favorite July Illinois Bar Journal cover, pictured left.