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President's Page: What a year it has been ... already

Vol. 76, No. 4 / July - August 2020

Tom Bender

Thomas V. Bender is a member of the firm of Horn Aylward & Bandy, LLC in Kansas City.


World events gave us an inkling of what was to come. Right from the beginning, Australia had out-of-control fires and the world was also out of control following the drone strike that killed General Suleimani.

For about a week, we seemed on the brink of war as Iran launched missiles at our bases, and talks of a new draft were rumbling across the country. John Bolton teased that he might testify in the impeachment trial, but then he wouldn’t, and then he might … but decided it is better to let us read about it later for $34.99. And there was this novel thing in China. Lockdowns began, but not before an unfortunate visit to the state of Washington. Kobe and his daughter died in a tragic crash; the European Union lost an important member; and Prince Harry and Megan reminded us there is never a normal.

It can’t get more chaotic than this … we thought.

February started a little better. The impeachment trial was finally over, with the process taking about as long as the Speaker took to rip up the State of the Union speech. It was unsettling, but democracy is still strong, as shown by the Iowa caucus results … well, maybe not so much, as that also had a few issues. The strange-looking virus then got an official name from the WHO, COVID-19, causing questions about what happened with the other 18, and Harvey Weinstein got a new name: criminal. Then the stock market crashed and sent a signal that all of this may be taking a toll on our economy. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson caught the virus, which meant any of us could. 

In March, like watching an uphill marathon, we saw all the candidates running … and then faltering and falling out (more than I can remember, but here’s a start: Warren, Bloomberg, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and about 20 more). Italy locked down the whole country, after which we had a pandemic declared across the world and a state of emergency in the United States. The Dow tumbled, along with spring break plans, as the world changed dramatically. While some students ignored the virus – along with the cardinal rule of avoiding interviews about the coronavirus after too many Coronas – most returned home unexpectedly to discover they had to once again talk to their parents and come home on time. The Summer Olympics were postponed, as were most summer work and vacation options. Mount Everest was closed to climbers (even though that is the ultimate outside activity), and Russia and Saudi Arabia got into a price war over oil as gas prices dropped, eventually reaching a negative value. And we began to wonder what is the new normal.

April starts with more than one million coronavirus cases worldwide. New York is devastated by the illness. Ebola let us know it is still around and Bernie lets us know he’s not, at least not as a candidate. And the U.S. suspends funding of the WHO. An asteroid comes close to Earth and the Pentagon releases three videos of unidentified aerial phenomena (as though aliens would want to come here now). With offices shut down, the talk centers on what shows to watch, and even “Tiger King” finds viewers. The month ends with more than three million global cases of coronavirus and not a roll of toilet paper or hand sanitizer on the shelves.

May has more reports of the spreading virus, with Brazil beating Russia out for number two in the world (but trying harder), and the U.S. recording more deaths than were killed in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. All sporting events are cancelled, and people are left with the uncomfortable option of exercising instead of watching other people play. We were told to go outside, but with the warning to watch out for killer hornets. A bright spot appears when we resume crewed space flights, but then a great darkness falls on Memorial Day with the killing of George Floyd. The month ends with unrest, bringing people to the streets in protests, but keeping people from otherwise gathering as cases of coronavirus exceed 10 million worldwide.

June is more of the same. No more business as usual, but maybe the unusual is now the new usual. Late night TV hosts broadcast from their homes and courts conduct hearings from their chambers. States shut down and open up like jack-in-the-boxes, and health care decisions are made with one eye on scientists and the other on politics, creating a cross-eyed effect that never results in a clear vision. Throughout the month, voices for change continue to be heard, and the message begins to be heard. And then Sahara dust shows up, just to make the year even weirder.

So, what have we learned from this first six months?

As a bar, we have learned to take the game plan we had for this year, shelve it, and realize it will likely not be used again for some time, if at all. Just like you and your firms, we are doing our jobs virtually and readjusting the types of services we deliver and how we deliver them. We are reworking our contracts, redesigning our conferences, and working to figure out what our members need and what help we can provide to the public. New problems appear daily, and we work to address them even as we figure out what is the new normal. We have set up new task forces to address the economic challenges faced by our members, the safety challenges for reopening of the courts, and how to address diversity and inclusion issues in the legal profession.

As lawyers, I hope we have learned how much we need each other and how our society works best when we help each other. But we can’t work together if we are afraid of each other. When events become uncomfortable, too many employ stereotypes rather than understanding. We have all witnessed those rushes to stereotypes and the unwillingness of some to explore why others feel the way they do – especially when it is different from their own beliefs.We need to have the courage to not only examine our own views, but to help others explore theirs. We are the profession that defends people’s rights to be heard. We have always been such defenders … of all people. Those in bondage. Those disenfranchised. Those with no money. Those with no power. Those who are unpopular … especially those who are unpopular. We do not shout others down. We shout for the right to be heard. And that with that right comes the obligation to listen to each other – especially when it is hard to do so.

As we approach the remainder of this year, we all need to find that courage in ourselves and to help others find ways to come together and make needed changes. Missouri lawyers have a rich history of being problem solvers, and we need to help by working to heal wounds rather than inflict new ones. Let us live up to our pledge, as an organization, to promote the fair administration of justice. Let us live up to our oaths, as lawyers, to seek improvement of the law and to employ our knowledge to reform the law as needed to accomplish these ends.

And let’s hope the remainder of the year is healthier for us all. Stay safe and be well.