Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Access-to-Justice Heroes

November 2020 Bar Bulletin

COVID-19 continues to impact the practice of law in King County and all over the world. Not only has it exacted a toll on lives, families and friends, but on our schools, our jobs and how we are able to care for one another.

As lawyers, we are learning to serve our clients while socially distanced, masked where necessary and through what is now the ubiquitous video call.

And we are coping with this unprecedented threat to our lives and to our health.

We’ve adapted by conducting virtual swearing-in ceremonies for our new colleagues at the bar (see photo below). We’ve learned how to run Zoom, Teams, Connect and other software for client meetings and even court appearances.

I don’t know about you, but finding the right place to do this can be challenging.

I recently “appeared” in a hearing in Superior Court from an old cabin on the Oregon coast that I knew would get some public attention. While I managed a coat and tie, I hadn’t really noticed the 1940’s wallpaper or grandma-like lamp shade over my shoulder. Some social media wags wanted to know why my arguments came from “Grandma’s bedroom.”

And we’ve heard stories from the Supreme Court (toilet flushing noise) and elsewhere of bigger problems than grandma’s wallpaper.

Like the poor guy who early on in this COVID office exile who managed to turn off the video during a sales meeting but failed to mute his mic or fully turn off his camera. His loud snores from the bed behind his desk chair, woke up his camera and displayed him sleeping (and snoring) during much of a team sales meeting.

KCBA continues to offer many COVID-19 programs for law practitioners and is working with the courts to help implement safe and healthy ways to keep justice moving in King County. You can find these at www.kcba.org/For-Lawyers/COVID-19-Resources.

Our first responsibilities lie with our families, our clients and keeping ourselves healthy during COVID. But if we are successful, that is not how we will remember these unusual times in which we live.

We’ll remember the extra measures, the work we undertook for those who can’t afford our fees, the hard-earned dollars we shared with those impacted most heavily by the pandemic.

Our friends and colleagues at the Northwest Justice Project know this better than anyone.

NJP’s long-time Executive Director César Torres, noting that we faced a civil legal needs crisis before COVID-19 said, “Today we face the reality of domestic violence fatalities far above past years, a staggering backlog of evictions and foreclosures — and even the denial of special education for disabled children forced into remote schooling.”

The Legal Foundation of Washington, responsible for coordinating what available funding exists for vulnerable populations and their legal needs, emphasized that cuts to interest rates directly impact IOLTA revenues – the very source relied upon by pro bono and staffed legal services across our state.

It’s not just LFW and the heroic staff and volunteer lawyers at NJP, Columbia Legal Services, NWIRP and here at KCBA who are feeling the weight of unmet civil legal needs. Fundraising, usually done over inspiring breakfast or luncheon speakers, must be entirely rethought in this virtual COVID reality.

Like LFW’s Goldmark Luncheon in February, KCBA’s MLK Luncheon will be virtual this year. We will feature three presentations linking the legacy of Dr. King to the enormous food insecurity experienced by so many families, especially during COVID. Learn more at http://www.kcba.org/Calendar/Special-Events/Rev-Dr-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Luncheon.

These virtual events are sponsored by lawyers striving under difficult circumstances to serve an even more vulnerable low-income population, struggling to work, to eat, to keep their families safe and alive.

And none of it will work without our participation.

So, instead of getting up for that early fundraising breakfast, or taking time from your busy day to attend a luncheon, open your email invitations or visit a website, click on the link, turn on your video and open your checkbook.

Don’t let it be said that we left our most vulnerable and needy clients in their time of need. 

John McKay is the President of the King County Bar Association and a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine. He can be reached at johnmckay@dwt.com.

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