OCBA President's Page
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
-Chicago, 1969by Keefe A. Brooks, 2020-21 OCBA President
It is an honor and privilege to serve this year as the president of the Oakland County Bar Association. The views expressed in this monthly column will be my own and not necessarily those of the OCBA. But that’s what you get when you hand over the bully pulpit for a while.
It’s mid-May. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. I am sitting in my home office trying to write an article for the August issue of Laches (not my choice — publisher deadline). Will we have an open August or “locked-at-home” August this year? What will it look like? Will I get to see my children? My grandchildren? My partners? My staff? Will our offices be open? Will our homes be open to guests? Does anybody really know what time it is?
Hopefully, by the time this is published and you are reading this column, we will have answers to those questions. We might even know what day of the week it is. We will have started to “Zoom” out and see one another up front and personal — hug our families and shake the hands of our colleagues (or at least elbow bump). We’ll wash our pajamas and wear pants when putting on a coat and tie for a court hearing. We might even know what time it is.
For all of us, this has (hopefully) been a once-in-a-lifetime experience — confined to our homes; forbidden to travel and to visit with loved ones; grocery shopping by appointment only; and searching in vain for that elusive toilet paper.
Do you now need a primer on how to open your law office safely? I seriously doubt it. I am personally fatigued from all the seminars, webinars, think tanks, webcasts and e-blasts telling me how to open my office safely. And at the bottom they all say the same thing: Wear a mask, wash your hands, and space out (I’m actually quite used to the second and third ones from my college days. This is the marijuana issue, isn’t it?).
Seriously, though, there are many important “lessons learned” from this shared experience. The pandemic was global, but it’s a small world. The virus did not discriminate. It has infected the old and the young, black and white, rich and poor. We were all in it together; we are one. It taught us the true value of a hug, a kiss, or any other form of human contact, and that there are more important things in life than contracts, motions, interrogatories, and yes — even toilet paper.
There is one disturbing lesson learned that we, as a profession, can and should address: The pandemic had a noticeable disparate impact on our minority communities. Was it because of some purported genetic makeup or some greater susceptibility to the virus? Of course not. It was in large part due to the ever-increasing wealth divide and lack of equal access to quality education and health care. These are serious issues prevalent right here in our backyard. Our profession cannot solve these issues alone. But the fact that we cannot solve everything is no excuse for not taking action to try to solve something.
So that leaves me with a few requests to my fellow members of the OCBA for this month. First, be ever mindful of the serious wealth divide in our communities, and in this time of great need, give to local food banks and other local charities whenever you can. Volunteer your time. Join a board. There is plenty of need out there. Jobs were lost and too many in our community go to bed hungry. Not intending to steer anyone to or from any organization, some well-run food banks in our community include Gleaners Community Food Bank, Forgotten Harvest, Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Open Hands Food Pantry, and many more listed at fbcmich.org/resources/find-a-food-bank/.
To further address this issue on a more long-term basis, help improve public education in our needy communities. You have likely heard or read the stories of schoolteachers spending out of pocket to supplement their classrooms with needed equipment and supplies. You can help here too. My favorite method is to visit donorschoose.org. You can type in any city to assess needs in any school system. You can even search by school. Teachers post what they need, then you can help as you see fit. Quality education for all can and will eventually be the great equalizer of opportunity.
Second, join the fight for access to quality health care as a “right” and not just a privilege for those who can afford it. It’s the least we can do to ensure that the next pandemic gives all of us an equal fighting chance. Fighting for quality health care as a right does not have to mean “Medicare for all.” There are many ways of ensuring access to quality care — improvements to the Affordable Care Act, better funding of Medicaid, more competition from nonprofit health care insurers. So once again, get involved. Call or write your state senators and representatives. Call or write our U.S. senators and House members. Let them know the importance we place on ready access to quality health care for all. Let your voice be heard on how YOU would address the issue of access to health care as a “right” — not a privilege.
Well, my wife is calling me, so I have to go. That must mean it’s dinner time. But does anybody really know what time it is? I don’t.