by Cory Hohnbaum
It is a tradition for new Bar presidents to share a few words in this column about their vision for their term in office. Like so many things in my life these days, I have a tendency to see the world through the eyes of my two sons, Graham who is 11 and Nathan who is 9. As most parents know, one of the realities of raising children is that you listen to music you never would have listened to if you didn’t have children. For better or worse, I have found out that there is life after Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and The Police. One of the songs I have heard on a station my boys like to listen to is Nothing More by the band Alternate Routes. There’s a line in that song that has stuck with me over the last few months. It goes: “Heroes don’t look like they used to, they look like you do.” I believe, like the song suggests, that we all have the capacity to do heroic things.
When you look across the history of our Bar there are folks who, by any definition, are heroes. Judge McMillan and Julius Chambers come to mind. Like those lawyers, this Bar and its members have a long history of doing the right thing on behalf of those who need our help even when it is unpopular or difficult. One of my early mentors as a lawyer was Bill Walker, himself a past president of this Bar. In 1966, Bill was instrumental in leading an effort, in opposition to our State Bar at the time and a longstanding law, to permit lawyers employed by legal services agencies to represent individual clients. He and our Bar recognized that this work was vital if we were going to be a just community.
Long before our State Bar adopted Rule 6.1 (please read this rule if you haven’t lately), this Bar recognized that it is a core mission of lawyers to ensure that all in our community have access to our justice system. We fail as lawyers and a society if we give people rights and then have only the well-to-do among us be able to enforce those rights. We have long recognized that those who cannot afford legal services should have their day in court; that those who are in crisis, like victims of domestic violence, should be able to swiftly protect themselves; and that children in custody disputes should have a voice on their side. That is where the lawyers at Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), Legal Services of Southern Piedmont (LSSP), Safe Alliance, and Council for Children’s Rights, and the lawyers who volunteer their time with those organizations, are doing heroic things. In the eyes of a client who has never had anyone stand up for them, these lawyers are their heroes—and rightfully so. I am proud of the work of so many of the lawyers in our Bar who are committed to ensuring access to justice for everyone. Heroes do in fact look like you.
The need is great and growing. Let me give you a concrete example. The Administrative Office of the Courts reported that over 3,500 complaints seeking domestic violence protective orders were filed in Mecklenburg County last year (between 7/1/13 and 6/30/14). LANC, LSSP and Safe Alliance, together with staff lawyers and volunteers, heroically served almost 800 of them, or only about one of every four victims. The numbers are similar in other areas in which low-income people need legal assistance--evictions and foreclosures, access to health care, consumer protection and other areas in which legal assistance is critically important.
We as a Bar need to be vigilant to make sure that we are doing what we can to support these organizations, to stand arm in arm with them to ensure that even the poorest of our neighbors have the legal help they need when they need it. Pause for a second and imagine what our community would look like without those organizations. And as you do, consider the words penned by Martin Luther King, Jr. while sitting in a Birmingham jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
My pledge to you is that I will do my best to ensure that through our support of our local legal aid organizations and directly through the work of the Bar we can look ourselves in the mirror and say we are doing all we can.
Thank you for the honor of serving as president of your Bar.