July 9, 2021 | by herbert S. Garten, Esq.
In 1996, as we began the celebration of A Century for Striving for Justice, I could not have envisioned how much our profession would change and remain the same even though I tried to predict it.
As many of you know, the MSBA has been on a multi-year journey to evolve and adapt to the When I wrote the foreword to A Century for Striving for Justice, I stated: “[i]f the past is illustration, it illuminates a future so vastly different and advanced as to defy our imaginations.” Certainly, the last quarter century was beyond my expectations.
I wish to acknowledge the efforts of Maryland State Bar Association members and staff on putting together this 125th Anniversary book entitled Exploring Our Past, Forging Our Future: 125 years of Change. I know that my dear friends, the late Honorable James F. Schneider and the late Philip Sherman, would be elated that the current leaders of the MSBA wished to continue writing the history of the organization and its present dedication to service, thought leadership, and connection.
Today, the MSBA and its 19,000 members are more diverse than any time in the organizations’ history, yet we must continue to strive for more opportunities for all Marylanders to become lawyers and leaders of the Bar through scholarships to our treasured law schools and mentorship of our newest lawyers. As M. Natalie McSherry, President of the Maryland State Bar Association and great-granddaughter of James McSherry of Frederick and the first President of the Maryland State Bar Association, has indicated, one of the top priorities of the MSBA is to continue on the path of representing more closely all segments of the Maryland Bar and of Maryland. As President McSherry has stated, “This will always be a work in progress and more work needs to be done. That too is part of our story.”
I am honored to have dedicated the last fifty years of my life to providing pro bono services to members of our community. Organizations such as the Maryland Access to Justice Commission are dedicated “to break down barriers that prevent all Marylanders from equally accessing the civil justice system.” Clearly the 83% success rate for protective order cases involving a lawyer in comparison to 32% without a lawyer is indicative of how our profession can have a tremendous impact in the outcomes for our fellow citizens. I ask each of our members to volunteer additional pro bono hours in support of the many organizations that represent individuals with legal needs who cannot afford to pay for those services. We have witnessed increased pressure on the judicial system for providing access to justice for all members of our community, and we must help alleviate those pressures with our time and resources.
We must consider that a healthy democracy demands equal representation under the law for all. As I stated in 1996, “the legal profession is the voice of the social conscience of the people and the first line of defense against tyranny and anarchy.” Twenty-five years after I wrote the statement, I believe that this addressing equal representation under the law should continue to be the foundation of the MSBA.
As we have adapted to enormous technological advances in the practice of law, the demands on us as lawyers have increased as well. While we attempt to emerge from the pandemic, we must acknowledge that we are forever changed by this health crisis. All of us share in the loss of human lives and the disruptions to millions of families across our country. It has forced us to not only redefine how we think of traditional office space, but how we communicate with our clients and our judicial system. For some, technology has united one another who are in isolation. However, we must realize that technology in and of itself is not accessible by all Marylanders equally. Moreover, technology fails to allow us to understand the nuances of our client’s challenges. As we continue to adjust how we practice law, we should all attempt to help our clients overcome the technological and emotional barriers in order to help them solve their challenges.
As we undertake the next quarter century of service to the Bar, we must continue to find ways to provide affordable legal services in our communities. We should be proud of how we are a much more diverse organization that better reflects Maryland’s population, and we must continue to strive to better represent the population of our state. We must use technology to connect with our clients, but make sure that it is not a replacement for in person meetings, which can better enable us to be compassionate lawyers.
Finally, as we continue to strive for Justice, the best way we can adopt a positive perspective for our profession would be to follow Poet Maya Angelou’s adage: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” Let’s be sure that Maryland continues to be a national leader in making sure that all our citizens have legal representation that provides equal access and justice for all.