I spent a recent evening rewatching one of my favorite movies, Apollo 13. As someone who grew up wanting to be an astronaut, I am usually sucked into the story, holding my breath as the drama unfolds. This time, however, I was captivated not by the crew, but by the team on the ground.
When things are falling apart, and nobody really knows if the crew can be saved, lead flight director Gene Kranz urges everyone to be calm, then asks his team, “What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?” Immediately, Mission Control shifts their focus away from identifying all the things that are broken, to figuring out what is still working, and how those good pieces can be used to get the crew back home safely. It struck me that this is exactly how we should be acting during this corona virus crisis.
Tragedy has struck, things are falling apart all around us, and we have no idea how bad things might get. Instead of being overwhelmed by the negatives, is there a way for us to figure out what we have on this spacecraft that is good?
One of the good things I see is the State Bar. Before the pandemic, we took for granted the fact that the bar would give us opportunities to further our legal education and network with fellow attorneys. We are no longer able to do those things in person, but they are still occurring. In fact, some virtual events have a higher turnout than their in-person counterparts ever did.
The crisis has also highlighted the important advocacy work the Bar does on our behalf. While the Association has always served as a bridge between the folks in Trenton and members of the legal profession, that linkage is now more visible. Concerns about the practice of law and about our laws themselves are aggregated and amplified by our State Bar leaders. As members, this allows us to communicate our individual concerns without drawing the ire of the court, or telegraphing our personal struggles to our adversaries and potential clients.
During my term as YLD Chair, I want to stay focused on what is good. And I need your help to do so. While things are still shut down I need your ideas for meaningful seminars and stimulating social events that can be done remotely. We have the opportunity to put together some really unique programming this summer, so let’s seize it. As Gene Kranz says, “I don’t care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do.”
I also want you to feel comfortable sharing your successes, fears, and failures with me and other State Bar leaders. Your successes should be celebrated, and emulated if possible. Your fears and failures are obviously more difficult to disclose, but it is only by talking about them that we can realize the challenges we are facing are not ours alone. This is how the Bar can best identify and address issues that impact us all.
In closing, I’m going to rely on fictionalized Gene Kranz again. “Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” We are all facing a giant problem, but we are facing it together, and that in itself is good.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of Dictum, the newsletter of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.