There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May [you] live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged – will ultimately judge himself – on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.” – Robert F. Kennedy, June 6, 1966 Day of Affirmation Address, University of Cape Town, South Africa
In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy offered hope and inspiration to university students facing turbulent times in South Africa with what would be known as the greatest speech of his life. In it, he quoted a Chinese curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” Like it or not, we are now living in the most interesting of times. In fact, as a lawyer, I cannot remember a time in my career that was more interesting than the times we are now living through. We will always remember 2020 as the year of COVID 19 – something we never could have imagined the last time we were all together in November 2019 at our convention in San Francisco.
For the first time since CAOC’s formation in 1961, we held an “unconventional” convention that is virtual and remote. And although most of our conventions are a celebration of a new president and the achievements of our members, this year felt different and hence more “interesting.” Many of us are isolated, working from home with little, if any, direct contact with the people who energize and inspire us.
Those with children have the extra burden of trying to figure out how to educate them remotely. Justice sometimes seems to have ground to a halt, with closed courtrooms, delays in jury trials, and no resolutions of our pending cases. And hanging over all of this is fear. Fear of the virus that kills some and permanently disables others. Fear for our loved ones and friends. Fear for our clients, who are denied their day in court. Fear for our law partners, co-workers, and employees – as well as for ourselves. And even fear for the survival of our very practices: will we all have practices next year if things don’t change?
There has never been a time when we needed each other and the important work that CAOC does more. From the day our governor put restrictions in place, CAOC was there protecting the practice of law. And as president, I promise each of you that I will work tirelessly every day to get justice moving again so that we can all do the important work our clients deserve. We will think creatively and out-of-the box to reach solutions so that cases can resolve expeditiously and effectively. We will always have your back and will do everything we can to ensure that you not only survive this next year, but that you also thrive.
While this is not the year I expected, I am filled with hope and optimism because of the things for which we can truly be grateful. As everyone who has worked with CAOC knows, we have the greatest staff in the world. They work tirelessly for us because they are so committed to what we do. A pandemic is simply no match for their boundless energy and enthusiasm. While we have adjusted to working from home, we have also learned to be more efficient by using available technology to conduct remote and virtual meetings, depositions, webinars, and conventions. We can actually work more efficiently without being in our cars or on planes. Because of this, we will not waste any time in getting things done: in our legislature, in our court system, and in working for the best interests of our members. We will emerge from
this pandemic stronger and more adaptable than we were before.
We can take great comfort in the fact that we have a new president of the United States and the first woman vice president in history. Here at CAOC, we also have made history: for the first time a woman president handed the gavel to another woman president. I am so honored to be our 59th president, the seventh woman president, and the first Asian-American president of this organization. For all the women lawyers out there, I have an important message: this is your time. Out of adversity come great opportunities for those willing to seize them. So take a leap of faith and jump. I am also grateful for the great leadership of our outgoing President Micha Star Liberty, and all of the CAOC presidents who came before me.
I also want to thank Brian Panish, who always believed in me and gave me so many great opportunities – including when he sent me, scared and intimidated, to my very first CAOC convention so long ago. During this next year, we will need the help and input of all the men and women who comprise the membership of the CAOC. Now more than ever, we are better working together. You may be feeling isolated right now, but know that you are never alone. To paraphrase my favorite part of Robert Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation address:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of [this most interesting of times.]
Written by Deborah Chang for the CAOC Forum Newsletter