Big Ideas ALA President’s Letter

An Upside-Down Year Like No Other

I love the musical Hamilton. One lyric in particular has been on my mind this last year: The world turned upside down. 

Debra L. Elsbury, CLM

It’s hard to believe we are at the year mark for when things suddenly changed. From Tom Hanks announcing he had COVID-19. To the NBA cancelling their season. That giddy feeling when you were somehow able to snag some Clorox wipes. To that sinking feeling of wondering if you could hug a friend without getting sick. Overnight, the mundane parts of our daily routine like stopping in for coffee on our way into the office were gone. Even scarier, we did not know for how long it would last or what was ahead of us.

We should all be proud of how we have stepped up in this last year, especially with how we led our legal organizations through an uncharted wilderness. As vaccines become more readily available and normalcy is more within reach, it can be tempting to just move on, to keep going. But that is glossing over the very real losses we have experienced in the last year. We have lost more than 500,000 in the United States alone. We have endured isolation, homeschooling, missed milestones and caretaking while tethered to Zoom as we did our best to get our jobs done -- all this with the backdrop of a pandemic we were still learning about. It’s been a lot. And I do not think it’s something we should just move on from without really taking a look at the effects.

I encourage you all to read this month’s cover story, “Making Mental Health Matter,” which is written by my friend and Immediate Past President James Cornell. He shares his own personal story while speaking with experts who help us better understand how to recognize signs of distress in our colleagues and ourselves. We often talk about the mental health challenges lawyers face but do not often acknowledge it’s an issue that affects everyone.

Given all we’ve been through, I think it is important for us each to read this article and reflect and come up with a plan for how we are going to tackle this together. Plus, if you are looking for CLM credits, you can take the quiz at the end of the article. It’s a first for Legal Management — an interactive scenario for the CE course that offers techniques for how to respond by walking you through how to help an employee who seems to be struggling lately.

It’s important to look back, to adapt and to learn, but also to look forward. And I’d be remiss if I did not point us all to a sign that things are working their way back to what we know: We are officially planning to meet this October for our Annual Conference & Expo! In a year of challenges, I look forward to getting to reconnect with all of you in Austin to celebrate ALA’s 50th anniversary, October 3-6. Getting to plan for that event is a small sign that the world is beginning to go back right side up.  

As always, it is my pleasure to serve with you and for you.