President's Message

Elizabeth F. McCausland

Elizabeth F. McCausland, Esq.

The Briefs, June 2017

Pulse: Rising to the Challenge

 

In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, the unthinkable happened in our hometown. Forty-nine innocents were killed. Many others were hurt physically and or emotionally. Our city, known for Disney and theme parks, became known for something else. Something atrocious and gut-wrenching. Something that has forever changed the landscape of Orlando. We as residents had to choose a path in its aftermath, and Orlando chose to unite in love. 

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? I do. I think I will always remember – much like news of the Challenger explosion and 9/11. It will forever be indelibly imprinted in my memory.  I was in a hotel room in West Palm Beach with two other friends, who were also lawyers. We had stayed up late for a Journey concert singing "Don't stop believing" at the top of our lungs. We were to wake up the next morning and have breakfast with now president-elect of The Florida Bar, Michelle Suskauer, Esq. I got a phone call that I ignored because it was early and I didn’t want to wake my friends. Then I got a text from the same person. “Are you OK?” read the text.  It was a friend I had met through another lawyer whose job with the government was to listen for ISIS chatter on the Internet and look for anything brewing or threatening. He had heard nothing to allude to the deadliest mass shooting on American soil. 

By the time we made it back to Orlando, the lines at the blood bank were long. People I knew who may have been at Pulse were safe but still trying to find out about people they knew. Everyone was looking for a way to help. That is when I called the OCBA’s then-president, Wiley Boston, Esq. He was picking up his kids from summer camp and returning to a city that was forever changed. We exchanged pleasantries and very soon added executive director Kim Homer to the call. We began drafting a condolence email to our members and discussed whether bar events or meetings needed to be cancelled out of respect. On a broader level, we began trying to determine what we, as a bar, could do to help. 

We were not first responders. We could not heal wounds. As lawyers, however, we are uniquely qualified to do one thing that no one else can do. We can provide legal representation to those who need it in their deepest, darkest hours. We can lift a burden and help in ways that many others cannot.  And so it began.  By the next morning, the OCBA sent an email stating that our thoughts were with the families and that, as a group, we wanted to unite thought with action. The email informed all of you that we were mobilizing to help all those affected.  

            We don't rise to the level of our expectations. We default to the level of our training.

             -  Archilochus, Greek Soldier, 650 BC

Sometimes in life people wonder what will happen when the chips are down. Will we rise to the occasion or will we falter? Will red tape and processes bog down intention or will action prevail?

At the OCBA we had systems in place that allowed us to immediately assist in the aftermath of Pulse. First, we had a dedicated phone line from our Lawyer Referral and Information Service to field calls. This line provided a real person to help direct callers to aid. In a time of online resources, we decided not to direct people who had questions to a form on an unthinking, unfeeling website. Second, we had a fundamentally integrated relationship with the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc., which would provide people to answer questions and staff the city’s Victims Assistance Center every hour of every day. And third, we had what I consider the backbone of our bar. We had our substantive law committees.  By chance, the Estate, Guardianship & Trust Committee had a meeting that Monday after the shooting. Wiley attended the meeting and told the committee we were gearing up. We were still forming a full plan and seeking input from the city about their needs. Without hesitation, 100% of the members in attendance that day signed up to volunteer their legal services. As did Central Florida’s voluntary bars, including the Hispanic Bar Association, the Central Florida Gay and Lesbian Law Association, and many, many, others that sent our plea for volunteers to their memberships. The quote above about rising to expectations was true. We didn't have to hope to rise to any expectations. We defaulted to our training and our processes. The systems we had in place at the bar, the relationships we had built over the years, and the belief in service that our bar has expressed since its inception, became a reality and allowed us to answer the call for help within hours.  I don't want to exaggerate our importance, for certainly there were others who had much harder and heavier tasks, but, as I stated before, we, as lawyers and as a bar association, are uniquely qualified to do something that no one else can do. We were ready, and in being ready, we were able to help those in our community who were in need and to do our part. I have always been proud to be a member of the only bar association in the country that requires pro bono service as a condition of membership, but during this time one year ago, I was grateful that our bar and our city could show the nation what love can do and what a force it is. 

As we come to the one-year anniversary, there are still some cases being handled by our pro bono attorneys and volunteers. Orlando has changed. Our bar has joined the list of bar associations that have assisted in a time of tragedy. It is a club in which we did not seek membership but certainly can empathize with now.  We have the answer to the question of what we will do when the chips are down. Our members will rise to the level of our training, our oath, our relationships, and our processes. We will continue to serve this and its residents. In turn, we will serve ourselves and our profession and keep Orlando United. Thank you to all those who helped in the aftermath of Pulse. You made me proud to be a lawyer and a human being. 

 

Elizabeth Foshee McCausland, Esq., Liz McCausland, P.A., practices in the areas of bankruptcy, mortgage modification, and mediation. She also teaches lawyers across the U.S. on how to modify mortgages in bankruptcy. She has been a member of the OCBA since 1997.

Orange County Bar Association The Briefs, February 2017, Vol. 85, No. 5. All rights reserved.