by Eugene K. Pettis
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” — Helen Keller
Since I was a teenager, I have been inspired by that quote. It fuels my core belief that every one of us can do something to improve conditions around us.
I felt that way when I was a student leader at Ft. Lauderdale’s Stranahan High. I felt that way as an 18-year-old freshman undergrad at the University of Florida and stepped up to lead the Black Student Union. I felt that way when I ran for treasurer of the entire UF student government.
And I still feel that way today, as I embark on my year as your president of The Florida Bar.
I have spent my entire adult life getting involved in organizations that I believed strengthened the community and the quality of life for all. Through the decades, my philosophy has been that whatever problem or condition that troubles us, committed people standing as one can make a difference.
My enduring mantra — “Get involved!” — drives my agenda as Bar president.
Four initiatives for my year as president — that you can read more about on pages 18-19 of this Journal — include the Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy; ROPES; Commission 2016: Comprehensive Study of the Future Practice of Law; and the Get Involved Campaign.
As I reflect over the past 35 years — including high school, college, and my legal career, I have often wondered why more people did not see the positive impact they could have on the world if only they would get involved. I have asked many friends and colleagues along the way, and, for the most part, they simply did not believe that their singular effort could make a difference. Others have elected self-preservation over spending time to lift others in need.
I steadfastly believe that every one of us can do something to improve the conditions around us. Our legal profession is best equipped to make a positive impact on society. We lawyers have been blessed with the skills of advocacy and the fruits of our labor, which should allow us the means to reach out and help another.
If we commit ourselves to this call to action, we have the power and the resources to improve access to justice for the thousands of Floridians who need but cannot afford a lawyer. Even in the midst of severe budget cuts for legal aid services, we lawyers can fill that void with minimal individual participation.
With thousands of law graduates entering the profession yearly with fewer opportunities for employment, we face a crisis of young lawyers not having proven mentorship to aid them in a smooth transition into practicing law. If we are honest, every one of us benefitted from someone spending time teaching us lessons about the practice of law that we still use today. However, probably more than ever, we are all caught up in our busy schedules and are not giving back to others the benefit of those teachings.
Our communities are also struggling to maintain our desired quality of life. Across Florida, unprecedented challenges impact the education of our children. As role models and advocates, lawyers can help create brighter futures for our children.
Recently, I was in Washington, D.C., and a colorful banner outside a museum caught my eye: “What you do matters.”
It was such a powerful message, I had to Google it, only to find out this was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and they have embarked on an international movement to empower people worldwide to confront hatred.
Imagine the impact that 96,000 Florida lawyers could have in their communities if more became engaged in civic initiatives beyond our own self-interests.
Let’s honor and be committed to this oath in our Creed of Professionalism: “I will further my profession’s devotion to public service and to the public good.”
I challenge us all to a call of action. Get involved. Be engaged, professionally and civically. We must remember: “What we do matters!”
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