By Betty J. Williams
In our professional lives, December marks not only the end of the year but also a time for reflection on the goals we set for the year. Missed or achieved, we consider how we gave back to our communities and to our profession. For some, volunteer service is a significant part of goal setting and a measuring stick used to determine whether we have contributed to improvements in some aspects of the legal profession, such as the public’s access to justice or diversity and inclusion in the profession.
As we think ahead to 2024, I encourage each of us to consider what we bring to the table, and how we may leverage our knowledge and the vast experience of our colleagues to advance our individual and collective goals. Regardless of how long we have been in the profession, we each have something to offer, whether writing an amicus brief or meeting with third-year law students for a mixer or career event.
I recently took part in two events that reminded we can all have a meaningful impact.
I attended the annual awards presentation of the Judicial Council of California in partnership with the California Judges Association, California Lawyers Association, and California Access to Justice Commission. I was honored to present the Aranda Access to Justice Award to Hon. Mark Juhas (Superior Court of Los Angeles County). To prepare, I researched the award named after Hon. Benjamin Aranda III for his determination and long-term commitment to making the courts more equitable, fair, and accessible to all. I also studied Judge Juhas’s career and talked with colleagues who work closely with Judge Juhas. Finally, I spoke with Judge Juhas directly to learn more about the personal side of his life. I came to know Judge Juhas as a tireless advocate for improving equity and accessibility to the courts, particularly for self-represented litigants and those with low to moderate income levels.
Judge Juhas has contributed to every aspect of family law. This includes making procedural changes such as improving the forms used by litigants and working with CLA’s Family Law: Anatomy of a Trial program, a day-long program teaching the essentials of a trial. CLA Board Representative Michele Brown described the success of this program, largely enhanced by Judge Juhas, a founding member and speaker. Ms. Brown detailed Judge Juhas’ commitment, traveling around the state including in outlying counties to contribute. In fact, there was so much excitement when Judge Juhas participated in the Redding program, that the entire family law department shut down so that everyone connected to family law could attend, including bench officers, attorneys, family court services, and court staff.
My colleagues hadn’t scratched the surface of Judge Juhas’ numerous accomplishments, a list which would leave most of us exhausted! The common theme I heard was that Judge Juhas showed up. Any of us can do this, simply by making an appearance. By continuing to participate, whether listening in on a meeting or volunteering time to draft forms, change processes, or engage in a letter-writing campaign, small actions have an extreme effect on the betterment of our communities.
The second event I recently attended was the San Joaquin County Bar Association’s (SJCBA) Annual Meeting and State of the Court. During her remarks, incoming SJCBA President Rebecca R. Diel distinguished the SJCBA by noting that unlike larger cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento that have county bars as well as a dozen or more separate minority and affinity bars in their respective counties, San Joaquin County has only one bar association which encompasses the needs of all attorneys. Her point was to highlight the additional lift her bar association has by handling the broad range of interests and needs of lawyers in one association. The SJCBA is on a super highway—likely at times with bottlenecking and delays due to construction, but on that highway, nonetheless—it is meeting its goals with great success and enthusiasm.
Like Judge Juhas, President Diel makes a significant difference in her community and beyond, which began by showing up.
We should all consider what we have to offer the profession, and make a plan to share our talents, time and resources with others. CLA is a great place to find opportunities to make a difference. Get involved in one of our 18 practice-area sections or volunteer to further our mission through initiatives focused on access to justice, civics engagement and outreach, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. The benefits you receive will be infinitely more significant than your efforts.