As we celebrate 50 years of working to ensure that our legal system treats everyone fairly, regardless of money, position, or power, we recognize and appreciate the leaders that moved us forward in the fight for access to justice for all. Without the stalwart leadership, unwavering commitment, and insightful guidance of our past board presidents, we would not be the organization we are today. Over the next months, we will highlight some of our past presidents and take a look at the state of the world during their tenure and the initiatives and priorities they oversaw that helped us grow.
Our first highlighted past president is our most recent past president. David Steib was board president from 2018-2020, a tumultuous time for our country. During David’s presidency, the Trump Administration was separating immigrant families at the border in a way that would make it difficult, even years later, to return children to their parents. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States after a Senate confirmation hearing in which Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school. George Floyd, a Black man, was killed while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. A white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes after he was handcuffed and lying face down, during which time Floyd stated that he could not breathe and that he feared he would die. Former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment took place; the House of Representatives adopted two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. COVID-19 spread across the globe, killing millions of people, overwhelming healthcare systems, and causing massive shutdowns. Kamala Harris became the first woman of color to be nominated for national office by a major political party in the United States.
It is against this challenging backdrop that David managed new initiatives that addressed the injustices the divisions in our country spotlighted and positioned Washington Council of Lawyers to be a powerful force for good in our community. At the beginning of his tenure, Washington Council of Lawyers adopted a new strategic plan, which helped to guide our activities. The plan included four major pillars: training, developing leaders, advocacy, and building community. We focused a good amount of attention on how to increase and hone our advocacy work. And the size of the staff grew as we added a permanent, part-time Administrative Director to work alongside the Executive Director and the Deputy Director in supporting our growing programs. Washington Council of Lawyers was very busy during David’s tenure, and he states, “I am most proud of the assistance that I provided in helping the organization to address new needs that arose from its sudden growth.”
In conjunction with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Task Force, we created the pilot Family Law Career Development Program, a 12-month intensive mentoring experience for newer family law practitioners and a way for family law attorneys to give back to their community by providing critical pro bono representation to D.C. families unable to afford a lawyer. We continued to organize trainings for new eviction defense attorneys in the District, in collaboration with the DC Bar Foundation through the Eviction Defense Lawyer Cohort initiative. We became a signatory to the ABA’s Wellness Pledge and continued to offer programs focused on wellness and self-care such as Yoga for Lawyers. Additionally, we continued to host important conversations on vital issues through our Summer Public Interest and Pro Bono Forum and unique speaker events such as the discussion between Georgetown Law Dean William Treanor and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Elena Kagan.
As the global pandemic shut down our country, a top organizational priority during David’s tenure was pivoting to operating remotely during the COVID-19 health crisis. The board and staff of Washington Council of Lawyers successfully applied for emergency funding, moved our programs online, created new ways to keep people engaged in a remote setting, and expanded to meet the rising needs of our community. David was instrumental in our response to the new landscape. We continue to adapt to meet the needs of the public interest and pro bono community no matter the circumstances we face.
One of Washington Council of Lawyers’ enduring traits is our ability and willingness to step into the breach and advocate for a more fair and just judicial system. During David’s presidency, Washington Council of Lawyers was called upon to address difficult issues in real-time. For example, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, we convened a special meeting of the board to discuss racial justice and how we would work to realize the statement that we issued in response to the increasing incidents of racial injustice: “As an organization, we pledge to challenge our own biases; to offer programs to educate, inform, and bring people together to create societal change; to connect lawyers and law students with resources and opportunities to use their legal talents to promote justice and advocate for change; and to ally with other organizations to eliminate racism and advance equal justice under law.”
David was an effective leader because he had a clear vision of why Washington Council of Lawyers is a vital part of our community. Ensuring that our legal system treats everyone fairly, regardless of money, position, or power, is a big task. A wide range of people must engage to meet this goal. Some of the necessary players are public interest and pro bono lawyers. Those players will only be successful if they have a deep understanding of issues that are usually obscured, skills to effectuate change, and moral and emotional support. Washington Council of Lawyers provides all of that to our members. We are a professional home to like-minded individuals that offers them fellowship and friendship, celebrates good work done, challenges their minds with new information around stark injustices, nourishes their bodies with yoga and tea, hones their litigation skills, connects them to volunteer and pro bono opportunities, and so much more.
We are so grateful for David’s vision, leadership, and heart. He is one of our many great past presidents who have guided and grown our organization over the years. Thank you, David!
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