Dec 15, 2022
Dec 15, 2022
By Robert Rosborough
Time has paradoxical qualities, one of which is passing slowly and quickly simultaneously. It is more accurate, of course, to attribute this particular quality to ourselves rather than time itself—whatever time is—and perhaps to the many different systems in our bodies that track time, with a due nod to Einstein that time itself can actually pass differently in different frames of reference.
Once again, we are arriving at the end of a year like a traveler after an arduous journey, where the shock of being here makes it seem like it took but an instant but we can remember oh so many instants. Nearly three years into a pandemic, those of us who are still here are not the same and neither is our bar association. I do not think I speak only for myself to say that the energy—and time—it has taken to adapt to the novel difficulties and rapid changes in our lives and our practices have left less for leading our lives and simply…being. We have certainly had to turn and face the strange.
So let’s take a moment to be grateful for being here in this moment. And to be grateful to those who helped us get here. While humans have an innate need for connection and belonging, it takes much more than that to make our bar association successful. I am happy to say that we have as many members as we did before the pandemic despite how different what we do looks. That is the result of a lot of hard work. I would like to acknowledge the generosity and dedication of my two pandemic predecessors as president, Sue Feder and Tim Nardell, both of whom faced helping to run an organization under circumstances none of us envisioned when we started. Tim’s term as past president ends this month and we will very much miss his presence on the board. Thank you, Tim, for all you have done for MCBA.
Of course, our indefatigable executive director, Mee Mee Wong, is who really keeps this organization not just running but vital. We are a smaller bar association and always will be. We do not have the luxury of lots of staff to provide lots of services. Mee Mee deserves enormous thanks for enabling us to do what we do. I would also like to thank our part-time staff: Denise Belli for making all of our events possible, both in-person and virtual, and Kiersten Ross for making our communication with you, our members and readers, possible. Kiersten has been the creative director of the Marin Lawyer since we started the digital magazine and is the reason we have been able to produce such a great-looking magazine. Sadly for us, Kiersten has moved on to work with her husband in their own business and I wish them both great success. Finding someone who can do what she did has been challenging and is the reason you are not seeing a December Marin Lawyer magazine. However, you will see a January issue, with a welcome message from our fabulous incoming president, Ahtossa Fullerton.
At this time of rapid change, where how we get together and how we present programs—even how we appear in court—is something that has to be considered and decided, I encourage you, our members, to participate actively in MCBA. Our section and committee chairs are vital to keeping us connected and vibrant. And of course, so is our board of directors. I would especially like to thank the directors whose terms are ending this month. Each of them has spent the three years of the pandemic helping navigate MCBA through the Scylla of isolation and the Charybdis of infection: Emily Charley, Chris Locke, Ann Munene, and Karthik Raju. I would also like to thank Wanden Treanor, who graciously agreed to serve as five-year past president this year despite being retired. The fact that she has given so much to MCBA and the community at large over decades did not deter her from bringing all of her wisdom and enthusiasm to this job—her presence has been invaluable.
I would also like to repeat an observation about the incoming board members I made at our judges’ luncheon: all five are women. But my observation was not just that they are women but that we did not set out to make this happen. Yes, the board strives for diversity of all kinds, including practice. It is a welcoming place where diversity is valued because it leads to better leadership and a better organization but everyone is there because of everything they bring to being a board member. I’m glad that I was able to serve as a gay man and I’m sure to some small degree this helped bring a different perspective to the board but so did the fact that I’m a meditator. I think we should avoid too many years where every new board member is the same gender but I feel great that we are diverse enough that one year, they are all women just because those five people will be great board members. (Then again, I often think women should be running the world.)
Our section chairs also deserve our thanks. They are a critical part of MCBA: our sections are the vehicle through which our members most commonly interact. In particular, I’d like to thank our departing section co-chairs: Derek Weller of real property, Laura Gibble of probate and estate planning, Jenny Schwartz of labor and employment law, and Sue Feder and the Honorable Lyn O’Malley Taylor (ret.) of ADR. I would also like to thank Scott Lueders, who is departing as the long-time chair of our fee arbitration panel. Scott has devoted many hours and much expertise to an important service for our members and our clients.
My final thank-you is a personal one. I feel enormous gratitude to Barbara Monty and Matt White for welcoming me into a community and for their invaluable support and wisdom. Indeed, I am grateful to all my wonderful Monty White colleagues. You can thank—or blame—Barbara for a casual remark that began my involvement with MCBA’s board.
The six years I have served on the board, including my year as president, and in my role as editor of the Marin Lawyer for the last six years, I have often asked what you would like from MCBA. While we do not have a large staff to conjure new initiatives out of thin air, simply expressing your views and sharing your ideas for events, benefits, programs…anything…is tremendously helpful. I once again encourage you to feel free to share your thoughts with any director, officer, or staff, whether running into someone on the street or emailing them with an idea the moment the inspiration strikes.
Sharing your ideas does not mean that you are committing to anything more than that. But of course, doing more than that can be rewarding in so many ways. I found my work as editor of the Marin Lawyer enabled me not just to meet lots of people but to actually work with them, which has been a wonderful experience. I don’t know that this will surprise anyone, but I am not a big joiner. I am a strong introvert and can easily isolate. Yes, I teach—meditation, conflict resolution, and what I’ll call historical botany—but because I like sharing knowledge (perhaps even a little wisdom), not because I naturally like standing in front of a classroom. I say this because I encourage other introverts to consider serving MCBA, knowing that there is plenty for you to do.
At the risk of not seeming very wise, before signing off I want to share a few thoughts in my farewell president’s message that may serve as food for thought or even inspire someone. We have a strong tradition of pro bono service in Marin, from programs in the court to Legal Aid to the no-longer-new Lawyers in the Library developed and run by MCBA and the Law Library. But we have an even greater need. We have many opportunities and I encourage everyone to contribute. If there isn’t something that works for you, create it. Legal Aid has grown tremendously. Its new executive director, Laura McMahon, is creating new programs. Help her! I have had the privilege of making a small contribution in helping to create a new program of a clinic model for basic estate planning pro bono services. There is always more to be done.
I have also written before about the integrative law movement. I encourage all lawyers to be aware of what other fields can bring to the practice of law and the justice system. I think of this very basically: it’s simply about reality. If the law is to serve society well and promote justice and fairness, it needs to pay attention to how society, and the people who make it up, actually function. Psychology, neuroscience, and many other fields have something to teach us. And I hope someday, there will be no “alternative” dispute resolution; too much of the legal system is about moving certain assets from one person to another without addressing what drives the conflict or even bringing any true resolution. It is a sad state of affairs when the majority of “winners” in court are nonetheless deeply unhappy.
I am painfully aware that there are people in conflict who are out of reach, who will never adjust their own perspective, who cannot even see themselves, much less someone else, but they are the exception. Listening and trying to understand go a long way to improving society and I think as a society we are doing less and less of it instead of more and more. As a liberal, I am distressed not only by the deliberate misinformation, lies, and manipulation by so many people and institutions on the right, but also by the opposition to free speech of so many on the left. I do not question that speech can and should be regulated at times but shutting down genuine viewpoints is counterproductive. Doing so causes more polarization.
I am particularly distressed by the frequency of the “one strike and you’re out” mentality. People make mistakes. Even worse, many times the one strike is not even a strike and the batter—I mean speaker—is never given a chance to clarify. While the right has too often cried wolf with the accusation of “cancel culture” when it is simply a rejection of their ideas rather than suppression, cancellation is so virulent when it does occur—all too often—that I see injustice and unfairness proliferating. We should take no comfort when it happens to someone with whom we disagree or whom we dislike; it simply makes it more likely to happen to everyone. Humans have a distressing natural tendency to see their own mistakes as simply a mistake that says nothing about who they are—nothing about their core identity—but to see a single mistake of another as defining who that person is—there’s even a name for it: the fundamental attribution error.
My wonderful colleague Eileen Barker is a leading expert on forgiveness. One of the basic truths of forgiveness should tell us something about the destructive power of this error and of silencing those with whom you disagree: forgiveness is for ourselves—the forgiver is the one who benefits most. That doesn’t make listening easy or mean that we can always influence someone else’s views. But we have a much greater chance of seeing the good in our shared humanity when we make the effort to communicate.
I’ll step down from my soapbox now. But I hope that all of us can work to increase civility and understanding, here at home and wherever we can. Life is difficult enough. Authoritarianism is on the rise. Our Supreme Court is wildly out of step with society. We are still navigating a pandemic. War is raging. And yet I’m still an optimist. I’m sure it’s easier living in a beautiful and privileged place. But I believe everyone can make a difference. If you can make a difference in war or the pandemic or the Supreme Court, please do. If you cannot, then make a difference wherever you can. I’ll leave you with some hopeful change in my life. I did not have the easiest year this year. I lost a close friend and I lost my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law was 99, an Evangelical Christian and committed Republican whom I could not meet for the first ten years of my relationship. Her last words were, “I love you,” to me. To paraphrase Catullus’ most famous words, "atque in perpetuum, mater, ave atque vale."
Rob Rosborough is Of Counsel to Monty White LLP. He mediates disputes where an ongoing relationship is at stake, particularly adult-family conflict such as disagreement over caring for an aging parent, and HOA disputes. He also maintains an estate planning and HOA practice. Rob teaches at USF’s Fromm Institute (conflict resolution and history of science) and helps lawyers cope with the practice of law by teaching them meditation skills as a certified iRest® meditation teacher. His author photo is from 2014 on the top of Mt. Livermore--not the one here, but the one in West Texas, which is Texas' second highest mountain at just under 8400 feet.