Eleven years ago today, the U.S. experienced a trauma like no other in our history. We watched as a brutal and senseless attack by terrorists unfolded on innocent people who were going about their daily lives. The events of September 11 forever changed us as individuals and as a nation. None of us – not only those of us in New York City, near the Pentagon, or in a small town in Pennsylvania who were direct eye witnesses – will ever forget the unspeakable horror of that day or the bravery and generosity of spirit that followed.
One of the most striking images of the aftermath of September 11 that is burned into our memories at PBI is the line of lawyers outside the headquarters of the New York City Bar Association seeking to help the families of those lost in the attacks and to restore the faith and hope of their community. In the Washington area and all around the nation, lawyers, like most Americans, wanted nothing more than to help, and help they did.
In the weeks and months that followed, no lawyers were too busy to lend pro bono assistance to families of the victims, to undocumented workers who lost their livelihood when the towers fell, and to small business owners near Ground Zero. None of us worried that we were dealing with legal problems that were unfamiliar to us. We understood that our time, our training, and our legal skills could ease the pain, and we did whatever was necessary to provide help.
We can only pray that the tragedy of September 11 will never be repeated. But, sometime this month, the Census Bureau will announce that the number of people in poverty in the richest nation in the world will reach its highest point in 45 years. The fear, loss, and sense of powerlessness that those touched by September 11 felt is felt every day in our communities by more and more individuals, families, and children. And, outside of our borders, for so many citizens of the world, senseless violence and searing loss are common occurrences. As lawyers, we cannot end violence and tragedy, but we can lessen its impact and help to create civil societies built on fairness and the rule of law – societies that are far less likely to incubate these acts of violence.
On this anniversary of that terrible day, let’s make a pledge to use our privileged license and skills to make our communities and our world a fairer and better place. Let’s do pro bono.