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Remembering, one year later

By KAREN NOBUMOTO
President, State Bar of California

Karen Nobumoto

This month we will mark one of the most horrible days in history, certainly the most horrific event of this generation of Americans.

September 11th changed the life of every American, from those who tragically lost their loved ones to all of us who participated in some way with time, expertise and emotional and financial support.

Lawyers played a leading role in helping Americans respond to this tragic event. In the days immediately following the terrorist attacks, lawyers began volunteering what turned out to be thousands of hours of time to help people in New York, Washington, D.C., and California.

Here in California, volunteer lawyers, bar associations and the State Bar joined with Gov. Gray Davis to help Californians whose lives were forever changed by that day. In most instances, the California cases involved families of loved ones lost in the two planes that were headed here: from Newark to San Francisco, and from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles.

Specifically, the Bar Association of San Francisco, the LA County Bar, Public Counsel, the State Bar and the state, through its Consumer Affairs Department and claims bureau, worked together to provide financial and emotional support. Law firms and individual lawyers immediately joined the effort, with the initial focus on the labyrinth of paperwork facing the families, from workers' compensation claims, obtaining death certificates and collecting life insurance.

In December, however, this focus changed with the establishment of the federal compensation fund for victims. Then our bar associations became more involved in training lawyers, setting up a system with a great deal of guidance and help from the legal community in New York, which had been working on the front lines since Sept. 11.

Through tireless efforts, volunteers developed a legal audit system that helped volunteer lawyers as they met with families, going over many legal issues and identifying what their various problems might be.

Chlothilde Hewlett, our governor's consumer affairs deputy director in Sacramento who spearheaded the formation of this partnership, movingly speaks about the lasting impact of the terrorist attacks on the families who lost loved ones.

For many of us, the disaster occurred, we were numb for a little while, but our lives had to move on, she observes. But for these victims, they have to watch the tragedy over and over on TV, and now it will play over and over again on the anniversary. In their case, she points out, Sept. 11 never ended.

In some way, however, the pro bono efforts of attorneys and the contributions they've made have certainly made the lives of the victims' families just a bit less complicated. One couple who lost their daughter sing the praises of the volunteer attorneys who helped them obtain a death certificate and complete and file all the paperwork for the federal compensation program. Others were helped with arranging time off work, handling custody or immigration concerns.

These are not the stories we will see on the news every night. Nor are they the stories that will become the central plot of novels and movies stemming from the tragedy.

They are stories of lawyers doing what they do best, serving their communities: helping others in times of need, regardless of background, regardless of income. These are the stories of how our profession responds in times of crisis and great need.

We can be proud as our nation remembers, and mourns, and heals and moves on.

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