Posted by: Sarah Sheppeard on Apr 23, 2020

Journal Issue Date: May 2020

Journal Name: Vol. 56 No. 5

Springtime in East Tennessee is my favorite time of the year. Pink, white and lavender azaleas brighten the landscape. The dogwoods are a spectacular display of white and pink. Each spring is a time of thanks and hope as it appears that the world is coming to life anew before my eyes.

Sadly, 2020 is different. Despite the lovely view through my home office window, every aspect of life is shrouded by the impact of the COVID-19 virus. I wait hopefully for that moment in which we can declare victory over this insidious monster and move on, yet I was once again shocked today by the daily tally of Tennessee, U.S. and world-wide COVID cases and deaths, as well as unemployment rates. Primarily staying safer at home, we attempt to adapt to “the new normal” but there is nothing normal about it.

As I write this column, we have not yet reached the peak of the bell curve predicted for the disease. Paradoxically, we are in the season of some major religious celebrations, happy springtime traditions when families gather. That didn’t happen this year.  Family “gathering” took place by FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or even the telephone. But these interactions took me back to another favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, where some have a tradition of going around a large table full of family and friends, each sharing thoughts of the things for which they are thankful. If people were able to gather now, we might hear that folks are thankful for the following:

  • Health care workers, who toil tirelessly to save lives of the victims of this invisible storm, as well as protecting those others with compromised immune systems and serious medical conditions. 
  • First responders, EMTs, firefighters, police officers and others who are always the first defense against transporting the sick and injured, and calamities such as wrecks, tornadoes and floods,  but now do so without knowing whether they are being exposed to this serious virus.
  • Scientists doing all they can to lead us out of this dreadful situation.
  • Educators trying to help our students continue to learn at home.
  • Businesses granting extra time to pay to those in financial distress.
  • Those who donate to or work at food banks. They can use your donation of money or time more than ever now.
  • Those who perform “essential services,” whether it is the grocery store employee, mail carrier, bank teller, sanitation worker or another on the list in Governor Lee’s Executive Order Number 22. Incidentally, the list includes legal services.
  • Those who attempt to help us cope with the chaos around us, such as mental health professionals and Tennessee’s Lawyers Assistance Program.
  • Recent federal laws to help individuals and businesses, including law firms, survive financially. 
  • And the family and friends who surround us all during this difficult time. The list could go on and on.

As your TBA president, I have had a front-row seat and occasional voice at the table as important policy decisions have been made to guide our judicial system and profession through this pandemic. I am thankful for the Tennessee Supreme Court’s swift actions and policy decisions to maintain a balance between ensuring Constitutional rights, keeping the courts open, but protecting the health and safety of the public. I’m also greatly appreciative of the various creative ways that the courts have come up with to keep the wheels of justice turning. Court by Zoom? Who knew?

I’m thankful for those lawyers who represent indigent clients, knowing there are limits on when and how much they can be compensated for their work, while many in-person court proceedings simply cannot happen now. And I’m appreciative of all lawyers who continue to represent clients in this difficult economy, even when knowing that a particular client cannot afford to pay for legal services today and maybe not ever. And yet these lawyers still must make a living.

You will see from the articles in this edition of TBJ the many steps that have been taken by, or taken with input from, your Tennessee Bar Association to deal with the upheaval that COVID-19 has caused. Words cannot express my appreciation for the best bar association leadership, executive director,  staff and advisors that any bar president could ever want. 

I find hope in the many things for which I am thankful, hope that we will get through this together. Be careful, be safe and be kind to one another. 

SARAH Y. SHEPPEARD  is a shareholder in the  Knoxville office of Lewis Thomason and a Rule 31 Listed Mediator. You can reach her at  SSheppeard@LewisThomason.com.