From its founding, Lowenstein Sandler has been committed to advancing the public interest and serving communities in need. The Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest embodies this commitment, directing the firm's strong pro bono program and other forms of civic and philanthropic engagement. Through these efforts, the center addresses significant social problems and offers meaningful assistance to low-income and other marginalized people, along with the organizations that advocate for and support them. This work engages the full range of the firm's talents and reflects the core values that imbue all of the firm's efforts: to perform work of the highest quality in a manner that maximizes results for our clients and causes.
The most anticipated moment of 2020 was its end. Starting sometime in November, phone calls and Zoom meetings regularly included ardent wishes for the year to be over already. A rash of social media posts featured nasty send-offs to the year.
Honestly, 2020 deserved the hostility we heaped on it. The COVID-19 pandemic sequestered all of us in tight circles that excluded people we love and long to see but whom we fear infecting. New babies were born into our families, and we have never held them. In the worst cases, we lost loved ones and could not be with them as they left us.
Compounding the hardship, the pandemic brought economic devastation to the communities hardest hit by illness. Health care workers, first responders, grocery store employees, food servers, drug store clerks, teachers, child-care workers, public transportation workers, factory workers, and countless others faced a toxic combination of increased exposure to the virus and heightened risk of unemployment, mounting debt, and housing instability. Neighborhood businesses that had been part of our daily routines closed their doors, cutting off not only livelihoods but also the small interactions that ground us in the places where we live and work. We had more than enough reason to say good riddance to 2020.
And yet. 2020 brought with it the kinds of surprises that emerge from crises—surprises that remind us how generous and creative we can be in response. This report is full of such surprises. As soon as the federal CARES Act passed, for example, our corporate lawyers stepped up to assist hundreds of microbusinesses and nonprofits in securing Paycheck Protection Program loans (convertible into grants) that kept them in operation. Likewise, the regular volunteers in our tenancy clinic helped build new coalitions of housing advocates to work collectively to prevent mass eviction in the wake of the pandemic.
Toward the end of the year, volunteers came out in force to protect our much-assailed democracy by helping eligible voters cast valid ballots in the 2020 election. In the midst of loud and sometimes violent attempts to undermine the election, our volunteers reminded us that democratic ideals are only as strong as we are, and we are pretty strong.
The year also seemed to sensitize us to injustice. Fierce and courageous opposition to racism has been as much a part of American history as racism itself, but following the murder of George Floyd, a reckoning with racism spread to people, places, and organizations that had not much examined it before. This reckoning is ongoing, and the work of repair has hardly begun. Still, a renewed focus on racial justice is another step on a path we must travel together, and an equity lens is increasingly shaping the firm’s pro bono practice.
Thanks to our nonprofit partners, our volunteers, and our clients for all you do to support, sustain, and inspire the pro bono practice.
Chair, Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest