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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 2, 202005:20 AM EST

Striving for inclusion in this ever-changing time

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You can move mountains with simple acts of kindness.

By Ashlea Edwards, JBA Young Lawyers Section president

Ashlea Edwards

When I was younger, I created a bucket list of items that I wanted to accomplish in my life. The first on my list was to make a difference in at least one person’s life.

As a part of achieving that goal, I have strived to make those around me always feel included.

Since creating my bucket list, my definition of inclusion has changed. While it may have started out by standing up for a classmate being teased, as a young lawyer it means much more.

It means ensuring access to justice. It means never rejecting the cause of the defenseless or oppressed. It means advocating and addressing the needs of your fellow young lawyers.

As a young lawyer, inclusion is imperative. 

In the past six months, young lawyers have had to adjust to twists and turns that we never saw coming.

First, it was the threat of the novel coronavirus challenging our economy, our social constructs and our legal landscape. 

During that time and even still, many young lawyers learned to work remotely, juggling job duties, parenthood and other responsibilities all at once.

To fight feelings of isolation, people had to learn to connect with each other in different ways.

Next, it was protests against racial injustice that took and continue to take an emotional toll on young lawyers. 

Throughout the protests, young lawyers accepted the call to action to represent those arrested during protests, to write their state or local representatives and to be more introspective about their own actions.

Still, feelings of isolation exist. 

While young lawyers have been adept and resilient in responding to recent events, inclusion proves to be more important than ever.

Amid the pandemic and recent protests, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision which found that discrimination on the basis of sex prohibited under Title VII includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Whether intended or not, the decision sent a message of inclusion.

The opinion begins: “Sometimes small gestures can have unexpected consequences.”

As I read these words, I think about their meaning outside of the case. The language seems to justify my bucket list item from so many years ago and the thought that you can move mountains with simple acts of kindness.

But the longer I looked at the words, they also seemed to signify that what we say and do has meaning. That through small acts, we can have a profound impact on someone’s life, whether good or bad. 

With inclusion at the forefront of our minds, I challenge you to join me in my inclusion quest, whatever that means to you. 

Whether it is listening to a colleague impacted by recent events or simply checking up on a friend who has had a hard day, each makes a positive difference in someone’s life and is a step toward inclusion.

Ashlea Edwards is an attorney at Akerman LLP focusing on management-side labor and employment law as well as commercial litigation.

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