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In college I always thought I’d be a lawyer, perhaps as a prelude to a career in government. Back then The New York Times regularly published long excerpts of Supreme Court opinions. I pored over them, eager to learn and digest the arguments. When it dawned on me that there might be a few tedious and otherwise distasteful steps between applying to law school and achieving jurisprudential greatness, I pivoted happily and then gleefully to journalism.
We’ve been slagging lawyers at least since Shakespeare, but recently I’ve begun to be reminded of the noble work at least some of them do. While listening to episodes of The Daily podcast by The Times, for example, I’ve learned of the heroic work immigration lawyers have done on the U.S border with Mexico. There they’ve been representing children and their families, victims of shameful government policies. These lawyers will never get rich doing this work. No one will offer them stock options in hot startups. But they make our democracy—and our civilization—stronger.
I thought again Friday about valorous attorneys when I attended the annual awards breakfast in San Francisco of Tipping Point, the organization that funds non-profit groups in the Bay Area that fight poverty and homelessness. Tipping Point is heavily supported by the San Francisco technology and finance communities and its board of directors is a who’s who of those industries, including Facebook (FB) vice president David Marcus, Palo Alto Networks (PANW) CEO Nikesh Arora, and Comcast Ventures (CMCSA) managing director Amy Banse. It is inspiring to see those who have been given so much giving back with their money and, almost as importantly, their time.
It is even more inspiring to see the fruits of the work their efforts fund. Kendall Jarvis, a disaster relief attorney with Legal Aid of Sonoma County, recounted her agency’s efforts to help residents devastated by last year’s wild fires secure assistance from various rules-bound government agencies. “As a lawyer you don’t often get moments like this,” she said, telling of the gratitude of clients who hadn’t realized her services come free of charge. Heather Brown told the audience of the assistance she received from Compass Family Services, an agency that helps the homeless. They guided her to find a place to live, get sober, and exit her probation status from past offenses.
Daniel Lurie, the native son of San Francisco who returned from New York to start Tipping Point more than a decade ago, urged the group’s many supporters to “use your voice” to speak out for what needs to be done to help those among us who are less fortunate. It’s a popular theme at this time of year. But hearing about the work done by the groups funded by Tipping Point—including the lawyers who represent those whose voices are rarely heard—is a reminder that they are at their tasks year round.
Giving voice, comfort, shelter, and encouragement to those in need takes money, of course. Tipping Point has an impressive track record of putting that money to good use.