By: Jamie Collins
It is with heavy hearts, we post this tribute in honor of Heather Heyer, a paralegal, who unexpectedly lost her life on Saturday, while peacefully protesting for the moral decency of all people. With this post, we hold for her the beginnings of a beautiful legacy.
As paralegals, we show up each day at our respective law firms and places of employment, immersed in the legal hustle and bustle, not only nationwide, but worldwide, alongside out supervising attorney counterparts, to engage, on some level, in the pursuit of justice. Whether you work from the plaintiff’s side or for the defense doesn’t really matter. If you handle family law, real estate, personal injury cases, or work in house for corporate counsel, it’s what you do. Whether you handle cases for pharmaceutical giants, tire companies, the injured party, insurance companies, or employees who have been wronged, you’re still doing it.
While, at times, we may forget it—the driving desire and reason why we’re busy shuffling all that paper, corralling stressed out esquires, or diffusing deadlines—in actuality, what we are doing is standing up for people, companies, or causes in the legal system. In short, we stand up for the rights of others. For those working in legal, one thing is typically commonplace, those of us working in the profession tend to have a strong sense of social justice. Even if we hope a murderer ultimately gets convicted, we believe in his right to a fair and impartial jury trial and competent defense. We believe that justice applies to all. Every single person. Not some.
Granted, the legal system may not always support or reflect that virtue, but that’s what most of us who work tirelessly in the legal trenches believe and the reason why it is we do what we do. We stand for the whole. We stand for what is right, fair, and just. We are most proud and at our best when we stand for the afflicted: the little guy, company, or cause, that would likely, but not for us, not get a fair shake. It’s what we do in the day-to-day.
At times, we forget that basic belief somewhere along the way—the reason we actually love working in legal and wanted to do so in the first place, for justice—or how the task we are performing at any given moment, no matter how mundane or insignificant, contributes to the administration of that justice for someone or something, some cause, somewhere. It’s what we do. You needn’t look too far into the bedrock of our careers to find it: a strong sense of social justice. A foundation of caring of caring for and about other people. Of standing up. Of righting wrongs. Of making sure the playing field is level and fair.
We stand for people.
We stand for causes.
We stand for justice.
On Saturday night, I found myself seated on the comfortable couch in my living room, watching a half-way decent movie, alone. I peered down at my iPhone and saw reports splashed across my Facebook feed of a white supremacist rally taking place in Virginia, despite the public’s outcry. I saw what I can only describe as sickening images of clean-cut white men, standing, wielding tiki-torches, while spewing hateful things like, “Blood and soil,” “White lives matter,” and engaging in the Hitler salute, as the Nazis they clearly are. I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes. It was shocking and appalling. I immediately took to Twitter to fire off a Tweet. I couldn’t help myself. While I normally stay neutral on social media on most issues, I couldn’t have kept my hands off that tiny keyboard, if I tried. Here’s the Tweet:
(Note: time listed above is of the screenshot, not the original Tweet.)
I awoke the next morning, on Sunday, to learn that a fellow paralegal, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed after being stuck by a vehicle, believed to be driven by a white supremacist, as she was walking across the street to peacefully protest against the absolute ridiculousness that was ensuing, before the bewildered eyes of all of us, via national news syndicates. On Saturday night, while I sat on my couch, Heather was standing. For people of every race, color, national origin, and religion. For humanity as a whole. For the right thing. For justice. In Virginia, she stood, a proud paralegal in the midst of hate spewing crazy people and chaos, in what she knew to be the pursuit of a worthy cause. And sadly, she died doing it.
I did not know Heather, personally. I want to make that point clear. A lot of the paralegals reading this blog many not have known Heather, but, undoubtedly, some did. Her family is left with a gaping hole that can never be filled. Her friends grieve deeply. Her law firm must feel a tremendous sense of loss. And as a profession, as paralegals, we stand today in a state of sadness, grief, and mourning for the loss of a vibrant, beautiful person most of us never even met. The paralegal who went straight into the thick of the hatred. The paralegal not afraid to stand. The brave young woman not hesitant to be seen and heard. With the loss of Heather Heyer, the hearts of all paralegals, everywhere, are heavy. As a profession, we mourn.
Today, as paralegals, we stand with Heather. We stand for Heather, because she is no longer here to stand. We will continue to fight for what is just, what is right, what is fair, and for people and causes that matter not only to the many, but the few. We stand in her honor. We stand as her colleagues. We stand as fellow beings on this planet who will not sit idly by, nor be silent, in the face of racial and religious hatred toward our fellow human beings.
May Heather’s family be proud she gave her life while standing up for that which she believed. Standing for a morally decent and worthy cause that matters not to the few, but the many. A cause that matters to all of us: equality, human decency, and an unwavering sense of social justice.
So, paralegals, when you forget why it is that you do what it is you do in the day-to-day, as I know you sometimes will, I want you to remember Heather. The paralegal standing in Virginia. In the midst of chaos. A voice of one. A cause of many. A person willing to stand up for what she believed in. A person willing to stand up for the whole. A shining example to us all.
If it looks like hate, sounds like hate, and feels like hate – guess what? It’s totally hate. In memory of Heather, I hope you’ll stand, paralegals. Stand with her. Stand for her. And proud as hell of her. May her memory shine into the darkest of places. May her legacy live on through each of us and the way we choose to carry ourselves in this world.
Our words are inadequate. Our actions, everything.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“Like timidity, bravery is also contagious.” – Munshi Premchand
Rise the hell up. Be brave. Be just. Be true.
We will keep you apprised of a potential scholarship in Heather’s name and anything else related to this, as it unfolds. Please feel free to share this post, in Heather’s honor. With respect and admiration for Heather #ParalegalNation stands. We will remember.