Thanks and giving

Nov. 18, 2022

President’s Message By Erica L. Laughlin

Thanksgiving is a federal holiday in the United States that originated as a day celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621. The feast is said to have lasted for three days and is believed to have been attended by a number of Wampanoag Native American people and Pilgrim survivors of the Mayflower. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Lincoln called upon the American people to “…fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it as soon may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the Holidays Act that made Thanksgiving an annual federal holiday in Washington D.C. (along with New Year’s, Christmas and July 4), but the law did not extend outside of Washington. In 1885, a Congressional act expanded the Holidays Act making Thanksgiving and other federal holidays a paid holiday for all federal workers in the United States. 

While in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas, hopefully yielding increased profits and spending. Allegedly at the urging of Fred Lazarus Jr., the founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy’s), Roosevelt controversially moved Thanksgiving a week earlier. In 1941, Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for Thanksgiving. Later that year however, the Senate amended the resolution requiring that Thanksgiving be observed on the fourth Thursday of November to prevent confusion in the years November has five Thursdays. This amendment passed the House and was signed into law by President Roosevelt making the fourth Thursday of November the permanent observation date for Thanksgiving. 

We now associate Thanksgiving with food and fellowship (and football), and regardless of religious or political affiliation, we are called upon to reflect and give thanks. As lawyers we are in a position of privilege, and as we give thanks for abundant caseloads, dedicated employees and the ability to seek justice and serve others in our respective practice areas, I want to urge you to consider other ways you can give back to the communities we serve. I am overjoyed to announce that the ACBA’s newly formed Community Service Committee is up and running. The Committee, led by attorneys Maggie Prescott and Nick Kennedy, is already planning a dedicated day of impact this spring for attorneys throughout the County to take a step away from their computers and engage in service projects. “We want to organize opportunities for lawyers to roll up their sleeves and collectively give back to the community, such as by packing medical supplies for shipping to communities that lack resources or planting trees in urban neighborhoods,” Prescott said.

The Committee will have a pulse on the various service projects happening within the ACBA throughout the year as well as assist and plan projects. I encourage any member to reach out to the Committee for more information on how to get involved. “Our Committee is looking for a diversity of perspectives to ensure that our service projects have far-reaching impacts,” Kennedy said.

The ACBA also has a Public Service Committee that delivers legal services to low income persons, works on the provision and funding of local legal service agencies and oversees the Allegheny County Bar Foundation’s Pro Bono Service Center. The Pro Bono Service Center trains and helps volunteer attorneys work with individuals facing problems that threaten their basic needs such as housing, employment and healthy family structures. The Public Service Committee, led by attorney Kathryn McKee, develops and sponsors a number of public service projects throughout the year and is always looking for attorneys to assist these critical endeavors. “There are so many wonderful pro bono projects in Allegheny County that could use more support and we truly appreciate our pro bono volunteers. We certainly encourage anyone who is interested to get involved,” McKee said.

There is no better way to help train young lawyers than allowing them the opportunity to meaningfully engage in the actual practice of law and working with clients. Pro bono service is a way to help young lawyers gain valuable experience while serving the greater good – a double win! For more information on how you, your firm or legal department can get involved with a pro bono project please contact Director of the Pro Bono Center Barbara Griffin at

Our Young Lawyers Division also has a dedicated Public Service Sub-Committee that has worked on many community service projects over the years, some which have gained national recognition. The YLD’s Public Service Committee, co-chaired by Aleksandra Kocelko and Rebeca Miller, welcomes the involvement and support of all attorneys on its projects. “The YLD Public Service Committee is one of the beating hearts of our organization. We are impassioned by the legal help we can provide our communities. We believe that diverse participation promotes fresh perspectives, so please feel free to contact us,” said Miller. Look for more information in the Sidebar on these projects, including the YLD’s upcoming annual Children’s Gift Drive and Holiday Party and how you can help.

Please also be on the lookout for information regarding the ACBF’s annual Attorneys Against Hunger campaign, which has raised over $2.2 million over the last 27 years. A donation in any amount goes directly to one of 17 local anti-hunger agencies. Donations can be made at

The ACBA’s committees, divisions and sections have all been called upon this year to think of ways to give back to our communities. I encourage you, our members, to have an active voice in those discussions. Leading and/or collaborating on a service project is not only personally rewarding, but it stands to impact the lives of others less fortunate in a powerful way. Our Community Service and Public Service Committees are here to help and welcome the opportunity to collaborate and work with volunteers. 

While you may not have given much thought to the history of Thanksgiving since grade school, it should serve as a reminder that we get to enjoy our turkey and stuffing because laws were put into place recognizing the need to have a day of reflection and thanks with prayer for one another and our country. Lincoln’s ask of the American people in 1863 rings true today. Let us reflect and pray to heal the wounds of our nation and restore it to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. Let us all be thankful that we are lawyers and have the ability to impact those we serve. I wish you and your family a blessed Thanksgiving.