Paul Tobias made you feel like an old friend and trusted colleague from the first moment you met him. His relentless energy, positivity, and enthusiasm for our work—and for bringing people together—in its way stood in sometimes stark contrast to the nature of what we do. Representing workers is not easy. Many of our clients need counsel because they are dealing with some of the most difficult, many times traumatic, experiences of their lives. No one seeks out an employment lawyer when things are going well. Courts are hostile to employment claims and employers more hostile still. Most lawyers who have committed their careers to this calling tend to work as solo practitioners or in small firms, and routinely face down far better-resourced, more powerful adversaries. The odds often are stacked against us, and it is why a community like NELA—the community that Paul Tobias did so much to build, grow, sustain, and embody—is so vital.
Paul’s singular ability to organize, to inspire, to motivate, and to advocate was channeled into NELA—his DNA is NELA’s DNA. He had the rare capacity to elevate those around him, and to lead the group to be something greater than the sum of its members. His impact was profound, and his reach was vast. It extended not just across state and international borders, but through time. It is a testament to Paul that this community continues to grow and thrive to this day. We are at our best—as advocates, as a community, as people—when we carry ourselves in the same spirit with which Paul always carried himself. I am fortunate and grateful to be one of the many, many people who have benefited from his counsel and learned from his example. I owe him more than I could ever repay or pay forward, and I am deeply honored to have held the fellowship that bears his name. I mourn with all who knew, loved, and cared for this truly special person.