Please click back to the first of the Legal Highlights to learn about the Legal Highlights process and the reason behind this feature which focuses on what is right and working well in the legal profession.
And now for the responses of today's Legal Highlight . . .
1) Think about your recent experience in the legal profession and of a specific incident or event that made you feel extremely satisfied or proud. Give a brief description of the incident or event. The reasons I felt satisfied or proud were . . .
This is going to sound funny coming from a mediator whose efforts typically keep people out of court, but I experienced a moment like this when I was summoned for jury duty a few weeks ago.
I know a lot of people see jury duty as an annoying disruption to their daily routine (I have to confess, that was my feeling about it as well before I walked into the courthouse that morning). I surprised myself to see the courthouse through fresh eyes—the presence of history, the solemnity of the courtroom, the weight of tradition. I had this sense of the majesty of the law, its centuries-old roots.
What the experience impressed upon me is the degree to which the jury trial involves ordinary people—American citizens--in civic life. Apart from voting, it is one of the few ways that any of us gets to participate in the political process. It involves us all intimately in the workings of justice. It affords us all a glimpse into the heart of democracy.
2) I attended law school because . . .
I hope this doesn’t sound clichéd, but I went to law school to learn to do work that would make a positive difference in the lives of others. During law school something happened to me that reinforced for me the importance of that goal.
At the end of my second year of law school, I was stricken by a swiftly moving and devastating illness that prevented me from returning to law school for the start of my third and final year. Illness left me disabled—during that time the effects of disease and the toxic medications used to treat it took from me my ability to participate in legal learning and in family and community life. I could not even take care of my son, who was a toddler at the time, without significant help. I had to be dependent upon others. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to face.
Illness in many ways was a great gift: it gave me an appreciation for the importance of using one’s time on earth well, a desire to do good and make a difference in the lives of others, and greater compassion for human suffering. It also taught me not to sweat the small stuff, a lesson that definitely has come in handy over the years.
In trying to make sense of being ill, I had spent a lot of time reading philosophical and spiritual works. A friend introduced me to Buddhism, and I became intrigued by the idea of “Right Livelihood”, the notion that we should engage in work that is ethical and honest, is based upon respect for others, and that does no harm. Becoming a lawyer for me was consonant with those principles. It affirmed for me that law school was the right direction for me to head in. Following treatment with experimental drugs and finally surgery, I made a complete recovery and returned to my studies 18 months later, where I was able to continue my pursuit of these goals.
3) I would recommend the practice of law because . . .
What other field allows its members to do great good, serve justice, and participate in a profession with an honorable, many-centuries-old tradition? Okay, that’s beginning to sound like a superhero’s creed, but that’s really what it’s all about.
4) My colleagues who practice law appreciate doing so because . . .
A common theme that I hear from my colleagues who practice law is how fulfilled they are assisting people navigate their way through legal difficulties. The law is extremely complex, with its layers of law and procedural rule. It can seem daunting to someone who is not an attorney to be faced with a lawsuit or a legal problem.
Most people generally arrive at the law during tough times in their lives: they’ve been legally wronged or physically injured, they’ve been sued or charged with a crime, they’re getting divorced, someone they love has died and there are estate difficulties to face, you name it. My colleagues feel they are doing important, valued work in helping people get through these kinds of challenges.
I remember in the days when I was first practicing law, before I became a mediator, assisting my mentor and boss battle and win a case on behalf of two parents who had lost their only child in a tragic accident. Although nothing could bring back our clients’ child, they felt as though justice had been served. The court’s decision provided closure to them, and both felt that they could be at peace. I will always remember how appreciative they were of our efforts on their behalf—definitely makes the long hours worthwhile.
5) The benefits lawyers contribute to society are . . .
This is going to be hard to answer. Not because I don’t think lawyers contribute substantial benefits to society but because this question is difficult to answer without getting political.
We live in very strange times. Powerful interest groups here in the U.S. are trying to persuade ordinary citizens that trial lawyers constitute a grave threat to the American way of life. Mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer and employment contracts, together with tort reform legislation, block access to the courts. Judges have received death threats simply for doing their jobs. Last week the U.S. Senate did something I thought I would never see in my lifetime: passed a terror detainee bill that authorizes the use of aggressive interrogation techniques against so-called “enemy combatants” and deprives detainees of their habeas corpus rights—stripping the courts of the power to hear such challenges and placing supreme authority in the executive branch of government.
These are serious assaults on the legal system. But lawyers will be there to fight back. This detainee bill will be challenged, its constitutionality tested. Lawyers will be there. And that’s a benefit that lawyers bring—as foot soldiers for democracy and justice.
That’s on the macro level.
On the micro, personal level, please see my answer to Question 4, Stephanie.
6) The factors that make up the heart and the soul of law are . . .
What a great question. First, I thought, that’s easy. The heart and soul of law are the individuals who embody it. The attorneys, the paralegals, the judges, the law professors, the law students, court personnel and staff. Each of us is the face and voice of the law.
But then I recalled a poem that one of my law school professors gave my class to read--W.H. Auden’s “Law Like Love”. You can read it here: http://users.crocker.com/~slinberg/poems/auden/lawlikelove.html
7) Think of a lawyer you consider a role model. The traits or values I respect or admire about him or her are . . .
There’s one lawyer in particular whose work I admire greatly. I am fortunate to count her as a friend. Not surprisingly, she is also a mediator, although mediation is but one aspect of the work that she does. I admire her as an attorney for the wisdom she brings to unraveling any problem or tough negotiation. She looks at it carefully from all angles, listens to all sides thoughtfully, knows what questions to ask to illuminate and bring understanding, and then is able to propose a solution that is breathtaking for its simplicity and brilliance. As a mediator, she is tremendously skilled at getting parties to craft those kinds of solutions for themselves. At the same time she is tough when toughness is needed, whether as a litigator or as mediator. She is also, and I think this is most important, a lifelong learner. She sees every case, every party, every client, every challenge as an opportunity to learn. She is also generous in sharing these lessons. Which is why, whenever I have an ethical issue or practice challenge I need help wrestling with, she’s the first person I call.
Thanks, Stephanie, for the opportunity to ponder these thought-provoking questions.