In a recent speech before the American Bar Association, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court John G. Roberts said, “Lawyers fulfill their professional calling to its fullest extent when they rise above particular partisan debates and participate as problem solvers.” Thinking about recent politics, his words never rang so true: the challenges our country faces necessitate cooperation and collaborative leadership. Instead, there is an increasing trend of partisan extremism that divides us.
Partisanship, Chief Justice Roberts continued as outlined in the ABA Journal recap of his speech, has caused deep rifts, and on many issues of great importance to our nation there is both gridlock in the government and increased distrust and disappointment in the public. Roberts expressed his belief that lawyers can work to overcome these divides by looking to the courts for leadership – both literally and metaphorically. The mandate of our profession is to maintain and protect equity: lawyers present facts to determine the truth, while judges weigh the facts of each case fairly. Moreover, we uniformly uphold the Constitution and its tenets of civil liberties and individual freedoms. There is no room for partisanship or political grandstanding.
Similarly, just as our courts are designed to be non-partisan, we should emulate this approach on a more personal level. Much can be accomplished if we work across partisan divides and temper extremism with moderation in order to be more balanced, more thoughtful, and more effective leaders. Civility is the key to this form of leadership. Only through calm and rational debate do lawyers make their best cases, resulting in smooth, efficient, and ultimately equitable courts. By virtue of our profession, we as lawyers can and should be leaders in driving society to overcome challenges and solve problems that concern us all as responsible citizens, in the same civil manner in which we practice.
As such, we must be proactive in seeking out opportunities to lend this expertise and our leadership to initiatives outside of the legal community. Involvement on the boards of charitable, cultural, and municipal organizations are ideal ways to bring the legal perspective to bear on problems facing our local community. Lawyers also have a valuable voice to bring to state government and often do through events such as Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, during which hundreds of attorneys speak with their legislators on the importance of funding legal aid programs for the less fortunate. In addition, lawyers involved with the BBA’s practice area steering committees regularly take part in the legislative process by assisting in the drafting or review of legislation which can serve to improve or enhance their practice of law, outcomes for their clients, functioning of the courts, and in sum, the people of the Commonwealth. Our profession works for the greater good in society as a whole, and for this reason lawyers are often perceived as community leaders; we must do our part to live up to this reputation.
The benefit that we as lawyers offer to our communities when we proactively offer our leadership and legal expertise for the benefit of the greater Boston community is enormous. One of many examples is the incredible work of the Boston Bar Association’s Marathon Assistance Project, which saw individual attorneys, law firms, and law schools step forward to aid the community in a manner only those with legal knowledge could. Because of their leadership, over 60 individuals and small businesses injured by the events of April 15, 2013 found direct relief through justice.
This, of course, was a very particular case; yet there is always more work to do to better our society. Looking back once more at the American Revolution, the murmurings of dissent that started at a local level ended up changing the entire system of government – a transformation that was led by several lawyers. The leadership of those willing to overlook partisan differences to arrive at solutions for the greater good is another proud tradition we carry as lawyers and as Americans.
With this in mind, we would issue a call to action to our sisters and brothers in the law to serve as beacons of leadership and guidance as we work to address the large-scale issues that face the legal community, our town and cities, and the United States. Instead of participating in partisan arguments, we should foster reflective and productive discourse that will result in solutions for these issues. Most of all, we should never forget our duty to uphold the Constitution and its tenets, and to constantly find valuable ways to bring our knowledge, our leadership, and our determination to bear on the betterment of society for all.