Vol. 80, No. 9, September 2007
John Adams, Clarence Darrow, Lloyd Paul Stryker, Joseph Welch, Atticus Finch, and all of you. What do you have in common? You are all lawyers. I could go on and on, naming presidents, politicians, diplomats, business leaders, and community leaders; all of them, lawyers.
We all can think of lawyers who stood up to tremendous pressures and who took considerable personal risk to do what their oaths required them to do, including:
- John Adams' defense of the British Captain Thomas Preston after the Boston Massacre;
- Clarence Darrow's defense of Leopold and Loeb charged with the murder of Bobby Franks; and his defense of John Scopes, the Tennessee high school biology teacher who had committed the crime of teaching the theory of evolution;
- Lloyd Stryker's defense of Alger Hiss;
- Joe Welch's confronting of Sen. Joseph McCarthy; and
- the fictional Atticus Finch's defense of a black man accused of raping a white girl.
Why the history lesson? I began thinking about it when a Wisconsin legislator recently came up with the ridiculous proposal to eliminate state funding of the U.W. Law School (even more ridiculous, of course, is that he was able to persuade several other legislators to agree). The school isn't needed he claimed, because the state has too many ambulance-chasing lawyers who offer nothing to society. As your president, I immediately issued a response, but when I sat down to write this month's column, I decided that more needed to be said. I decided that instead of remaining silent, we need to stand up for our profession.
Frankly, I'm tired of hearing ignorant, poorly informed people taking pot shots at our profession. They forget that we live in a democracy that is totally dependent on the rule of law. They forget the essential role attorneys have played in America since colonial days and the important role they continue to play. They forget that lawyers have long been recognized as the firefighters who put out the brush fires of our society. Shakespeare got it right in Henry VI, part 2, when he wrote that the best way to create chaos and spread tyranny throughout the land was to kill all of the lawyers.
I'm sure you're asking, so, Basting, what can we do about it? A public relations campaign to improve the image of lawyers would be a waste of money, in my opinion. However, educating the public about the importance and value of the legal system will be a tremendous step forward, and that is exactly what the State Bar's strategic plan calls for over the next five years. You can help. Last month I told you that I would be talking to you about our responsibilities as lawyers. One of those responsibilities is to do whatever you can to help educate the public. Get involved in your communities; get involved in the High School Mock Trial Program; accept invitations to speak to service clubs about the legal system and its importance. Talk to your political representatives and remind them of the value and importance of the legal system. Write an op-ed piece for your local newspaper. Stand up for your profession.
And remember to be kind to each other. Civility does pay dividends.