When I landed in law school, I had little understanding of what it meant to be a lawyer. By graduation day, I had a couple ideas. Ten years later, I have a few more. One idea that I had long before I ever entered Sensenbrenner Hall, proved overwhelmingly right. It is simply this: that being a lawyer requires “something more” than showing up for work each day, figuring out what the law is, and regurgitating it in a courtroom or contract. What that “something more” is, has taken me a long time to discover, and I’m still learning.
When I began practicing, I wholeheartedly took up the generally frenetic pace of this American life, and the new lawyer’s life in particular. Those who have done it will surely agree that, while years in which one bills upwards of 2000 hours are fruitful in some respects, they leave little room for growth in other essential aspects of being human. Bustling with busy-ness and a desire to serve the community, I also did lots of pro bono work and volunteering with the bar. This allowed me to collect a wide variety of experiences in the law and on its fringes. A day of depositions defending a multi-million dollar corporation, might precede a meeting with a homeless shelter director to strategize about meeting legal needs of its individual residents. Thus in 2007, when I switched up my career path to teach justice in an undergraduate setting, I had much to reflect on, some time for it, and perhaps most importantly, a realization of the value in doing so.
I now recognize, praise and honor the lawyer’s unique opportunity to be a force for greater good, in our paid work, our pro bono work, and other moments in which we assert our professional identity. In my writings to you this month, I will highlight three roles that lawyers commonly assume: we are by turns counselors, advocates, and peacemakers. I will share with you a story to illustrate the power each of us has to express that role to its fullest, what I call, “The Power of One.” In the course of these writings, I will share with you more of my own personal journey, and invite you to deliberate about your own path.
A few caveats about this series, and its name. Make no mistake, as a student of social justice, I cherish no affinity for the myth of self-reliance our culture buys and sells. That is not the kind of power I am talking about. Nor do I assert that lawyers as a group possess superpowers not otherwise found in the general population! And certainly, advocating, counseling and peacemaking represent only a few of the hats in the lawyer’s millinery. My point will be simply to show that as human beings, each of us does possess tremendous gifts with which we can effect change in our own lives and in the lives of others, and lawyering provides unique opportunities to apply those gifts.
Why this subject? Because we all need encouragement, and in my experience, we lawyers need it from each other especially. Because it is easier to be a critic than to create, and I would rather use this platform to honor creating than write yet another critique. Because as Wordsworth lamented over 200 years ago “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers…”; let us stop the getting and spending for one single second, and dare to dream a larger life!
And finally, because over the years I have talked with many lawyers sitting somewhere between vaguely uneasy and wholly dissatisfied with our chosen profession. I myself vascillated across that spectrum for awhile. Comprehending my own personal power to effect change helped me discover something akin to what I felt at law school graduation – a celebratory and grateful attitude about my ability to be a lawyer. This, dear reader, is a gift of joy too rare not to share.