The Power of One: Lawyer as Peacemaker

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Note: This is the third installment in a four-part series of blog posts; you’ll find part one here, part two here, and part three here.

The notion that lawyers are in a unique position to restore peace is far from new.  Abraham Lincoln urged lawyers, “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”

As practitioners we are called to tap our creativity and compassion to see beyond, around, and within the limited solutions offered by the law.   Peacemaking is more restorative, more involved, and infinitely more work than ending a lawsuit with a dollar figure, or a criminal case with a period of years.

About two years ago, Rachel Monaco-Wilcox took a bold step outside of the traditional estate-planning realm in which she had gained expertise and respect.   She had become increasingly frustrated with “the failure to implement appropriate legal solutions because humanness was being shoved into corners.”  Underlying relational conflict would be ignored, then it would surface; the legal work would be stymied.  She came to a place where she needed, in her words, to find a way to work in the law that was compatible with her gifts, or leave it altogether.  Rachel needed to rekindle the passion that led her to law school in the first place.

This kind of self-examination is, incidentally, foundational to peacemaking.   Continue reading “The Power of One: Lawyer as Peacemaker”

The Power of One, Part Three: Lawyer as Advocate

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Note: This is the third installment in a four-part series of blog posts; you’ll find part one here, and part two here.

Popular media most frequently depict lawyers in an advocate role.   Specifically, the media shows a lawyer parading in front of a jury, pounding on a lectern and giving a grand oratory performance.  These, incidentally, are things that appealed to me about being a lawyer.   I like theater, and I like competition.

I started my law firm clerkship with a bang with all the theatre and gamesmanship I could have wanted.   In the summer of 1999, I participated daily in a six-week jury trial that led to a $100 million verdict.  We were thrilled because the jury assigned no liability to our client, a third-party defendant.   The plaintiff, of course, was ecstatic.  I found the experience thrilling.  More so, because I hadn’t been part of the three years leading up to that six weeks.  And I didn’t play much of a role in the years of appellate proceedings that followed.  The pace of litigation takes years to learn, and a good while longer to figure out how to explain to a client.

But even at that nubile stage I could see that a trial “victory” comes at great expense.   The plaintiff-municipality had incurred enormous costs, not the least of which was diversion from present endeavors, that redressing the past requires.   And our client, while clearly a winner at trial, had incurred heavy costs as well.    The longer I practiced the more I learned that most civil cases boast no definitive victor.  More than 90% of cases settle before trial, typically requiring compromise on all sides.   Because of all the incentives to resolution, the rare case that doesn’t settle often has circumstances suggesting blame cannot be assigned so neatly. Continue reading “The Power of One, Part Three: Lawyer as Advocate”

The Power of One, Part Two: Lawyer as Counselor

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(Note: this is the second post in a four-part series.)

How long, after your first law school class, was it that someone asked you for legal advice?  Better yet, how long, after you announced you planned to attend law school, was it that someone asked you for legal advice?

Legal education strives to enhance certain abilities in the “counseling” domain.  Listen closely.  View from multiple perspectives.  Probe for more facts.  Gather similar past scenarios and their outcomes.  Anticipate consequences of various actions.   Remain objective.  And of course, law school begins developing the skill differentiating lawyers from other counseling professionals: the ability to find, understand and apply the law.

Our education thus gears us to the community’s foremost request of the lawyer:  advice about the law.   Indeed, a good lawyer often seeks legal counsel himself, for two bright minds are usually better than one.  A good lawyer also knows her limits, and readily consults with others about subject matters outside her expertise. Continue reading “The Power of One, Part Two: Lawyer as Counselor”

The Power of One: Part One

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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. Continue reading “The Power of One: Part One”