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Vol. 30, No. 3

Renewing the call to service

by David S. Houghton

Roscoe Pound offers this definition of “profession”:
The term [profession] refers to a group of [individuals] pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service—no less a public service because it may inadvertently be a means of livelihood.

The key concept in Pound’s observation is that lawyers respond to a calling. Most lawyers become lawyers precisely because the work offers the opportunity to serve others while at the same time being called upon to serve larger, special responsibilities to the public. We often must navigate through the tension created by the responsibilities of representing our clients to the best of our ability while fulfilling our public responsibilities of being an officer of the court and the private responsibilities to partners, family, and our own consciences.

The sense of calling that involves the opportunities for public service is essential to the vitality and health of each lawyer, and thus, it is important to our profession.

Your life and the life of the profession converge at an important time. It is a time when we all need to be reminded of our calling to public service. As today’s bar leader, you find yourself in the middle of a great opportunity in the service of bar leadership, which is yet another aspect of your personal response to this calling to which you began responding many years ago.

The current leaders in the American Bar Association have made public service a theme. Mike Greco, our president, has called for a Renaissance of Idealism in the Profession and has initiated a presidential task force to help lawyers in all professional venues fulfill the calling to serve. Karen Mathis, our president-elect, is talking about the profession as “seasons of service” and has announced that she, too, will seek ways to enhance the opportunities for lawyers to be active in public service.

Your tenure in your association’s leadership crosses these national efforts. No doubt, your own response to this calling (which you have made clear by stepping into a bar leadership role) will inform how you work to refresh the call to service in your association.

The beauty of being chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services is the opportunity to meet many of you and learn of your unique perspectives and activities that emanate from this critical role for bar associations. Whatever vision you have, whatever action you intend to take to fulfill that vision, is critical to the continued vitality of the profession. This is true because, at a minimum, your response as a bar leader will help us all remember our own calling and our personal need to respond to that calling.

The harvest from this calling to professional and public service is real. For each lawyer who has responded to this calling, there are at least three tangible benefits.

1) A renewed sense of purpose, which is critical to our profession’s long-term health;
2) The knowledge that public service makes for a more effective profession; and
3) The reward of great relationships with the best and brightest people in the world.

One of my acquaintances who is just finishing his bar president’s year told me that he learned that you just cannot “outgive” public and professional service. No matter how much effort he offered and gave during his service, the rewards to him were always greater than the effort he expended.
My fondest hope for each of you, whether you are a volunteer or a professional in public and professional service, is that you will have the same experience as my friend. I am confident you will.
—By David S. Houghton

David S. Houghton is chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services.