October 30, 2020

Magnitude of the Mundane

William Waddell, Jr., Member, ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service

As a lawyer, I am sometimes tempted to look for significance in cases of public interest or that involve weighty and novel issues of law. I think I should use lofty archaic phrases about the law in advancing not just a client’s cause but the perception of me as deserving a place in the pantheon of great legal thinkers. The intersection of foundational legal rationales such as “ratio est legis anima” (“the reason of the law is the soul of the law”) and “ex facto oritur jus” (“from the facts arises the law”) seems worth deep thought and the use of my time.

And then I awaken to the plight of yet another soul who has an ordinary and relatively simple problem that can be addressed and often eliminated by a lawyer like me. The soul of the law is largely irrelevant to the soul in need. The facts of the person’s problem may fit the facts of others that gave rise to the law, but “her facts” beg to be heard and addressed to resolve “her” problem and no other. “Her” names resonate in my mind as I remember how despair gave way to hope and then peace.

Over time, the successful resolution of the problems of these souls achieves its own significance as it is combined with the resolutions of many other clients’ problems. When combined with the faithful and diligent efforts of other lawyers, they become a mountain whose peak is higher and whose breadth wider than that of the most significant single case. The mundane is indeed of great magnitude. Being one of the builders is where I find true worth.