Before getting into the meat of this column, let me take a moment to disclose a spoiler alert: This column will have a different focus than most of my columns. In this column, I will not focus on technology (although I will include some information about it). I will also not focus on civil disobedience (although, again, I will address it). I will talk about some of the fringe benefits of living as a mobile lawyer and the beneficial impact it can have on our lives. I have chosen to write about one of the fringe benefits of life as a Road Warrior—expansion of your personal knowledge and satisfaction through extension of business travel—in this column for three reasons: (1) I believe in the importance of downtime and developing the person in addition to the professional (particularly given the information that has come to light about lawyer burnout and its consequences); (2) this issue of GPSolo magazine has taken civil disobedience as its theme; and (3) we just concluded Black History Month.
I recently had occasion to visit Washington, D.C., for professional reasons. I went to attend a Uniform Law Commission Drafting Committee meeting respecting the creation of a model statute to provide “Civil Remedies for Unauthorized Disclosure of Intimate Images.” (Note that most of the focus on this problem relates to publication of images on the Internet, so in that sense, but for technology, I would have not had a reason for the trip. Additionally, but for technology, I would not have had the ability to work as efficiently or effectively on client matters while I traveled.) I actually started writing this column on that trip, using the portable technology that always travels with me.
For many years, I have followed the practice of adding a day or two to most of my business trips (particularly those to other time zones) to give me a chance to recover from the travel itself (which takes more time the older I get) and also to give me the opportunity for a little “downtime.” As I have gotten older, I have tended to add more extra days when I travel. As an aside, I will note that this practice provides an economic advantage in addition to the psychological, physical, and emotional benefits of the downtime in that if I must travel for business, I can deduct or pass along to others the cost of going and coming to the destination and a portion of my hotel bill, making it less expensive for the personal time I spend.
Because of other commitments and because I have visited Washington, D.C., numerous times in my life, I only added one day to this trip. As I very much enjoy good museums, I made my plans with the intent of spending most of that day at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). I have always liked the Smithsonian museums and consider them some of the best I have visited. The NMAAHC opened in 2016 and was the only Smithsonian museum I had not yet visited.
In a significant way, the NMAAHC reminded me of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in that, like the Holocaust Museum, the NMAAHC focuses on telling a story far more than displaying various surviving items from history. Not to say that the NMAAHC does not have displays of such items; it does. The museum, however, displays a relatively small number of surviving personal items, with displays favoring pictures and narrated videos tracing the history of African Americans back to the development of the institution of slavery and the evolution of the slave trade. The history lesson goes on through the period of the formation of the United States, the Civil War, and through what my generation came to refer to as the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to the extensive historical displays, the NMAAHC also has a series of displays addressing the role of African Americans in the arts, culture, music, dance, sports, fashion, and society. Interestingly, the design of the museum puts the history in three subterranean floors and the cultural, social, music, arts, sports, etc., in three floors above the surface. I don’t know that this was intended, but the organization has a significance to me in that it makes it appear that the history serves as the foundation for all the rest and, indeed, some of the displays convey this message. For example, one very interesting display on the evolution of certain dance moves among the African American community traces part of the movements to restrictions imposed by slave owners on the type of motion allowed in slave dances.
The displays were excellent, and the information well presented. I hesitate to say I enjoyed the experience of the visit, as the presentation of extreme highs in the achievements and contributions by African Americans to our society is accompanied by examinations of extreme lows in the treatment of people by people. Instead, I will say that I learned things I did not know and appreciated what I learned and what I saw at the NMAAHC. I found it particularly interesting to go through the portion of the history that I lived through. Full disclosure: I turn 70 this year. I was born in Chicago, Illinois, and lived there until shortly prior to my seventh birthday. Brown v. Board of Education was handed down before my sixth birthday. I grew up in a period of time that spanned beatings, hangings, and bombings of churches; civil disobedience led by such luminaries as Martin Luther King Jr.; forced school desegregation; the adoption of numerous laws barring discrimination on the grounds of many things, including racial backgrounds; and the election of an African American as president of the United States.
Those born in the last 40 years may not have as full an appreciation of the changes in our society at many levels over the last century as those of us born in the 1940s, who lived through this period of history. I do not mean to offend anyone and acknowledge that some younger people have studied this history and may know it better than those of us who lived it; but I believe that experience has proven itself an outstanding instructor. I have always enjoyed history and have read extensively about it. I certainly feel that I have an academic understanding of a great deal of history, but I also feel that I have a much better understanding of life and society in the last 60 years or so than I do of various other historic periods. Moreover, I have not lived in many parts of the world and believe that my understanding of life in some of those areas suffers in comparison to my understanding of life and social interactions in the areas where I have actually lived.
I think all lawyers should take advantage of the mobility that technology offers to enhance their own education and development. It makes great sense to take advantage of the opportunity that a business or professional trip offers to visit an area and explore it, and, particularly, to take advantage of such opportunities to visit outstanding sites, such as the NMAAHC. As an added inducement to visit the museum, you should note that the Sweet Home Café lives in the museum and offers a good variety of foods from the southern United States and the Caribbean. I had lunch there and enjoyed my buttermilk fried chicken, Hoppin’ John, collard greens, and cornbread. I don’t think it will make Zagat’s list, but, in my experience, it ranks near the top of museum cafeteria food that I have had in the United States.
Before closing this column, I want to share a few personal observations. First, when I visited the museum, I saw about 30 people wearing Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police uniforms visiting the museum. I talked to a few of them and learned that most of them were in the police academy and that the academy has adopted visiting the NMAAHC as part of its diversity curriculum. I also learned that the department is moving toward having all its officers visit the NMAAHC. I think that in the current political and social climate, this makes a great deal of sense, and I wish that more local, state, and federal governmental institutions (particularly the law enforcement institutions) would adopt such a policy. For financial reasons they may not all have the ability to include the NMAAHC in their curriculum, but there are other museums throughout the country that focus on African American history and culture.
Second, I was disappointed to learn that the Washington Metropolitan Police do not also visit other institutions that will enhance sensitivity, such as, for example, the Holocaust Museum, as I think we all need to recognize that diversity and sensitivity should not and cannot have racial limitations. Again, I wish more institutions throughout the country adopted such steps to improve sensitivity and enhance understanding and tolerance of our diverse population.
Third, I referred at the start of this article to the similarity I observed between the NMAAHC and the Holocaust Museum. I also want to comment on one significant difference within that similarity. The Holocaust tells the story of horrendous abuse of some people by other people and an attempt at genocide. It also depicts the use of those people as slaves in requiring forced labor from them under penalty of brutal mistreatment or death. The NMAAHC tells the story of horrendous abuse of some people by other people. It also depicts the use of those people as slaves in requiring forced labor from them under penalty of brutal mistreatment or death. The Holocaust Museum, in my opinion, pulled some punches, but not many. In fact, I recall that when it first opened, some people criticized it as too graphic in its presentation. The NMAAHC is more PG rated in its presentation than R rated. It does not convey some of the horrors of slavery as graphically as it might. In my opinion, this is a mixed blessing in that it makes it more suitable for younger children, but at the expense of more accurately depicting the damage done. I do not want to say that it should change to a more graphic description, as I certainly see benefits to younger children learning this history. I simply make the observation of the difference and call it to your attention.
My last observations about the NMAAHC relate to the people I saw at the museum. Most of the people working and volunteering at the museum appeared to be of African American background. The people working there were universally helpful, warm, friendly, and displayed a significant and obvious pride in the museum. When I went through the museum, the visitors I saw represented (to the extent I could tell) a widely diverse group representing a variety of gender identities, races, religious backgrounds, ages, abilities/disabilities, and social and economic groups. I could not help thinking how wonderful it was to see that level of diversity in the visitors to this institution in particular. I am not at all sure it would have drawn a crowd anything like that if somehow the Smithsonian created it in the 1950s or 1960s. I am not even sure it would have done so as recently as the 1990s. That is not to say that I think we have somehow solved our problems, only to note that it looks like we have moved along the way in a positive direction over the last 50 years or so, albeit far more slowly than we should have.
At the end of the day, I found the visit to the NMAAHC very worthwhile and commend it to all of you. I also recommend that you take advantage of the opportunities created by technology and your professional travels to expand your own horizons and knowledge and to get some well-deserved and undoubtedly much needed downtime. An interesting aside here: When I first started practicing as a Road Warrior, the technology of the day created serious limitations and problems practicing on the road. Today, the advances of technology have largely done away with these limitations and problems, opening the way for more of us to work out of the office for longer time periods and created the opportunity for us to engage in a variety of activities that can enhance our personal knowledge and/or satisfaction and, by doing so, help prevent burnout and its consequences.