May you live in interesting times.—Ancient Chinese Curse
Having grown up in the Vietnam era, gone through law school during Watergate and been an interested observer in the many events that followed, that Chinese curse resonates with me. There’s been no time in my life that wasn’t “interesting,” and the many conflicts we are experiencing in the present call out in a unique and immediate way for those skills and experiences that we, as lawyers, are singularly qualified to bring to bear as we work toward resolutions.
Those of us who have hung up our briefcases and legal pads, and in some cases, our gavels, are a special resource to our communities. Never has that resource been more significant and more critically needed than now.
The statement that we are a divided country is axiomatic. Those divides go deeper than at any time in my life. Many of the most significant conflicts are being fought out, not only in Washington, on Pennsylvania Avenue, but on Main Street in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods.
The thing that we all have in common, regardless of our area of specialty in practice, or political leanings is a rigorous training in the rule of law, in analysis, in critical listening, in applying the law to the facts as they appear before us, and rational discourse with those who may disagree with us. We all had to pass a Bar exam which tested our ability to analyze facts and apply appropriate law. We all, regardless of our legal specialty, spent years and in some cases decades, honing these skills in real life situations, to support a commitment to the rule of law.
Each one of us, wherever we went to law school and whatever field we chose for practice, were taught certain truths:
- People have different analyses and interpretations of their own unique experiences.
- There are legitimate disputes about facts and their meaning.
- Truth matters.
- Integrity matters.
- Just because two people disagree on the merits does not mean that either one lacks integrity.
- If done right, justice will ultimately prevail.
A word about facts: much is said today that various segments of society can’t even agree on a single set of facts. That is truer today than in the past. But if you step back, the difference is in degree, not the concept itself. If we weren’t used to dealing with the reality that people do disagree on facts, they have different perceptions of the impact of facts they actually agree on, and varying opinions of the law to be applied, there would be no reason to have courts. Resolving disputes such as these is the lifeblood of our profession.
At a time when many segments of our society can’t even agree on a common set of facts, a common definition of the problems that face us, much less have meaningful discussion about solutions to those problems, our unique skill sets are invaluable if we are to move on to peaceful resolutions.