August 31, 2015

Chair's Message

James C. Hanks

At the ABA’s Midyear Meeting in Houston, the Diversity Law Committee of the Section presented a program on hot topics in diversity law that included an excellent discussion of immigration, election law, and other issues by outstanding speakers. Immediately following this program, the Section joined with the Section of Antitrust Law in welcoming President-Elect Paulette Brown and Elizabeth A. Campbell, partner and chief diversity officer at the Andrews Kurth law firm of Houston, Texas, at a Diversity Networking Reception. In my brief comments, I noted that, when we speak about diversity in the ABA, we sometimes talk about our diversity “efforts.” My observation was that we should look forward to the day when diversity is such a natural and ingrained part of how we operate in our Section and in the ABA that the achievement of diversity is no longer an “effort.”

The need to respect diversity throughout our society is a theme of the Section’s three-part webinar series: Repairing Police-Community Relations: Post-9/11 Policing and Citizen Oversight in Ferguson and Beyond, including the militarization of state and local governments, citizen oversight of police departments, and § 1983 litigation. Since my last message to you, there have been more deaths of unarmed suspects, more killings of police officers, an election in Ferguson, Missouiri, and the continued development of a grass roots response to police-community relations issues. We believe our webinar series can help shape the discussion of these issues and the formulation of some meaningful measures to deal with them.

At the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago this July, the Section has more excellent programs in store for you.

We will tackle the cutting-edge sharing issues (Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, et al.) making their way into more and more communities across the country, as well as urban agriculture, drones, ethics, and hydraulic fracturing as we host the 31st Annual Land Use Institute. We will provide a Supreme Court review that includes top notch presenters and a program on election law issues impacting the 2016 election. Working with the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section, our Land Use Committee will address a series of constitutional issues including takings for environmental protection, the legalization of medical marijuana, and the constitutionality of a U.S. Department of Agriculture raisin marketing order.

And there is more: a networking reception at the 3D Printer Experience on July 30 and, on August 1, a tour of The Plant, a sustainable food production facility that also serves as a local business incubator. Since Chicago is my hometown, I have promised some Chicago cuisine for the tour, but the cuisine is, at this writing, still a mystery.

Finally, a thought about facts and the truth. A dear friend recently sent me a book: The Invisible Gorilla (Crown Publishing 2010). It is written by two cognitive psychologists, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. They devised an experiment in which volunteers were asked to watch a video lasting less than a minute. In the video, players wearing white and players wearing black pass a basketball back and forth to one another. The volunteers were told to silently count the number of times that players in white passed the ball and to ignore the passes made by the players in black. Both aerial and bounce passes were to be counted. The heart of the experiment as reported by the authors is this: “Halfway through the video, a female student wearing a full-body gorilla suit walked into the scene, stopped in the middle of the players, faced the camera, thumped her chest, and then walked off, spending about nine seconds on screen.”

After the volunteers were asked about the number of passes they counted, they were then asked if they noticed a gorilla in the video. Here is the important part: “Amazingly, roughly half of the subjects in our study did not notice the gorilla! . . . [T]he experiment has been repeated many times, under different conditions, with diverse audiences, and in multiple countries, but the results are always the same: About half the people fail to see the gorilla.” The authors explain that these viewers were influenced by the “illusion of attention.”

As lawyers, we frequently depend on the facts as they are reported to us by our clients and by witnesses. In the experiment, the fact is that there was a gorilla in the video. So, were the people who said that they did not see the gorilla lying? The Invisible Gorilla is well worth the read. I leave you with this quotation from the beginning of the book: “There are three things extremely hard: steel, diamonds, and to know one’s self.” Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1750).

James C. Hanks

James C. Hanks is a shareholder in the Des Moines, Iowa, firm of Ahlers & Cooney, P.C., and the Chair of the Section.