Article by David F. Maron 2012-2013 CABA PresidentEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Now is the time folks make resolutions to start or stop doing one thing or another. I hope yours are going well. The New Year is also a time to review the past year and plan for the new one. And whether or not you make any resolutions, the New Year is also a good time to reflect on what’s important.
“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Reflecting on 2012, there were many successful CABA events. We celebrated CABA’s 80th year at the annual Christmas party; we honored the past presidents of this association; we recognized CABA members who served in our nation’s armed forces; we raised funds for the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project in our fall tennis tournament; and we published several newsletters with articles addressing substantive issues. Recently, CABA also supported our federal judiciary (read our letter) in its plans for the restructuring of the divisions within the Southern District of Mississippi. None of these efforts would have been possible without hours of dedicated planning by CABA committees, the generosity of CABA sponsors, and, above all, the enthusiastic participation of CABA members. Congratulations and thanks to all.
CABA has several events planned over the next several months. So mark your calendars. As of the writing of this column:
The CABA board is resolved to ensure that we listen to our membership and continue to be a resource for each member. How? By engaging in current legal issues and publishing related articles; supporting our state and federal judiciary; providing free CLE to members at bi-monthly meetings; continuing support of pro bono service opportunities; addressing diversity and related issues that affect law practice; and finally, by promoting civility and professionalism within the practice. And if you have ideas about how CABA can improve, please let us know.
One resolution that all lawyers can share is the continued support of the rule of law and access to justice for all — giving an equal voice to all litigants, supporting pro bono legal services, and, above all, by supporting our judges. Perhaps more than any other public office, our judiciary is vital to ensuring that the rule of law — and that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” — continues to function. The Founders established our system of government with three independent branches, each to serve as a check against the others. An independent judiciary is vital to preserve the freedoms we enjoy.
Another resolution lawyers could make, or hopefully renew, is to promote civility and professionalism within the practice of law.
Maintaining civility has always had its challenges. New challenges emerge as the practice changes. And there have been changes — some enthusiastically welcomed, some necessary, and some others that will be judged in time. Not everything has changed. Fortunately, Gregory Peck and Spencer Tracy, who played iconic lawyers on the silver screen, would still recognize today’s trial. They’d just see fewer of them. But technology has certainly generated many changes, most of them overwhelmingly for the better, such as greater accessibility and more resources for all litigants not just those with access to extensive libraries.
As useful as technology may be, however, it has made incivility an even greater temptation — case in point, the hot-tempered email and its vitriolic response. This has been studied. As noted in the January 2013 ABA JOURNAL article You’re Out of Order!, “by far, technology is cited most often as the foundation for boorish behavior.” The article continues: “a close second and third place behind technology are just-licensed lawyers who perhaps watch too many rouge lawyers on TV and in movies. The labor market has forced many to hang their own shingles without the mentoring they’d have through a traditional employer.”
As a self-governing profession, vigilance in guarding our own conduct is essential, as is mentoring fellow lawyers — especially these newer members of the bar (see previous CABA article Good Lawyer Golden Rule). The lack of a mentoring relationship does not excuse, but certainly may underlie, many lapses in professional judgment. Professor Jackson succinctly captured this in the foreword to his ethics treatise “in law practice, I had a mentor…”
Whether formal or informal, even if unintended, mentoring happens. The example we set can make the difference. The Mississippi Bar’s Lawyers’ Creed is both an excellent model and a helpful reminder. Ultimately, to preserve a culture of professionalism in an honorable profession, each of us should resolve to be vigilant examples and defenders of it. It’s our profession after all; and it’s our responsibility.
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” Abraham Lincoln
As time passes, whether at the New Year or not, we are all reminded to take stock of the really important things. There will always be an array of good, fun, or useful things vying for our time, but not all are necessary. And none of them can have its proper context until, as the saying goes, “we put first things first.” That’s as true in personal and family life as it is in law practice. How and on what did we spend our time?
Sometimes reflection is forced on us. Just when we get settled into a comfortable routine, life can have a way of refocusing us. Many of us have experienced one of life’s reminders over the past year by the loss or illnesses of family, friends and loved ones. Life is not only finite, it is fragile and it is precious. You don’t have to read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly or Tuesdays with Morrie to appreciate it(but I recommend them if you haven’t).
Eighteenth-century theologian, Jonathan Edwards wrote a number of resolutions in the early 1700s. One of them reads: Resolved that I should live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. I recently watched a Lexus car commercial: Someday your life will flash before your eyes. Be sure it’s worth watching. A life worth watching probably has very little to do with driving a beautifully engineered luxury car, but I think Jonathan Edwards and the Lexus marketing department are onto something. They make us ask the right questions.