Corporations, their presidents, public relations departments and political supporters, routinely condemned lawyers and castigated them because lawyers represent people who have been injured by corporate wrongdoers — consumers, investors, injured workers, abused consumers and homeowners who expect corporations to pay for the damage that they cause.
Corporate America is loath to held individually accountable because it is motivated by greed. The view that greed is what motivates corporations, not competitiveness, is well known by all Americans and this view crosses all age groups, all races, all educational backgrounds, and all incomes.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans believe believe that major corporations are as responsible as, or more responsible than, government for the economic problems of the middle class. Even among Republicans, 55% say corporations are at least as big a problem as big government.
Corporate America’s response to this growing disgust with corporate greed is to ignore the fact that corporations cause personal suffering and losses for which the corporation is responsible. But since it is not politically correct to attack the elderly who lost their life savings to corporate manipulation of stock prices or publicly criticize injured workers now dying from leukemia as a result of being exposed to contaminated chemicals, corporate policy is to attack lawyers.
In the roar of complaints blaming lawyers for nearly everything, the legal profession’s outstanding record of valuable public service has gone unreported.
Americans enjoy the greatest economic engine ever developed and live in the most complicated legal system in the history of the world, which has been created and dominated by corporate lobbyists and corporate campaign contributions.
The public understands the real relationship between corporations and government is a reciprocal one: corporations dump mountains of cash into elections, corrupting the basic institutions of our democracy while putting anti-government, pro-corporate extremists into office. In turn, government then subsidizes big corporations, relieves their tax burden and allows corporate lobbyists to actually sit in conference committees and write up bills that favor their companies and industries. Greedy corporations then turn around and abuse their workers, who are already bearing the brunt of the nation’s unfair tax system. This kind of subsidy abuse by corporations –and the corrupt election process which feeds it –could readily become a target of significant anger. With some work, the result might be changes to get corporate money out of our elections.
It is a tragedy that the men and women of the legal profession are not recognized as the problem solvers in a rapidly expanding and increasingly complex legal system. This in large part is do to insufficient resources to be devoted to public education by the organized bar.
Controversies involving government, business, education, and human rights arise thousands of times daily across the United States. Lawyers have the challenge of reconciling these adverse interests and fashioning solutions that work for consumers, families, homeowners and small businesses in a legal system dominated, designed and manipulated by big business.
The task for these lawyers is to untangle laws and regulations, written by special interests and for special interests, and to fashion remedies that serve the interests of people.
When something goes wrong, lawyers are called upon by the damaged and the distraught to deliver remedies to make them whole. Lawyers do not bring lawsuits. People bring lawsuits when there is no other recourse other than to our courts. The creative and remedial efforts of lawyers are intended to benefit clients, but at the same time these same skills render a valuable public service that puts disputes to rest, brings peace between parties, order to personal affairs and provides for accountability essential in any society.
In addition, the legal profession has the responsibility of assuring the fair and impartial application of the criminal law, so the innocent are protected and the guilty are punished. Those who kill, maim and rob must be punished, but at the same time where there are extenuating circumstances and justice requires moderation, lawyers advocate for alternative programs designed to change behaviors and correct long-standing dysfunctions.
Aside from direct legal work for people, when you survey the history of public service by professional groups, you will find few that meet our level of commitment to the public.
The legal profession coined the words ‘pro bono publico’ and made them the watchwords of every profession in the United States today. Every profession, business, occupation, and industry should seek to emulate the distinguished record of public service of the men and women of the legal profession.
Lawyers routinely provide free legal services to the public, often at a moment’s notice, by answering an important question, giving advice, or providing referrals.
The legal profession volunteers its time and talents to educating the public, and our colleagues, by lecturing and by writing in journals and newspapers.
Hundreds quietly devote untold hours to bar government activities, regulating the profession so that only those who merit confidence may practice. This enormous gift of time, energy, and talent at the state and local level not only serves to better our profession, but also is an outstanding public service for which these volunteer lawyers receive little public recognition.
Our bar associations have created approved panels of experienced, qualified attorneys and have maintained a public referral program so that the average citizen need not leave it to chance when retaining counsel. Low-cost referrals are available so the public easily can select lawyers with confidence.
The members of the profession serve on the boards of charities, community service, cultural and other organizations directly serving the public and providing legal advice and services to these organizations without charge.
Our legal foundations provide legal services to the less fortunate by representing whole classes of poor and disenfranchised.
As some university law libraries close their doors to the public and to the bar, in every county in California and throughout the United States, lawyers and judges freely serve as law library trustees so that the public and lawyers will have access to quality public law libraries.
The legal profession has been the leading advocate of programs to provide legal services to all. Attorneys regularly volunteer their time as directors of legal aid programs and supervise the free delivery of legal services throughout the state. We know that the poor to have rights that cannot be enforced is to have no rights at all and that is why we again urge full funding for legal aid programs.
Lawyers are the leaders in providing and promoting public education through the internet, bar association programs and legal pamphlets written and printed by lawyers for the public.
Lawyers volunteer as judges pro tem in superior and municipal courts during the day and in the evenings as judges pro tem in small claims cases for our neighborhood small claims program to help resolve disputes for those who find it impossible to have the court hear the cases during the day.
Thousands have helped to reduce court congestion by donating their skills and time as settlement conferences judges and arbitrators. But for the bar’s willingness to serve many of the public’s cases would still be unresolved.
Throughout the course of history the men and women of the legal profession have left their special mark: Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Monroe, Randolph, Marshall, Lincoln, Darrow, Roosevelt, Warren, Kennedy, and hundreds of others, and as women take their full and rightful place in our profession, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Attorney General Janet Reno, to name only a few, have broken the barriers that for years have denied women full participation in government. As women and as lawyers they too are leaving their special mark on American history.
In the early 1800s, Alexis DeTocqueville observed that lawyers play a distinctive and prominent role in American life.
It is still true today because the American legal system reflects the most vital aspects of our society: its institutions; its checks and balances; its economic organizations; its size; its racial, ethnic, and religious pluralism; its interest-group politics; its respect for human rights; and, most of all, its exclusive reliance upon the law to solve every problem.
But more than ever before we live in a world that is extraordinarily dynamic. Every new day technology has a startling impact on our lives and it is not simply growing. It is exploding. We have entered a new era.
More than ever the legal profession has been called upon to provide the experience and vision to interpret the impact of exploding technology and to help our lawmakers, and the public leaders adapt to the best of the new, while preserving our constitutional, moral, and human values.
More than ever before, the men and women of the legal profession in both their public and private service are called on to infuse and vitalize this new era with an appreciation and respect for the rights we cherish.
American lawyers will succeed in this mission because they have a special capacity for analysis, an honest regard for facts, an open-minded willingness to look at a problem from every side, an ability to detect trouble in advance, a talent for designing imaginative solutions, a human perspective that enables them to perceive problems in their full social and historical context, and a respect for human values.
For their private and public contributions, for helping to make this country the great protector of human rights that it is today, for their contributions that have made the U.S. the financial, industrial, an constitutional success that it is today, the legal profession is to be commended.