These are uncertain times for the promise of equal access to justice for all. Particularly now, it is important that we the lawyers show up to do what we can do: wield our unique expertise to be instigators, catalysts and defenders of the rule of law, the power of reason and the promise of mercy.
The end of this fraught year and the start of another presents the opportunity to take stock of our first principles and remember why we chose this craft, what we stand for and how we would want to be remembered. We grow in stature when the choices we make and the practices we habituate comport with those first principles.
I take time at the New Year to jot down on an index card the attributes that I value most, the principles that I cherish and the traits that I admire. I tape that card to my desk, where I can see it every day. It helps me to keep my head on straight, especially when others are losing theirs.
Here is my card for this year:
I value intelligence and I respect kindness. I stand for the realization of equal access to justice. I believe in the promise of redemption and the power of love. I admire the relentless commitment to excellence when it is practiced with compassion. I seek to emulate those who stay above the fray, whose high-mindedness has no room for the petty or mean-spirited. This year let me be a giver of hope, a voice for those yet to find their own and a champion of the underdog.
Those words remind me to stay away from the bottom-feeders and those who prey on human frailties. They help me to keep my imprint, particularly in virtual realms, principled, responsible and generous.
I have found that there is more power in standing for something rather than against some other thing. Instead of decrying injustice, stand for decency, fairness and the cause of justice. Rather than call out the wrong-headed, call in people of good conscience.
Remember the power of words. Keep your promises. Let your words advance the cause of progress. Be less harsh in your estimations of others. Don’t leave a positive word left unsaid.
Promise this year to not hit send in anger. Be of service. Try to make every context in which you find yourself less about you and more about how to make another’s load lighter. Leave your ego at the door of the rooms that you enter and do something so that the room is better because you were there.
Use your expertise to ease the suffering of others. There is much to be done. Too many are without even a decent place to live. Others will never see the inside of a classroom, let alone have access to the inside of a courtroom to see their liberties vindicated.
In the midst of rising seas of need, this year promise to do what you can with the time and aptitudes that you have. Let your actions shake people out of their cynicism and prompt them to question whether they are right about their harsh judgments of the world. When they try to convict humanity, be their basis for reasonable doubt.
The assiduous commitment to the good of others makes one’s own life good. You get to be a witness to the birth of hope. As a lawyer, I have had the privilege to watch as hope has sprung from the most desolate places. My life has never been the same.