The Legal Advocate

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May 2014 Executive Director’s Letter: CAPITAL in the Twenty-First Century

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How strongly armed is a person who can use savings, investments, and other assets to increase his individual income?  How well can anyone with access to useable capital make a difference in accelerating “family money” to create more security and earning power through inheritance? What is the mechanism by which capital shapes society, culture, and a nation’s future?  Is income just as important?

Most importantly, as capital gathers strength and income capacity increases, how do the two exert a force on society?  What is the position of citizens who have good earning power but little savings?   What is the power of citizens who have not only income, but also wealth?  Putting politics aside, how is a society shaped and changed by the relative forces of income and capital?  In short, how do the distribution of income and the distribution of wealth change over time, and what are the forces that work between them?

 Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the 2014 landmark book by Thomas Piketty, tackles these questions.  More credibly than can be expressed by a political tome or a philosophy or theoretical school of thought, Capital starts with data – big data from the 18th Century to 2010.  If you have wondered about the questions posed above, or mused about what political approach is advised, or even whether any political view is based in fact, this book will enthrall you.

I care deeply about the questions I pose, and so does NITA. Certainly, NITA focuses on “justice” rather than “capital” to bring to our society a greater chance to fulfill the promise of democracy.  But the convergence of NITA’s focus and the income/capital puzzle leaps out from Piketty’s results.  Please allow me to paraphrase knowing that I will err in both language and restatement of Piketty’s highly nuanced and consistent teachings:

  • Income distribution over time trends toward greater divergence between high earners and others, with increasing concentration of earning power in fewer people. This is not political; it is an event of economics.
  • Wealth distribution is much more powerful than income in separating the accumulation of wealth and the power to increase income. This divergence, clear from the longitudinal data is also a phenomenon of economics.
  • The interaction of these two phenomena will keep you thinking for as long as you need before opening Capital to read it for yourself.

Here is the good news: Piketty addresses what exists to create forces of convergence of economic power rather than further divergence of income and wealth distribution. One factor wins out above all others: Listen:

“The main forces for convergence are the diffusion of knowledge and investment in training and skills.” (at 21)

“The diffusion of knowledge is only partially natural and spontaneous. It also depends in large part on educational policies, access to training and to the acquisition of appropriate skills, and associated institutions.” (at 22)

NITA’s work is, indeed, working for such economic convergence. NITA’s work to strengthen access to justice is fundamentally important in providing those with lower income and less wealth to lead stable lives. We diffuse knowledge — We invest our entire efforts into training and skills.

And as we reach out to build greater skills in the profession, we specifically reach out to enroll also those who represent populations without either income or wealth, as well as those who can self-pay.

At NITA, we talk about this as Public Service – helping those who need access to justice by helping their lawyers increase knowledge and skills, and also helping those lawyers who do not have resources to come to NITA. We are an institution that is, in its DNA, helping to converge economic forces toward a strong and just society.

We need your help in this.

Stay tuned. This is a theme on which I will continue to share my thinking. And I welcome your thoughts. How can we access more resources ourselves, in order to increase our Public Service?




Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy

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NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.

NITA’s Goals are to:

  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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