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July 2016 Executive Director’s Letter: What Can A Lawyer Do?

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Lockwood_KarenThe corners and boundaries of civilian violence are changing. I am going to talk about just one incident to illustrate.

Last night in Dallas, amid a peaceful demonstration against police shootings (largely by white officers), there was a sniper. He was African-American. He shot the police. He shot towards and at the largely black group marching for justice, and at an important voice against urban violence – Black Lives Matter. His shots hit their mark.

They cannot hit our freedom to assemble, or our non-violent demonstrations and marches. They must not. Nor can they hit the peaceful movement calling for just and appropriate police action. What is more, this unique Dallas event showed how good relationships among police officers and African Americans can look in urban centers. Police-Black Citizens strife was not at play in the demonstration itself. Yes, it was the topic. No, there was little of no such rivalry or aggression in Dallas demonstration. Quite the opposite, the officers dressed without riot gear, used and benefited from good credibility and relationships they have worked hard to develop, and worked as humans and professionals to maximize the peaceful (and effective) event.

So, the police officers are to pay? Of course not.

This cross-cutting of race, violence, protest, and freedom of speech exemplify a cauldron of actions based on automatic bias in our country. (You can think immediately of other examples in the political realm.) This event is unique. With that come an opportunity and a responsibility.

The opportunity is for us to use this moment to discuss bias and assumptions nationally. Indeed, shortly after the event and in the time since I wrote this blog, social media and new outlets have raised some of those issues. But we can hold the moment for longer than a news flash. We must combat the thinking that some groups in our diverse and heterogeneous society — a cultural trait which is our national treasure – are more privileged than others to hold sway, exert power, and predominate simply as a matter of privilege. No one group has a “propensity” to violence or a uniform viewpoint of what is right.

The responsibility accrues from our special status as members of the bar. The Dallas shootings situation deserves our reflection as lawyers. But we must act too, in our own cultures and communities. We swore to uphold our Constitution and to preserve and pursue justice. What inspiration for action do we gain from the Dallas events?

In the same vein, as a clergyman, Reverend Jeff Hood shared his insights that morning after. He was there in Dallas. In fact, he was one of the organizers of the day’s successful demonstration. At the front of the march, he was one of the first to hear the sniper’s shooting. He told NPR:

“Ultimately, I spent those three hours talking to people, asking the question, ‘Why? Why? Why is this happening?’ The only answer I know now, and the only answer I knew then, was turn to love, we’ve got to turn to love, we’ve got to stop shooting.” (Rev. Jeff Hood, Dallas, July 8, 2016, reported in CNN report 7-8-2016

As lawyers, and as citizens with that special knowledge and duty, what is it that lawyers are trained for, and good at, that our national society needs? You know how to answer. Share your answer with me and with each other

If clergy citizens can call for love and find ways to encourage it, lawyer citizens can call for what? How about personally acting locally and constantly to call for –

  • Interpersonal respect that fuels open discussions, listening skills, and cohesion necessary to draw out our differences tolerably (and long enough to think, rather than react with violence).
  • Self-awareness of hidden presumptions (starting with ourselves as examples).
  • Accountability for one’s beliefs and generalized judgments (in us as well as our candidates).
  • Real conversation among disparate groups (locally; just start conversing).
  • Teaching the Constitution, why it works, and how we risk sacrificing it (for all ages, and community-based).

These are things we lawyers are good at. Are we using those talents as opportunities?

Karen_ShortSig

 

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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