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November 2016 Executive Director’s Letter: What Can A Lawyer Do For Democracy – when you want to be non-political?

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Lockwood_KarenThis is not about the 2016 presidential election, which is an act now done.

It is about the question, “What do we do now?”

We who are lawyers must use our knowledge and our experience about the U.S. Democracy to educate entire communities. Seems hopeless. But remember the Chautauqua movement? Like that, a movement is needed to spread the talent of listening and the courage of speaking across disagreements. Say, a Listening for Democracy movement.

1. Do voters understand our democracy? Do they know that the grand experiment of the U.S. Constitution has worked for 240 years because it has three branches, and is built on an educated body of “We the People”?

There is a broad lack of knowledge about this, and it directly affects our choices as citizens and voters. It is non-political, completely, to say that we must re-educate our entire nation of residents. Sandra Day O’Connor called this issue out even before she retired in 2006. She founded the important initiative of “iCivics” education for children and youth.

But we have eroded more quickly than expected toward a predominantly gut-level basis for exercising one’s vote, not interested in actual facts. We have isolated ourselves into narrow belief groups, unable to find, much less listen to, separate belief groups, as an unforeseen and harmful symptom of social media communication channels. We are a nation of separate belief groups, not of states. And we are in trouble.

2. How can lawyers prevent our society — local, regional, and national – from fracturing? Think of these forces to start with:

  1. Purely value-based truisms used to skip education and vote by “gut“;
  2. Caustic individualism that acts out of pure self-interest;
  3. Internet sanctums of values-based reference points that do not talk to each other, but evolve ever more extremely to a closed set of beliefs among narrow factions in the democracy;
  4. Use of the vote (or the appointment power) by a population (or an official) to elevate leaders mostly from within one faction who will hold excess power without balance;
  5. Like-breeds-like communities that grow more understanding of others when they are diverse (think high population regions) and more intolerant when they are less diverse. This is how the human brain processes what is normal versus what is frightening, and is called implicit bias;
  6. . . . (there is a lot more).

This list is frighteningly real. It needs a nationwide re-messaging. Our nation needs to re-learn how to listen without voicing disagreement. Those who know democracy as a governing system must teach how to debate while refining our disagreements. We must be sure to preserve our democracy. We will always be more diverse, and the internet will always drive toward isolation in beliefs.

Lawyers can teach this. For now I don’t know how to create energy or a process to start a “movement.”

At NITA we know that we learn new ways – in the courtroom or out – by practicing them. Desired habits of learning, and understanding through listening, grow as we model and practice them.

Reach out. Listen. Teach. Advocate listening. Build listening in your community. Write to me about how to start a movement. As officers of the courts, in our non-political selves, we must step up.

Karen_ShortSig

 

 

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

About Karen M. Lockwood

Karen is the Executive Director at the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. Karen brings the insights and creativity rooted in serving corporate and business clients, first-chairing numerous jury and bench trials, and arguing appeals. Her specialty areas have included construction litigation, large disaster cases, multi-party commercial disputes involving all types of contracts, antitrust, trademark and copyright, and ADR.

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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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