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Do Lawyers Not Have a Social Responsibility?

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I imagine that I, myself, have become affected by stereotypes of the members of my profession, along with the rest of humanity. The prototypes have come from motion pictures, television, and numerous literary works.

Being fortunate to have become one of those members of an often misunderstood and much maligned group, there has been ample opportunity to compare the actualities with the fantasies.

It is now 40 years since I was sworn in as a member of the Bar, and I have often been asked the age-old question: "How can one defend somebody when they know or believe the object of their zealous advocacy to be culpable?" The answer is often the axiom that everyone is entitled to a defense, and that to be selective about who receives that blessing begins the erosion of our underappreciated society. Another is the fact that the legislature and courts have proscribed the burdens necessary on the part of the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, as clearly defined as any subjective criterion can possibly be. And our duty is merely to raise that doubt.

But there were always times when I asked myself that question, and in situations where I may have won a case I could not believe I won, or was stunned by a jury's pronouncement in my favor.

What is our responsibility as advocates and officers of the court? Credibility and ethical adherence, certainly. But how can we mitigate our excessive success when assisting individuals who may not care about the lengths to which they have taken their lives, or should we say, the depths?

Just as many lawyers now lean toward a restorative or collaborative approach to their practice, to ease pain of their clients with the oft torturous journey toward the quest for justice, there should be a consciousness of helping the clients themselves avoid repeat performances of the very conduct which led them to our office doors in the first place. Most perpetrators will reflexively reject the admonitions of their spouses, parents, siblings, and doctors, in that order. Anything that sounds like correction will be labeled "preaching" and often dissolve into the chemicals of the brain with almost the same rapidity as the utterances that spoke them. But sometimes, somehow, when the admonition comes from a lawyer, the ears perk up, the eyebrows rise, and just then, there is a chance of penetration into the rigid thinking processes of the individual's resistant mind.

This puts us in a unique position to help. And then a life can change. And head in a healthy, productive direction. The bonus is that you are not only helping to reshape your client's life, but those whom they love, or by whom they are loved, and for whom they are responsible, will reap benefits.

It might serve the lawyer well to keep a list of counseling agencies within easy reach, at hand, or in a computer's protective custody. Drug and alcohol rehabs, family therapists, anger management consultants, alternative dispute resolution firms, or mediators. And it just might save the life of a possible victim of the drunk driving, the drug usage, or the unmanaged anger.

We are fortunate to make our living by helping people. Sometimes it is even a good living, so we should give something back. Most lawyers do feel that way, as evidenced by the increases in pro bono hours provided by practitioners and law firms of every size. For those who might be in a professional rut, there is nothing more calming of the spirit, or exciting to the imagination, as the knowledge that what you did in a given day made somebody's life better in a unique way.

That is why each of us is here.