June 8, 2011
Making a Difference As Lawyers and Educators
Yesterday I received a copy of Professor Matthew Fraidin’s Keynote Address to the Bergstrom Child Welfare Law Training Program, University of Michigan Law School (May 24, 2011) via two of my favorite lawyers (my wife and my aunt). The address was in the context of child welfare law, but his message is, I think, applicable to all lawyers. In fact, I think it is a particularly important message for business lawyers, and it is a message that applies to transactional lawyers as well as litigators. Professor Fraidin argues:
Lawyers.do.things. They don’t stand and watch and think it’s right because everyone else does it, because the courthouse culture has always done it this way, because the oldtimers do it this way, or even because a law professor tells them to do it this way. Lawyers don’t stand idly by just because that’s what a judge wants. . . . .
We can assume that every client and every litigant and every witness is different from every other one. We can’t assume we’ve seen this one before, that we can spot this kind of case a mile away. We have to resist the tendency to say “Oh, yeah, sure, this is the FILL IN THE BLANKS kind of case.” This is the “mother who is a victim of domestic violence” case. This is the “untreatable manic-depressive” case. “This is the immature-father-still-sponging-off-his-mother” case.
Because if we know all the answers from the outset, we don’t get to do any thinking. We don’t get to get to know this particular client, this particular human being. We don’t get to hear her story, because we don’t have to. And we can just stand around and let the world take its course.
But that’s not what lawyers do. We change the course of events. We add value. We make a difference.
I think he’s absolutely right, or at least he can be. As lawyers, as educators, and as law students, we should all be listening more. We should be trying to find answers and proposing solutions, but first we need to know what is behind the client's question or goal, and seek the root of their problem, not just the symptom.
This is a great call to action for all lawyers, and especially for law professors. We can’t assume we know all the answers or the best way to teach, just because we have done it before or the “great ones” did it a certain way. We should asking what we can do better, and who are we teaching, and why we are teaching them.
We must remember that we are not just teaching law students to be lawyers. We are teaching them to be lawyers who can serve other people. If we focus on the serving people part a little more, I think, in the end, our students will become better lawyers. And that’s one way we can make a difference.