Sunday, April 27, 2014
Twenty years ago today, the first elections were held in a free and democratic Republic of South Africa, and Nelson Mandela was elected the country’s first president. For many of us in the clinical community, ending the incredibly racist and violent apartheid regime was our first endeavor into seeking global justice, and was undertaken in our formative years. Although our individual efforts seem relatively immaterial, history documents that the international economic and political pressures imposed on the apartheid government played a decisive role in ending a regime that was built on the oppression, exploitation, and political and economic exclusion of others. Our witness of the ability of humanity to work together on a global basis to end apartheid in South Africa inspired many of us to make optimistic lifelong commitments to work towards global justice and to teach others to do the same. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela taught us. Today, we have the honor of witnessing and supporting so many teachers in the clinical community and beyond who continue to heed the lessons we learned from Nelson Mandela. These heroes of law and democracy use education every day to promote justice and the rule of law, and to end oppression, exclusion, and exploitation all around the world. Happy 20th Anniversary to the Republic of South Africa, and to everyone everywhere who supports and promotes freedom and democracy!
Thursday, April 24, 2014
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a vocation as "a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work." This definition of vocation implies a calling to a particular field of work, a devotion to a cause or occupation that is more than just a job - a vocation is something that is, by definition, imbued with meaning and a higher purpose.
I have always thought of my career in law in its various incarnations as a vocation. As a lawyer, counselor, activist, and teacher, the connection between my daily work and what I see as one of the main purposes of my life (the pursuit of social justice) has been rich. But like anything else, the law is a tool that can be used to accomplish various ends - or, as Charles Hamilton Houston famously reflected, "A lawyer is a either a social engineer or a parasite on society."
One of the reasons I wanted to not just become a law professor, but to become a clinician specifically, is because of my view of law as a vocation. It seems to me that our society, rightly or not, presents the "parasite" model of lawyering much more prominently than the "social engineer" model. While both models of lawyering are extreme, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, I think this false dichotomy of what it means to be a lawyer causes us to lose something much more subtle and valuable - the notion that law is an honorable profession, and that lawyering can and should be more than just a job.
I am also aware of the temptation in our society to both romanticize (John Grisham) and sensationalize (Law and Order) the practice of law. My reflection of law as vocation is meant to get at something a bit different. At its core, law is a healing profession. If law is a vocation, lawyers are not merely hired guns - we are problem solvers. Lawyers are counselors and advocates - we stand by and walk with our clients not just because the rules of professional conduct require us to, but because our vocation calls us to do so. This is what I have learned from my teachers, colleagues, and students over the course of my career, and is ultimately part of the vision of lawyering and legal education that I hope to contribute to.