Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Verdict on American Lawyers": ADR and collaborative law missing from one-sided depiction of lawyers and justice

Negative attack on lawyers overlooks changing legal professionAmerican lawyers by now may be inured to media attacks on the legal profession. We expect it from Fox News. But this week lawyers drew fire from an unexpected source: a National Public Radio broadcast.

On Point, a week-day radio news magazine produced by NPR member station WBUR in Boston, broadcast a show this week titled "Verdict on American Lawyers". From the show's description:

America's legal profession is based on ideals: on standards of education and admission to the practice, ethics regulation, a disregard for commercialism and on working on behalf of the public good. The legal system is rooted in the belief that all should have access to justice. But Yale Law Professor and legal historian, [sic] says it's not so. The profession is hardly professional anymore. He says lawyers today are out for their own economic self-interest...
Instead of providing what could have been a rich discussion about the present and future of the legal profession, with points and counterpoints from a spectrum of voices, On Point succeeded in reinforcing for its listeners virtually every negative stereotype that exists about American lawyers today. It perpetuated the myth that all lawyers work for large firms on behalf of shady corporate interests and are members of an Ivy-educated elite motivated solely by self-interest and greed.

The show's greatest defect was its failure to accurately and fully depict today's legal profession in all its diversity. This one-sided portrayal of a legal profession in moral decline ignored the numerous efforts that have contributed to the improvement of law and the institutions that serve it. And it disregarded the movements within the profession that seek to deliver justice better and provide effective mechanisms for the resolution of disputes.

There are plenty of attorneys today who are trailblazers, breaking new ground through movements like collaborative law and restorative justice. These attorneys are bold architects of new ways of serving the public and justice better.

And how can a show that purported to examine the legal profession and access to justice fail to discuss one of the most important revolutions in the courts and in the practice of law: the widespread availability and institutionalization of alternative dispute resolution?

As an attorney who no longer practices traditional law but has spent the past decade as a mediator helping people resolve disputes both within and outside of the legal system, I have many colleagues in the bar who are committed to these kind of innovations in the practice of law and the resolution of disputes. Many are outspoken advocates of these new ways of thinking and work to transform and reinvigorate the practice of law.

Many of them strive to illuminate for the legal profession as well as the public the art and creativity within the practice of law and to help attorneys reclaim the dignity and meaning in what is still an honorable profession.

You may hear "Verdict on American Lawyers" in a number of formats at the On Point web site and judge for yourself.