I took an oath on October 17, 1981 in Gammage Memorial Auditorium at Arizona State University, Frank Lloyd Wright’s last public building, and an amazing space. On that day, 12,904 days ago, I became a member of the State Bar of Arizona. (Quick aside: Standing just ahead of me—and a stranger then—was future friend, law partner, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.)
The swearing-in ceremony was a big deal, like graduating from college and law school. Nice clothes, lots of hugs, and a good lunch at Oscar Taylor’s, back when a brick of onion rings seems like the height of haute cuisine.
What the ceremony really imparted, though, was a sense of professionalism. There were speakers and an oath-taking. I remember none of the words, or even who spoke, but I do recall a sense that I was joining up with a collective body of people whose job involved taking on and trying to solve other people’s problems.
I’ve wrestled with the notion that I shoulder other people’s burdens during some part of most every one of those 12,904 days. That’s not my issue for today, though. As well, I’ll save for soon some thoughts about my profession, which is clearly suffering from many serious maladies.
Today, I write about how attorneys contribute to our community. The Creed of Professionalism—the “vision statement” to the oath as the “mission statement”—mentions devotion to “the public good” and “public service.” I don’t recall how much this aspect of professionalism got mentioned so many days ago, but it’s been a huge part of my vision of professionalism for decades.
Most people get their sense of attorneys from television and novels. Reality bites, hard! No version of a real attorney’s day will hold a viewer or reader’s interest for more than 60 seconds. Reality really involves lots of phone calls, writing letters and documents, and occasional meetings with clients, depositions, and court appearances. In that mix, for me and many others, though, is a fair amount of community engagement.
Metropolitan Tucson has about 2,800 nonprofits and foundations. (Too many, but that is yet another subject for another day.) We have schools and a university, youth sports teams, arts organizations, groups devoted to managing and solving the many problems faced by those less fortunate, and hundreds of places of worship (through which many people help those who struggle.) The entities are large and small, well-run (and not), and well-funded (and not). All, however, can stand help with “back of the house” issues like governance, strategic planning, and fund development.
People from all walks of life bring skills to any table. Attorneys—at least the good ones—understand how to evaluate a situation and get from point A to point Z, taking into account the myriad factors which make the journey difficult. It’s what we do from 8 to 5! And, while attorneys and others—for example, accountants, educators, and people with marketing and public relations skills—bring a specific knowledge base to an organization, every organization with which I am familiar needs committed individuals with good interpersonal skills who can figure stuff out and get stuff done!
Because I am an attorney, I’m sure I notice members of the legal profession, including attorneys and those in our world who help us provide legal services, adhering to our creed by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, teaching those who can’t read, supporting the arts, and raising money for good causes. Rare is the organization that does not have within its leadership structure one — and often several — attorneys. Attorneys are tutoring, coaching, mentoring, advising and leading those entities.
By focusing on attorneys and the legal profession, I do not intend to ignore or slight so many others, who do so much. We live in a very generous and caring community and, while my attention here has been on the world I inhabit, we only get the job done with the help of many.
As we enter the giving season, share your treasure, please. And if you’re engaged, sharing your time and talents, that’s wonderful. If not, think about stepping up. Our community needs you!
Note: I wrote a similar version of this piece for Inside Tucson Business, where it appeared on November 21, 2012.