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A Spiritual Crisis In Our Legal Profession

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 7, 2019
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2019


By Chris Burdick                 SCCBA CEO & General Counsel


[Editor’s Note: This article is an adapted version of remarks by SCCBA CEO & General Counsel, Chris Burdick, at the Installation Ceremony/Reception for the 2019 SCCBA Officers & Trustees.]

I want to thank our 2019 SCCBA President, Gabe Gregg, for his generous invitation to share some thoughts about the legal profession. First, I hope you will indulge me for a momentary diversion.

As many of you know, the now Honorable Jim Towery was SCCBA President in December 1989 when the SCCBA was hiring a new, then, executive director. Jim was a significant reason for my accepting the position. I decided that if he was representative of the attorneys in leadership at the SCCBA, it would be a terrific job. As it turned out, Jim was representative of the attorney’s active in the legal community and SCCBA.

I want to publicly thank Jim for his exuberance for the SCCBA and for the many opportunities I have had as a result of his pushing some doors open, opportunities that allowed me to represent the SCCBA locally, statewide and nationally. Most importantly, Jim has been an amazing mentor and friend, who I have always counted on to tell me the unvarnished truth and give me his sound advice and he has. Thank you, Jim.

A spiritual crisis in our legal profession exists and has existed in the legal profession for a number of years. Indeed, the profession may be in danger, and many already be in the process, of losing a soul it has embraced for nearly as long as there have been lawyers in this country. I don’t mean a spiritual crisis in the religious sense. I mean “spiritual” in the sense of having a deep connection with the essence of being a lawyer as opposed to being a legal technician proficient in the everyday practice of law. That internal sense or expectation that being a lawyer is a higher calling, a higher endeavor than merely a way to earn a good living, or gain influence or advance political agendas.

It’s that sense that lawyering is about the public good, about contributing to the fabric of our democracy, sustaining the rule of law and preserving individual liberties. That is the spiritual dimension to which I refer. That is what distinguishes American lawyers from lawyers in other countries and what makes our democracy unique.

It’s this sense of having a higher calling that initially motivated lawyers to organize. Attorneys as individuals cannot fully meet that expectation. But coming together as a group expands the capacity to meet that expectation, gives it intensity and emotion and helps lawyers generate ways to meet the expectation. In addition to which our unique training gives lawyers a singular kind of insight, a certain wisdom, judgment and prudence that the public has always relied on lawyers to meet.

We used to call ourselves “lawyers and Counselors at Law.” It’s an ability to counsel that comes from possessing a trait of character that is only acquired by being a person of good judgment, by being able to balance conflicting interests and needs. These are the traits that have been and remain a significant part of being an attorney. Lawyers develop these traits as we study the law and better understand the significance of being an integral part of the judicial system.

Because being an attorney is not just a job, it’s a way of life; a way of life that has a soul evidenced by the emotional and intellectual intensity that comes with being part of a higher calling. A type of soul sustained by reaching for the loftier values of acting in the public good.

And, these values must be attended to or we stand in danger of losing them. But, not nearly enough attorneys acknowledge this essential character trait openly enough or place as much value in them as we have in the past. [Click here for the full post]

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