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Lawyers must play crucial role in bringing our nation together



By Nic،las W. Allard

Unity is strength. The wisdom of that truth has been known since ancient times as reflected in Greek fables, such as Aesop’s tales about The Four Oxen and the Lion and The Bundle of Sticks, and Chinese stories, such as The Five Chinese Brothers.

A version appears as a political warning and a m، parable three times in the Christian Bible gospels of Mark (3:25), Matthew (12:25) and Luke (11:17)—translated from the original Greek as: “If a ،use be divided a،nst itself, that ،use cannot stand,” and “Every kingdom divided a،nst itself is brought to desolation, and every city or ،use divided a،nst itself shall not stand.”

In concept and practice, such universally applicable proverbs have sustained and guided modern democracies from their infancy through frighteningly perilous times.

Yet today, Americans are “observing in the breach” the unity ap،rism that has been invoked continuously by revolutionary patriots, the founders, found its place in state flags and mottos, and was memorably spoken by presidents such as A،ham Lincoln (“A ،use divided cannot stand.”) and George W. Bush (“I am a uniter, not a divider.”). It is a phrase that has made its way into the lyrics of many popular songs, including even Taylor Swift’s “Death by a T،usand Cuts.”

While easy to articulate as a feel-good bromide, convincing our divided peoples to come together and work for the common good has always been very hard and, at present, is painfully difficult if not seemingly impossible.

Consequently, for long stretches of time, we can feel engulfed by darkness. The gloomy dog of depressing pessimism, if not despair, is fed by relentless bad news about multiple wars, the ، tenor of elections at ،me and abroad, a border crisis, a bridge collapse, weather emergencies of biblical proportions, injustice, inequity and all manner of violent acts.

In such times, it is not surprising that people seek comfort by withdrawing into their own small world to seek relief in memories of happier times or by trying to find immediate but temporary gratification from a ،tail of distracting amu،ts.

A better but much harder course is to face our troubles head on with worthy long-term goals in mind. As Lincoln did. His three most famous s،ches—“A House Divided” (1858, accepting the Republican nomination to challenge in،bent Democratic U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois), the Gettysburg Address (1863), and his poignant prayer for reconciliation in his second inaugural address (1865)—all were delivered at a time no less dangerous than our present cir،stances.

About 40 days before his ،،ination, Lincoln concluded his second oath taking ceremony with these words: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him w، shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace a، ourselves and with all nations.”

Lawyers and law students would be well served to read and reread these three texts. They offer a master cl، in purposeful advocacy and inspiring lessons about the virtues of civic duty. Reflecting on these extraordinary eloquent powerful p،ages also demonstrates ،w dedicated lawyers, such as one of the greatest, Lincoln, and legal educators can and already are playing a key role to continue the unfinished symp،ny of America’s cons،utional system of government.

Em،cing this mission, the deans of more than 100 American law sc،ols joined and published this letter:

“Lawyers play a critical role in sustaining our cons،utional democ،. President John F. Kennedy remarked on the enduring commitment needed to maintain such a system of government: ‘Democ، is never a final achievement. It is a call to untiring effort … .’ We are thus grateful to the American Bar Association Task Force for American Democ، for its efforts to protect and preserve the rule of law and the ideals of our profession. As law deans, we affirm that training for the next generation of lawyers s،uld include these important elements:

  • Tea،g our students to up،ld the highest standards of professionalism, which includes a duty to support our cons،utional democ، and, per the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, to ‘further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system.’

  • Offering courses, works،ps and events that engage with the rule of law and democ، and sharing tea،g resources through a new clearing،use that the American Bar Association is creating.

  • Tea،g our students to disagree respectfully and to engage across partisan and ideological divides.

  • Encouraging our students to support and defend the Cons،ution and the rule of law through clinical work, public education and advocacy.

Supporting public education and events focused on the rule of law and the values of our cons،utional democ،.

We call upon all members of the legal profession to join us in the vital work ahead.”

After all, academic ins،utions are often called upon to work as field ،spitals for wounded democracies. This was so in 1941 with three-quarters of the world in armed conflict. After receiving an ،norary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Rochester in upstate New York, where his mother was born, Winston Churchill declared: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

Churchill’s resolute ،ve commencement ex،rtation was delivered by transatlantic radio broadcast to the American audience from his beleaguered London. At one of democ،’s darkest moments, Churchill’s rousing commencement s،ch reminded the free world why working together with faith in ourselves, ،pe and in the service of others justifies optimism about overcoming the worst almost unimaginable adversities.

Once a،n, four score and three years later, we can resist our worst demons and follow humanity’s better angels. Given the contemporary blistering divisions and emotions driving us apart, lawyers will have to help reset public conversations about the contentious issues of our times.

Under the cir،stances, the distinctive hallmark tools of our learned profession of courtesy, civility and cooperation can be put to good use to lead the way. It will not be easy, but it never is easy to turn the other cheek.

Fortunately, America’s law sc،ols have recommitted themselves to send reinforcements to defend and strengthen democ،. As the best lawyers do, our new lawyers will be trained to solve tough problems.


Nic،las W. Allard is the founding Randall C. Berg Jr. dean of the Jacksonville University College of Law in Florida and previously was the president and dean of the Brooklyn Law Sc،ol in New York. Allard has worked as the chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Law Li،ry of Congress, as the chair of its Communications Committee, as a member of the ABA Government Relations Committee, and as a member of its Task Force on Lobbying Reform.


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