Duty, Honor and Joy in the Profession of Law
July 2009 President's Message
Patrick E. Kelly
Recently, I had the privilege of addressing the graduating class of the Bar Leadership Institute (BLI) on the topic of Leadership Opportunities in the Mecklenburg County Bar (MCB). Our discussion soon turned to more basic questions: Why should I be actively engaged in the Bar? How is the MCB relevant to me as an attorney juggling competing professional, personal and family obligations?
I would not be surprised if many of us have asked ourselves the same questions at some point or another. The answer to these questions became more evident when I reflected upon the purposes of the Bar as outlined in the Mission Statement and Goals: to serve the public and members of the Bar; to promote the highest standards of professionalism, competence and ethical behavior; to promote the administration of justice; to assure access to legal services to all regardless of social, ethnic or economic status; to promote public education in the community on legal issues, the Bar and the legal system; and to provide MCB members with continuing education.
These goals, to all who have plunged into active participation in the Bar are well aware, are not mere platitudes. Every day, the Bar's dedicated staff and attorneys, including more than 40 committees and sections, work tirelessly and with little fanfare to make these goals a reality. Here are just a few examples:
The Professionalism, LawyerLife, and Culture Committee serves MCB members by providing support services and programs to attorneys who have lost jobs or are suffering from the effects of the down economy. The Bar Leadership Institute inspires participants to pursue leadership opportunities to improve the legal profession and the quality of life in our community. The Volunteer Lawyers Program and the Lawyer Referral Service assure access to justice to those who may not otherwise have access. The CLE Committee provides quality, affordable and convenient continuing education opportunities to members. Law Day and Law & Society promote public awareness of legal issues and of our legal system.
In performing these and many other functions, the Bar ensures that each of us fulfills our solemn oath to our profession and to our community- what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. calls the "ideal part"of the law, the pursuit of "intellectual and spiritual interests, without which we are but snails or tigers." As members of the legal profession, we are not merely called to zealously represent our clients - we are sworn officers of the court. We are public citizens having a special responsibility for the quality of justice in the greater society. We are educators who are expected to cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its mere use for our clients. We are promoters of a justice system that depends upon popular participation and support to maintain its authority. We are defenders of the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, who do not have access to adequate legal assistance.
Individually, none of us could ever hope to live up to these daunting expectations of duty and self sacrifice. Yet through our collective efforts, facilitated by our professional organizations and particularly through our own local Bar, we are able collectively to achieve, or at least strive to achieve, the ideals of the profession which by even our most dedicated individual efforts would be beyond reach.
As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted in "Life as Joy, Duty, End," it is not the monetary and tangible rewards of the profession, great as they may be, which are ultimately the most meaningful and rewarding. Reflecting on his long and distinguished career, he concluded that it was not fame or fortune that satisfied him most. It was the knowledge that he had done his duty as a professional. "We are lucky enough if we can give a sample of our best, and if in our hearts we can feel it has been nobly done & the rule of joy and the law of duty seem to me all one."
I think Justice Holmes had it right. The pursuit of the ideals of the profession, through the Bar as embodied in the Bar's mission, provide meaning, purpose and yes, joy to the practice of law. In that spirit, I accept the mantle of MCB President with a sense of duty and a sense of joy in being given the privilege to serve this Bar and its more than 4200 members. Like Justice Holmes, I hope to give a "sample of my best" to the noble cause that is the Mecklenburg County Bar-a cause that all of us share as members of the learned and honorable profession of law.