by Carla N. Archie
A few years ago, I attended a conference hosted by the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC). As with most professional conferences, it was filled with panels and presentations on substantive changes in the law and emerging trends. But the most enriching part of the conference, for me, was the last session--- an insightful, motivational, personal development segment led by Anthony Bell, CEO of Leader Development Inc. in Columbia, SC.
Bell started with a visual demonstration. There were several bottles of varying shapes and sizes, positioned together in a crate on the floor of the stage. Bell, a relatively tall man, stood beside the crate, holding a pitcher of water. He announced his intention to fill the bottles on the floor with the water in the pitcher, and slowly began pouring water over the crate from approximately 4 feet above. Instead of filling the bottles, much of the water flowed between the bottles, through the openings in the crate, splashing onto the floor of the stage. The audience chuckled at the mess he made, and so he turned to us, feigning indignation, and asked, “What would you suggest I do differently?” And in varying ways, we all chimed in. Bend over. Lean down. Get on your knees. Synthesizing our responses, he said, “Oh, you want me to get closer?” “Yes!” the audience shouted in unison. And so began the lesson - in order to bring about a change in people and performance, we must get close enough to pour into them the resources they need.
There are numerous legal challenges to address; and in order to serve our clients well, we must get close enough to understand their needs. We must invest time getting to know our individual clients to determine what is important to them, what motivates them, and what keeps them up at night. Likewise, we must invest the time necessary to understand our business clients, their operating model, market risks, and regulatory environment. And we must pour into clients our advice and counsel not from afar, but close enough for them to trust us and receive our guidance.
There are socio-economic and political challenges, not the least of which is access to justice, and it is our duty, consistent with the overall goal of the MCB, to assure access to legal services for all, without regard to social, ethnic, or economic status. We ensure access for all by being actively engaged in the delivery of legal services to all, including those who cannot afford our services. Indeed, our responsibility to ensure access is emphasized at the outset of the Rules of Professional Conduct in Rule 0.1(6):
“As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice, and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession. As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law, and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority. A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the bar regulate itself in the public interest.”
Of course, there are a variety of ways we can get close to the issue of access to justice. We can support agencies that serve our neighbors in need, like Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the Council for Children’s Rights. We can support the MCB committees and programs that provide pro bono services and legal volunteers to the community.
Whatever avenue you choose, getting close is the smartest, easiest, most effective way to hit the target and deliver the solutions we need to solve challenging problems.
I look forward to getting closer at a future Bar event!