On December 5, 2013, a preeminently honorable man, perhaps the most admired in the world, passed away. That man was Nelson Mandela, and he was a lawyer.
Mandela’s surpassing prominence came not from writing a groundbreaking law review article, or from dazzling court watchers with a brilliant closing argument in a high profile trial (save the historic “speech from the dock” that he gave at his own). Mandela’s singular gift to civilization – his inspiration and leadership of South Africa’s peaceful transition from Apartheid rule to multi-racial, constitutional democracy – will not be known by most people as the provision of a “legal service.” Indeed, relatively few among the millions who revere Mandela will perceive the formidable legal mind at work behind his history-making achievements. But as much as anything, it was Mandela’s mastery of the lawyer’s art that enabled him to build a case that changed the world.
Mandela was a lawyer’s lawyer. And his story is a lesson to all that living the lawyer’s life, at its best, engenders the skills and character traits that can empower people to make a difference in their community, their nation, and beyond.