The Holly Near song is about the Kent State victims and Chilean folk singer Victor Jara, killed by the junta, but I thought of the words lately in another context.
In class, I often begin with a "lawyer's in the news" segment -- a story that illustrates a topic discussed in class. There are many, because the behavior of lawyers or the profession generates much news, and doing this brings home the immediacy of the subject.
Last week, I talked about the $1.5 billion error when a security statement on a GM loan was terminated mistakenly. Monday, I may talk about the lawyers at Bronx Defenders. See
Thinking about these incidents I realize that I could have made the same mistakes, failed to triple check a document or just assume that another lawyer did so, or (as I imagine) get so caught up in the opportunity to be in (or contribute to) a music video that I fail to explore how doing might hurt my law office or take precautions.
In the case of the Defenders, youth may have something to do with it. I don't know the ages of the two lawyers who facilitated the arrangement. (The head of the office is older, a remarkable and dedicated woman who has spent her life in indigent defense work).
These mistakes are certainly not about character or ability. They are not characterological, as say Stephen Glass's conduct might be seen to be. They are, really, errors at a particular place and time. Yet they can have terrible consequences and not just for the actors. Colleagues and the law office may suffer.
Predictably, the police union called for the lawyers' disbarment, which is ridiculous. But even level-headed politicians piled on, calling for an "immediate shake-up," whatever that means. Besides, the organization's board has already adopted controls and imposed sanctions.
Hard as it is, perhaps, we should also try to put ourselves in the position of the lawyers in each story. One mistake, not ill-moivated, and your professional life can come crashing down. I think of times in the first decade of my work as a lawyer when I exercised poor judgment, but nothing came of it. Luck perhaps.