The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy – Dr. Martin Luther King
I have talked to hundreds of lawyers across the country about depression in the legal profession. One of the common themes in these conversations is how the legal community fosters depression. There are many forms this can take: a “winner-take-all” outlook, a lack of civility and too much emphasis on money and power as a barometer of success. There is something profoundly dispiriting about this approach to life and it can contribute to one’s depression as a lawyer.
I think it’s important to be inspired as a lawyer; to develop our own sense of purpose and passion. One way to do this is to look to the luminaries of our profession; people of high moral character, bravery and basic decency. In the November 2, 2009 edition of Time Magazine, there was a touching tribute written by attorney, Morris Dees (one of my heroes), about one of his heroes, Judge William Wayne Justice. Rather than attempt to pen something else about this great man, here’s what attorney Dees wrote:
“Judge William Wayne Justice was a hero of mine. He set the pace for so-called activist judges and in the process became the most despised man in Texas. When Wayne was appointed a federal district judge in 1968, the South was not through fighting the Civil War. The most unpopular people were those, like Wayne, who enforced desegregation in schools.
It would have been easier to just go along, as so many judges did. But Wayne, who died October 31 at 89, didn’t wink at the law. After receiving handwritten letters from prison inmates describing awful conditions and brutal treatment, he appointed a lawyer to handle the case, a decision that lead to an overhaul of the state’s prisons. While most people in Texas were glad to use migrant laborers as indentured slaves, Wayne helped their children get an education in the state’s public school system.
When I found out that Wayne had been selected to receive an award in my name in 2006, I was actually embarrassed. I would have been honored to get an award in his name, and I called him to tell him so. He couldn’t have been more gracious. He really was a saint with a briefcase and a gavel.”
We need more saints in the legal profession. But, they’re out there. Find them and let them guide and inspire you. Then become a hero yourself. As the modern sage Bruce Springsteen once said “At some point a person has to stop thinking about the person they want to be and be the person they want to be.”
Let’s all move in this direction.