Lawyers Play a Unique Role in Our Political Process

By the time you read this, we will have likely voted as a state in the Super Tuesday primaries. This election season seems to be more divisive and polarizing than any that I can recall. With all of the issues swirling around, it is important to remember that we play a unique role in our political process. Far too few people in our society have an
understanding of our systems of government and the key issues like attorneys do. Whether we are directly involved in a campaign or a political party, those around us will look to us for our thoughts on candidates and stances.

When you have those opportunities to share your thoughts, be mindful of the leadership role that you play. You can respond with firebrand rhetoric, or you can state your position in a way that shows that lawyers play critical roles in analyzing positions, stating the pros and cons and then defending a position. That calming, rational approach to issues is sorely needed in our society and is in such short supply.

Certainly emotion and heartfelt convictions are important tools in making any presentation. However, they should be used wisely and not used all of the time. Our fellow citizens are tuning out, throwing up their hands and assuming the worst of our government. All too often their frustration is justified. We need the calm, rational leadership and analytical ability that lawyers can provide. We need more lawyers in the state legislature, in Congress and in every possible level of leadership.

I am not arguing for more Democrats or more Republicans. Both have great points and some not-so-convincing positions. You should follow your own political path and advocate for your positions. When you do so, think like a lawyer and think about ways to bring us together as a community, a state and a country. The extremes of both parties and both ends of the spectrum get way too much attention, and the people’s business seems to get lost in the battle of extreme ideologies.

In mediation, we are forced to accept and understand that our opponents have good points and strengths. We are forced to think about middle-ground compromises where everyone gets a little of what they want and some of what they don’t. Even when one is in the dominant position, there is consideration for the other side and the impact that extracting the last drop of blood will have. All too often, going for the last drop serves no one’s best interests and just leads to more trouble. If only our political process followed that same model.

Heated issues like gay marriage, the construction of a mosque, birth control, abortion, war and taxes, can and should be talked about in moderating terms that aim to advocate a position rather than demonize one side or the other. The folks on the other side of the issue may well be wrong in your eyes. Yet, I have rarely seen someone on the other side of an issue from me who was motivated by anything other than their own heartfelt convictions.

We can learn to disagree without being disagreeable. We can and should teach others to disagree without being disagreeable. As lawyers, we can and should help others explore issues and positions without letting the discourse devolve into the least common denominator. Whether we are actively involved in a campaign or party, as lawyers we can and must play a unique and important role in the political process.


Danny Van Horn TBA President DANNY VAN HORN is a partner with Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC in Memphis.