Let's Focus on Unsung Heroes

It is a recognized fact that members of our profession are often held in disdain. Attorneys are subjects of jokes or stories, warranted or not. Part of the problem may be that when there is a negative story about a lawyer, or judge, human nature unfairly paints all people in the same profession with the same broad brush. Since attorneys are prominent members of society, focus on unfavorable reports of their actions is more pronounced.

For each negative news story about lawyers or judges, there are hundreds of unpublicized stories of good works by those in our profession. These good works may be directly related to work as attorneys, or may arise through contributions in public service or through school or church or nonprofit entity. The focus here is on unsung heroes " they exist across our state in small towns and in cities. Although they may still be unnamed, surely their individual acts are not unrecognized. Not by a long shot.

Each of us has heroes. Through remarkable acts of courage, integrity or selflessness by an attorney, perspective has been changed forever. Those individuals have left us a lasting legacy of service. Those heroes may have had an enormous impact on society or policy, or, closer to home, they may have stood up at the right time to affirm values. Or, over time, they became recognized simply as the "never say no" people counted on to show up and "get the job done."

Through my work with the Tennessee Bar Association, I have had the rare and wonderful opportunity to meet many of you throughout our state. I have seen first-hand dedication to our legal profession, and passion for the law. I have learned about acts of heroism by our lawyers and judges, some of which have been acknowledged and rewarded, most of which have not.

A number of heroes has influenced me during my career. I admire the great works performed by attorneys that have impacted history. I am also moved by daily acts of our peers, who perform with no thought of recognition, no thought of thanks. More often than not we take selfless actions of our peers for granted; we are, after all, engaged in a profession of service and commitment. Some unsung heroes in our profession have made immediate impact, while others are truly appreciated decades later.

Close to home, an attorney maintains an active litigation practice requiring much travel. Once or twice a month, he takes an hour or so to read to elementary-aged school children. This attorney sacrifices time in his office, billable work time, to spend with six- and seven-year-old children; he does not expect recognition or thanks, he "just gives his time." His unselfishness influences how those young students learn, and, hopefully, how they look at themselves as they advance through the education system. He works for the hugs and chuckles.

Another attorney serves on the board of a charitable organization, the sole purpose of which is to mentor young people. Listening to fears and concerns, encouraging hopes and dreams, the attorney has fostered relationships and followed young people through undergraduate studies for many years. Another lawyer, moved by an article in a local newspaper, contributes money for the purchase of library books for a high school. She urges other attorneys and professionals to contribute books and money to provide much-needed tools for learning. Her taking the time to solicit support is selfless and ripples through a community; her act garners funds and books, quietly, selflessly.

Another lawyer, at the end of an arduous day at work, drives to a local hospital. There, she dons a surgical mask and sterile clothing after washing her hands in antiseptic soap. Gently, she takes her charge for the next several hours into her arms and rocks the baby who has been abandoned or whose mother is incarcerated.
This volunteer work began many years ago; very few people know that these attorneys, these unsung heroes, have devoted countless hours to improve the lives of others.

Each of us can be a hero " there are innumerable opportunities for lawyers to serve our communities in so many ways, whether related to our legal profession or not. Each day one of us may be called upon to provide some community service. Each day we have the opportunity and the challenge to do something good, many times without thanks. When someone asks you as an attorney to do something, think of the legacy left you by your heroes. Say yes. Make a positive contribution to your communities, to our legal profession.

Throughout history, empowered by our training and our legal system, lawyers have been the catalyst for positive change in our communities and in our society. Sometimes change results from a single act, sometimes from a series of acts.

It should be a priority of all lawyers to focus on the positive accomplishments of individuals and members of our profession and our justice system, and to thank them for being heroes. Think about those heroes who have made in impact in your life; thank them by doing one simple task for which you anticipate no thanks. Drop me a note at the Tennessee Bar Association about someone in the legal profession in your community who has made a difference, who is an unsung hero. Sometimes the simplest of acts can have the greatest impact. The acts of our unsung heroes have the greatest impact on me.

"It is amazing how much people can get done if there is no worry about who gets the credit." " Sandra Swinney