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Posted by: Daniel Van Horn on Sep 7, 2011

Journal Issue Date: Aug 2011

Journal Name: August 2011 - Vol. 47, No. 8

Now’s the Time

In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Cade is conspiring to create chaos and his co-conspirator Dirk, responding to things that would need to be done to accomplish that end, says, “The first thing we do. Let’s kill all the lawyers.” Many people misquote that particular passage and wrongfully focus just on taking out lawyers. In fact, that may be one of the most well-known early lawyer jokes. The real message behind that passage though is actually a significant compliment and statement about the role that attorneys play in preserving and defending liberty, order and the rule of law.

There may not be any forces that would really like to “kill all the lawyers,” but our profession and the fair and efficient administration of justice are under attack to a degree that we have not seen in a long time. Fewer and fewer attorneys are serving in the state legislature. Many legislative committees have no attorneys in their membership. We now have tort reform that will cost attorneys jobs and damage companies that service law firms. Yet in an ironic twist, tort reform was passed based on an unsupported promise of the creation of 577 new jobs per week. Only time will tell if net job creation because of tort reform ever happens or if that was simply a convenient political argument. Tort reform will be felt by us all.

We saw some glimmerings of the possible fate of our justice system this year, but next legislative session a full assault on the way we choose and retain appellate judges is likely. Despite Tennessee Supreme Court rulings upholding our current method of merit selection and retention elections, some shockingly argue that the legislature does not have to listen to the courts or that a constitutional amendment is needed. More will be said about merit selection and retention in the coming months.

As a profession, we have to start to turn the tide that is against us. That effort is not one that will have immediate results. It will require sustained efforts over time.

The first thing we need to do is realize how connected we all are. What hurts plaintiffs’ attorneys will eventually hurt defense attorneys. What hurts prosecutors hurts defense counsel. What hurts lender’s counsel hurts borrower’s counsel. There should be no division among attorneys — no us and them — only us. Any other approach simply hurts us all.

We need to put a fresh face on the legal profession in Tennessee. As a profession we employ thousands of Tennesseans and positively impact countless others. We need to make others aware of the service that we provide all across the state. As a profession, we are incredibly generous with our time and our money. Whether it is pro bono work to help the poor of our communities or the case that starts out a paying client and winds up a pro bono client, Tennessee lawyers donate millions in time each year to other Tennesseans. Tennessee lawyers are the leaders of their local Rotary Clubs, Knights of Columbus, school boards and countless other charitable and civic endeavors. We need to make others more aware of the leadership, time and money that we donate to others.

Lastly, we need to do more to make our voices heard more. Whether we like it or not, money is the lifeblood of politics. We should donate to political action committees like LAW PAC. We should make an effort to donate more to our state legislators — both Republican and Democrat. They should know who we are. They should hear from us on a regular basis. We should develop relationships with our legislators. We need to start doing this now so that when big issues like tort reform, merit selection or any other issue arise, our voices can and will be heard.

The time to change is now. If we stand divided and uncoordinated or if we simply remain silent, we can expect more of the same. We have to be the change that we want to see.

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