Beginning today in Louisville the Kentucky Bar Association opens its annual convention. For many years now lawyers have been the subject of some very harsh humor. Much blame for the condition of our society is laid at their feet. But how much of that criticism do they really deserve?
I have been practicing law for over 32 years. When I became a lawyer I felt as if I was joining an honorable profession steeped in tradition, and out of which some of the world’s greatest leaders had come. My training and my education instilled in me a deep sense of responsibility to uphold and defend that tradition and to conduct myself in a way which brought honor upon our American system of justice.
There is no doubt that under our Constitution we are a nation ruled by law, and not by men. As such, the obligation of a lawyer is to serve the system of laws according to the oath of office, to defend the Constitution. But of equal importance is the lawyer’s obligation to conduct himself/herself by a rigid code of behavior in order to fulfill the additional obligation to society of engendering respect for our American laws and institutions.
Of course, just as there are butchers who put their thumbs on the scale, builders who end up with extra lumber between projects, doctors who over prescribe, preachers who cheat on their wives and any number of other examples of miscreants one could find in virtually every segment of society, there are lawyers who disregard their solemn duties as well. I do not say this to excuse their conduct, but to point out that they are few in number, usually dealt with appropriately under the rules of discipline and rarely develop the kind of reputations which end up the proud legacy of their families.
More importantly are the large number of attorneys who work tirelessly day in and day out to help people in need, real people with real life problems who present to a lawyer’s office usually at the end of their rope. When there is nowhere else to turn for help,
people turn to their lawyer.
I’ve often been asked, “How can you defend someone when you know that they are guilty?” My response is simple. I defend their rights, not their wrongs. And by defending the rights of a single citizen, we defend the rights of all citizens.
Today there is a serious concern among many that government has gone too far, that our personal liberties are being eroded. Where will people turn for protection? To whom will they look to help them save their liberty? They will likely turn to the courts and to lawyers for help when the government comes knocking on their doors.
And when they turn to courts, they will be looking to lawyers, serving as judges to exercise independent judgment, not biased in favor of the government, nor bending the rules to help the guilty escape appropriate punishment. Men and women trained in the law, without a dog in the fight, free to let the wisdom of the ages and their own conscience guide them, judges provide a significant line of protection against the unwarranted denial of life, liberty and property.
But in the end the real power, even in a courtroom, is where it should be, with the people. Ordinary citizens, convened as a jury, selected at random, vetted to remove any with a bias, peers of the accused will sit in final judgment over the lives and liberty of men.
Not a single law, regulation or the will of any government official can take away a man’s life, his liberty or his property unless a jury says so. And the jury has the ultimate right, called “jury nullification” to exercise that power without restraint.
When the lawyers gather this morning in Louisville to meet and discuss what we do, what we face and how we can earn the public trust, I can assure you that among that group will be many great men and women who understand the awesome responsibility which comes
with the honor of being called a Kentucky Lawyer.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.