NCATL Around the State Magazine
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE…
Elizabeth F. Kuniholm
Copyright © 1998 by North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers; Elizabeth F.
President’s remarks delivered June 16, 1998, 34th Annual Convention
It is with some anxiety that I stand before you to follow Gordon’s inspired leadership, and to follow in the office that has been filled by so many gifted and wonderful leaders. I pray for their guidance and support and for your friendship and help.
When my children were small, which for them was a lifetime ago but for me was just yesterday, I would read to them a book about a young warrior named Max. One night, young Max wore his wolf suit, made mischief of one kind or another, and was confined to his room without his supper. That night, a forest grew in his room, the walls became the world all around, and he sailed off in a boat to where the wild things are.
And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, “Be still!” and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all and made him king of all the wild things. Now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”
Then the wild things danced Max’s dance, and followed Max as their leader, until Max said, “Now stop!” and sent the wild things off to bed without their supper. But then he was lonely, and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all, so he went home.
All great literature, whether it is for children, for adults, or for the child left in each adult, speaks to the essential struggles and truths of life. Max’s tale is a parable for the trial lawyer; it is our story.
Law is a profession. What does that mean and what should it mean? Over our lifetimes, “profession” and “professional” have come to be associated with a money-making calling. In sports, particularly, “professional” means “for money.” It has come to mean “in the business of.” But historically, and actually, this is not what being part of a profession is all about. And it is not why we do what we do. It is not why we gather here each year to celebrate our stewardship, to revel in our comradeship.
So where shall we look to find words to describe why we know that law is a profession in the purest sense of the word, to describe why we are proud to be trial lawyers? Roscoe Pound, Dean of the Harvard Law School for many years, has served as an inspiration for trial lawyers in pursuit of justice. While he is an intellectual and spiritual touchstone for us in our dedication to the protection of individual rights, his legacy inspires and guides all lawyers. In 1953, Dean Pound wrote a history of the legal profession.
He reminds us there that historically, there are three ideas involved in a profession: Organization, that is, people coming together; Pursuit of a Learned Art, and a Spirit of Public Service. Law, along with Medicine and Theology, have, through the centuries, been seen as “learned professions.” Gaining a livelihood, while necessary, is only an incidental purpose in a profession.
Pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service. When we hear this, we breathe a sigh of recognition. This is the call we have answered: we chose, when we chose to become lawyers, to come together as a group pursuing a learned art in the spirit of public service. And it is why I, and I hope you, have found a home in the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.
The last two years in our Academy have carried us light years forward. Wade Byrd guided us through our year where we found our new home, launching us and freeing us to more completely fulfill the promise of our profession, of our dedication to our clients and to our ideals. Gordon, this past year, has so thoughtfully reminded us and celebrated that the selfless, unnoticed work we do every day for our clients is our public service.
Building on everything that has come before, we have set three goals for ourselves this year:
1. Serve the public: To pledge and celebrate public service
2. Serve each other: To support and serve each other
3. Serve the law: To promote affirmative law reform, both through the courts and through the legislature
Let me talk to you about public service. There is much talk these days about pro bono work, and providing legal assistance to clients without payment. I challenge you and invite you to adopt a broader, more expansive notion of public service, and to incorporate into your lives and your practices, activities and goals that you can be proud to call public service. On a daily basis we are given chances to fulfill this notion of our profession. I challenge you to seize these chances.
Within the Academy we can perform public service: we can serve as attorney advisors to young people wanting a chance to participate in the Wade Edwards High School Mock Trial Program or serve as a judge in the many competitions. We can serve as a speaker or a dean at a People’s Law School. Our skills give us many ways to perform public service: We can guide an abused wife through the court system to find protection and freedom from fear. We can serve as an advocate for a young child who is the victim of abuse or neglect. We can provide counsel to those in need of guidance within the immigration system. We can join together and provide death penalty defense work, either at trial or on appeal. There are needs within our communities: we can organize and support shelters for the homeless, or for victims of violence in the home. We can become tutors, giving the gift of literacy, or serve as leaders and advisors in the community organizations that work to liberate people from the prisons of poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy. Our advocacy and public service will be all the more needed if in fact it is true, as I have heard, that IOLTA has been declared unconstitutional, and a much- needed source of funding for Legal Services will be gone.
To recognize and celebrate our public service we want you to share with everyone these challenges you accept, so that we can tell these stories of our clients and our members to each other and to the public. The establishment of the Thurgood Marshall Award and its first recipient, Hank Patterson, this year is part of this focus, and we will continue to honor those whose public service honors our profession and our Academy.
Let me talk to you about service to each other. One of the founding goals of this Academy was education. I challenge this Academy to fulfill and expand on this notion of service to each other. Great wisdom resides in this organization. It is our mission for the more experienced to nurture and inspire the less experienced, to impart whatever wisdom comes with the years, to mentor those who come after. We are planning a series of 12 roundtables to be held across the state, to provide times for members to come together around a meal, to workshop cases, and to share knowledge and experience. I challenge each and every one of you to learn from or teach someone else, to give back what has so freely been given, to support those who come after. If you want to participate, if you have ideas, if you have a need or have a skill, please write to me, and we will try to use it, or share it, or nurture it. This mutual support is why this organization exists and is what gives us all the strength and support to go forward in our public service.
Let me talk to you about serving the law. As we all remember from those first confusing months in law school, and from case after case that we briefed and presented, the law is organic, it grows and changes. We must be a part of these changes. The law changes legislatively, and it changes judicially. We are always in need of soldiers in the battle of legislative reform. If you can and you will participate in this, we need you. But the law changes judicially, and we want to study and investigate ways in which we can be part of, encourage, and influence these changes. We have recently seen this happen with the judicial abrogation of the insurance subrogation rule. We must, as an organization, know about these threats before they are decided. We must participate in the debate while it is still open. But we can also shape the debate. If we find the perfect case to present the issue of contributory negligence to the appellate courts, we have some hope of changing that draconian rule through the appellate process.
Other issues can arise legislatively or judicially as well, such as the issue of prosecutorial control of the calendar, or making meaningful the right to counsel.
Through our sections, we seek to develop substantive materials that can be available to members to present or fight on these issues. So we ask all members to communicate with us when an issue that has broader implications comes up. Let us know, Dick, or me, or any member of the Executive Committee, so that we can help, and so that we can assess it in the context of all other cases and issues that members have faced. This is our strength, this is our power.
I stand before you today, as your new president, a reflection of all who have come before me, a reflection of each and every member whose public service for clients on a daily basis fulfills the promise of our profession. I am supported on the wings and in the hearts of all who have come before, hoping that in some small way I will add another brick to the foundation, hoping that even one person will have been encouraged or inspired in the work that we do. I am humbled by the legacy of Walter Clark and of Thurgood Marshall, and seek only to be worthy to follow in Gordon’s footsteps, and in the path of all presidents who have come before. With your help, perhaps we will together make our way forward.
And so I say to you, my brother and sister trial lawyers, when you go to the place where the wild things are, when they roar their terrible roars, gnash their terrible teeth, roll their terrible eyes and show their terrible claws, tame them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once, and become the kings and queens of all wild things. And when the wild rumpus starts, they will dance your dance, and follow you as their leader, stop when you say to stop, and be sent to bed without their supper. And then you can come home to be where someone loves you best of all, to our Academy of Trial Lawyers. If we join hands in our service to our clients, and to each other, the wild things will most surely be tamed.
1998 WL 34002819 (NCATL)