President's Message July/August 2019

The Heart of the Profession
David N. Bazar, Esq.

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

May we set an example for others that society is best served by people listening to each other, and being compassionate and thoughtful.”   
Why are bar associations critical to society? The messages of the presidents who precede me echo many of the thoughts running through my mind about our future. Among them: the importance of the Bar Association and the honor of being a lawyer. I want to take the opportunity in this first message to address the second topic.

Mark Mandell wrote, “To me, the practice of law is a sacred trust. Representing people who are hurt, powerless, and in need reposes in each of us very significant responsibilities. By trusting us to represent them, our clients have presented us with the highest of compliments – and the greatest of duties. Practiced wisely and fairly, we as lawyers are given the privilege of experiencing the powerful feelings of pride in one’s life work and the satisfaction which occurs in the presence of Justice – win or lose.” He’s right. Each client and every case we handle is important. However, even more significant than the individual cases we handle is the fact that we help to maintain the integrity of our legal system and the rule of law.

I recently heard a fable that former Attorney General Robert Jackson told to emphasize the role of lawyers in preserving liberty. It is about three stonecutters asked to describe their work. The first stonecutter focuses on how the job benefits him. He says, “I am earning a living.” The second narrowly describes his personal role: “I am cutting stone.” The third man exhibits a different perspective. His face lights up as he explains what the work means to others: “I am helping to build a cathedral.” As lawyers, we help to preserve the foundation on which our society is built.

The law is the barrier that stands between democracy and anarchy. Faith in our laws and our courts is the basis for commercial transactions, keeping people free from governmental interference and providing an avenue to resolve differences through a peaceful, logical process.

John W. Davis, in an address to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York in 1946, said, “True, we build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures – unless as amateurs for our own amusement. There is little of all we do which the eye of man can see.

But we smooth out difficulties; we relieve stress; we correct mistakes; we take up other [folk’s] burdens and by our efforts we make possible the peaceful life of [individuals] in a peaceful state.”

As lawyers, we are often too involved in the process to see the effect of what we do as a whole. In 2017 my family suffered a near tragedy. The case resulted in a trial in New York this past win­ ter. In some ways, it was like being in an episode of Law and Order. The state was represented by two very able and dedicated assistant district attorneys. The defendant was represented by a court appointed attorney. It was very difficult for my family, at times, to view this drama play out, but I was able to get through the ordeal by trying to watch the process in a dispassionate manner and observing everyone in their different roles. Everyone from the judge to the court personnel played an important role in this drama. In the end, this case validated all of the important aspects of lawyers serving justice and why we do what we do.

In playing our role in this process, we should always do so with civility. As lawyers, it is our ethical duty to zealously represent our clients; however, this does not require us to act without graciousness. Rhode Island is a small state; acting with courtesy to our clients, other lawyers and the judiciary is not only the right thing to do, it is a requirement. May we set an example for others that society is best served by people listening to each other, and being compassionate and thoughtful.

In Lauren Jones’ first President’s Message, he wrote that many presidents use the first message to outline their goals for the year. He went on to say that he hoped it would be a quiet year and that the Bar Association was well run and in a good place. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I couldn’t agree more. Lauren went on to state that he had no particular agenda but rather one simple goal: “to continue the positive and effective efforts of those who have preceded me, and to leave the Association in as good or better shape than when I came in.” I urge all of our members to consider taking an active role in this endeavor. While we as lawyers, individually help construct the “cathedral” of justice, our work is most effectively done collectively through the Bar Association.