I write on this Labor Day only to express my gratitude for the hard work of legal professionals throughout history. Without their efforts our system of justice would not be possible. This was brought home to me in incredible events of the past week. Some day soon I hope to tell the tale, but not today. Today I speak only in generalities to pay respects and give thanks to the legal profession.
We often take for granted the labors of our legal forefathers, those who built the American system of justice in which I have been privileged to work. Our courts and laws evolved through the hard work of many hundreds of thousands of people over centuries. It did not come just from the hands and minds of a few luminaries that we remember, but from countless unrecognized lawyers, legal assistants, clerks, judges, and legislators. The famous in the legal profession, including my favorite, Abraham Lincoln, stand for and express the thoughts and experiences of many. For instance, Mr. Lincoln, who spent most of his life practicing law in a two-man law firm, said in 1861:
Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.
Honest work, including the work of lawyers, is a source of dignity, honor and meaning in life. We should all try to work and contribute, be it for pay or pro bono, for as long as we are able. Lawyers and their staff are known for their dedicated hard work. The 10,000 hour rule for mastery explained by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers is well understood by the legal profession. So too is Gladwell’s so-called rice paddy mentality of 3,000 hours of work a year to stay on top of your game. It is quite common for lawyers to have to work 3,000 hours in a year in order to bill 2,000 hours.
We lawyers earn our living by the hour, by our own hard work, and not by capital investment. As Lincoln said: “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” As as lawyer I must also agree with Lincoln that “labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.” This is another reason that the current high unemployment levels in the country are such a tragedy. The legal profession has been particularly hard hit and recent law graduates today are facing unprecedented challenges in finding gainful employment.
The long hours of lawyers, judges and their staff who still have jobs help to make the world a better place, a safer place. The rights and freedoms that we enjoy today are all fruits of their labor. Without lawyers, many injustices would stand uncorrected and many crimes and frauds would go unchecked. Law provides a means to counter the dark forces of greed, abusive power, hatred and fear.
On this Labor Day I am happy to testify that the legal system does work and justice can be done. Not all of the time to be sure. The justice formula often fails. I also know this from long and hard experience. Still, we must never give up, never lose hope. Keep on trying to the end and hold on to your dreams. With hard work they may some day come true. As Lincoln said:
The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.
I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have.
I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come.
I give thanks that my chance came and I took it, and thanks to the profession that made it possible. Happy Labor Day!