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Tikkun Olam – Repairing the Legal Profession One Small Act At A Time

Every day, there’s one article or another about big problems with the legal profession.  Depression is rampant and young lawyers are stressed.  Access to justice remains a problem – one that’s heightened in rural areas where clients must often travel hundreds of miles to meet a lawyer.  And students still graduate from law school with six figure debt and mediocre job prospects.  

To its credit, the legal profession is taking notice. Nearly every state bar offers a lawyer’s assistance program to aid lawyers and law students with substance abuse and mental health issues, and many state bars now promote mindfulness programs and workshops.  Meanwhile, technology is offering opportunities to address access to justice, while California has created a Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Law to examine how changes in ethics rules can spur innovation in A2J products and services.

All of these big ideas and systemic changes are integral to moving the profession forward. But sometimes, the thought of pushing a major program through centuries of lawyer inertia and obstinance seems too discouraging- like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain for eternity.  That’s why on days when the thought of change in the legal profession overwhelms me, I return to a lovely little concept from Judaism known as Tikkun Olam or repair of the world. Tikkun Olam calls on each of us to make the world a better place not just through participation in larger campaigns but through individual acts of justice and kindness.

There are plenty of ways that each of us can make the legal profession a better place if we just take the time to think about it. Recently, I came across a wonderful story on an online list serve where a lawyer defending a deposition observed that her young and inexperienced opposing counsel was having trouble questioning the witness.  During a break, the lawyer discovered that her opponent had been thrown into the deposition with no time to prepare. The lawyer recognized that a strong deposition record would serve her client as well, so she offered the young lawyer a few quick deposition tips off the record. The result? The lawyer received a deposition transcript with useful information and the young lawyer gained new skills that she can pay forward.

There are so many other ways for lawyers to support their colleagues – and particularly young lawyers — to make their work just a little easier or less stressful.  Years ago, after I argued my first appeal at the D.C. Circuit an older lawyer in the gallery complimented my performance – and since then, I’ve tried to pay it forward. Scott Greenfield plays janitor, helping lawyers in distress find their way.  When you learn of a lawyer’s victory in a big case or if you think they were robbed, let them know with an email. Did a colleague mentor you long ago but you never said thank you? It’s not too late to send a card or a gift.  Or invite a young lawyer to attend a CLE and pay the cost of admission.  What’s best about these acts of kindness is that they don’t just repair our profession today – but tomorrow as well, as the recipients pay it forward. 

What will you do to repair your corner of the world today?

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