President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared May 1st to be Law Day during his presidency on February 5, 1958, and it was made official by Act of Congress on April 7, 1961.
In the President’s Declaration, he declared, “In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law. If civilization is to survive, it must choose the rule of law.” In present time, the “force of law” has become synonymous with civilized society. Many people, however, have a negative view of lawyers. While lawyers are the butt of many jokes, lawyers serve a vital function in a free, civilized world.
People are familiar with the famous line in Shakespeare’s Henry V, “The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.” People laugh at the line with a knowing smile, thinking that the famous line is akin to the joke about lawyers at the bottom of the ocean. Closer examination reveals that the line was spoken by “Dick the butcher” who was plotting treachery. The primary obstacle to the treacherous plan was the lawyers, the guardians of societal rules and order.
Lawyers, of course, are not always without fault. After all, they are people. Our legal system is also not perfect. Again, it is run by people. At the same time, our system of justice is the best and fairest in the world. The ethical standards to which attorneys are held are among the highest and noblest. Discipline of attorneys is aggressive, perhaps because of the popular sentiment toward lawyers. For those reasons, and others, the negative reputation is not well deserved.
In the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct that govern attorneys, it proclaims that attorneys have the responsibility “as officers of the court to use their training, experience, and skills to provide services in the public interest for which compensation may not be available.” That duty is stressed, celebrated and honored in local, state and national bar associations.
Not only do attorneys provide many, many hours of pro bono services, attorneys are highly representative on non-profit boards, as community volunteers and in local, state, and federal politics and governmental positions.
The rule of law is essential in a free and civilized society. The legal profession is the primary architect of those freedoms and protector of them. As we celebrate Law Day today, on May 1st, when you think about the freedoms that we have in this country, though not always carried out perfectly, think of the lawyers you know and let them know you appreciate what they do.