RBG. You have to love her! And I do. I loved the documentary about her life, and I love how relevant she continues to be.
I first saw Justice Ginsburg speak more than a decade ago when she was addressing an audience of law students and young lawyers. Yes, her scholarship and her role as a breaker of glass ceilings amazed me, but it did not stop there. Her sense of humor and her humble way of speaking was surprising for someone at her high perch, and it was heartwarming. She knows how to get attention without hitting the listener over the head with her opinion and perspective.
So, last week when she was interviewed at George Washington University Law, I paid attention again. Of course, I was not disappointed. What I heard from her then that particularly moved me came in response to a question about the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. In her response, she expressed lament that the process is now so partisan, unlike the bipartisan hearings of the past, including her own.
“That’s the way it should be instead of what its become, which is a highly partisan show,” she said. “The Republicans move in lockstep, and so do the Democrats. I wish I could wave a magic wand and bring it back to the way it was.”
Indeed, I think all of us wish we could wave magic wands to bring things back to what they were and the way they should be. However, the partisan behavior in congressional hearings is only part of the problem. Other unfortunate behaviors are infecting our society and culture, and it makes all of us yearn for the good old days.
Take the good old days of practicing law as an example. The loss of respect, cooperation, civility, emphasis on honorable and ethical and professional behavior is addressed in my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2018). Millennial lawyers are reacting to toxic law firm cultures and yearn for a set of values that will help develop them as the leaders they want to be. Leaders not only in their profession but also in their communities.
I long have contended that the degradations of law firm cultures and the negative behaviors of practitioners, which have led to disillusionment among lawyers young and old, is reflective of the disrespectful behaviors that have become common in our society at large. You need not look further than social media and television coverage of controversial topics for proof.
Think Facebook comments. Think Twitter comments. Think the behaviors of high level individuals in media interviews. Think panels of experts freely screaming at each other on cable television.
Think road rage. Think finger pointing instead of civilized conversation and compromise. And the list goes on.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see the law profession lead the charge for elimination of these repugnant behaviors? Wouldn’t it be nice for the law profession to stand up against bullying, disparaging dialogue, character assassination, and the full range of bad behaviors that have become common in our daily lives? Wouldn’t it be nice to see lawyers take the initiative to address larger societal issues — as lawyers used to do?
The law profession has the opportunity to take up the mantle of living up to the values of past generations of lawyers. That opportunity would go a long way toward responding to the disappointment of millennial lawyers to a profession gone awry by placing too much value on money and power. It also would demonstrate that law firm managers can be the leaders they need to be during these transformative times.
What could be more important than bringing back civil behavior and respect for others?
Like RBG, we only can hope that change is somewhere on the close horizon. And we can hope that the first ones to take the hill are the lawyers.