Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co. He is also immediate past president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.
The first thing we do – let’s kill all the lawyers. — William Shakespeare in King Henry VI, Part II, (Act IV), Scene 2.
There is much controversy attendant to interpreting Shakespeare’s meaning behind the above quoted line. Many believe that he is mocking lawyers for being nothing more than paper pushers who stand in the way of the common folks just trying to make a living. Others believe, as do I, that he intended to honor lawyers as protectors of democracy – to rid the world of lawyers is to open the gate to the socialist revolution and the overthrow of the government. In any event, there is much more to the oft-quoted line than at first meets the eye. Because I view lawyers as positive contributors to society, from a professional standpoint I can’t think of anything to be more thankful for this Thanksgiving than being part of what I think is the greatest profession in the world.
Lawyering is an intellectually challenging job. Every day, we face different facts and circumstances, and ever changing laws. Being a lawyer has given me the opportunity to work with some of the smartest people I know in some of the most dynamic and innovative businesses that exist. Lawyers are approachable, trustworthy and helpful. My practice has allowed me to reach people on a personal level, to help them work through problems (business or personal) in ways that may not otherwise be available to non-lawyers. I have been able to support programs designed to help people lift themselves to higher levels of achievement than would otherwise be possible.
How many other professions allow you to interact with the CEO and provide insight and guidance on decisions that will have a real impact on the company? As lawyers, whether we are in our fifth or 25th year of practice, we have these opportunities on a regular basis. We help the decision makers make their decisions. We often serve as the moral compass of the company. We engage in meaningful debate; we challenge our clients’ thinking and help them reach the correct conclusions. In what other profession are you invited to argue with the bosses? Not only are we allowed to do this, but we are expected to do so!
Being a lawyer is a great thing!
The old adage “No one likes a lawyer until they need one” seems truer than ever. Lawyers in general seem to continue to be the subject of ridicule and cheap jokes. However, lawyers are always ready for their clients when trouble hits. Lawyers do not create the problems of the world but we spend a lot of time helping to fix them. I bet if there was some way we could measure the net/net contribution made by lawyers versus the damage lawyers purportedly cause to society, we would find that more lawyers have created more good than harm, solved more problems than they created, healed more people than they have hurt and treated people more fairly than mistreating them – even their adversaries.
Lawyers expect much from their clients and we help them deliver on our expectations. One article I read cites data suggesting that while people generally dislike lawyers in the abstract, the lawyers they know or with whom they have worked, they like very much. Many lawyers will tell you without the slightest equivocation that they believe that their work has helped the world to be a little bit better place to live.
So today, quite simply, I am grateful for the privilege of being a lawyer and being a part of the wonderful world of lawyering.