f/k/a . . . the archives

November 14, 2007

not impressed yet by U.S. lawyers re Pakistan

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 10:42 am

nycb.org

You may recall that the f/k/a Gang called last week for the American legal profession to demonstrate its support for the brave Pakistani lawyers, who have been standing up in the streets against President Pervez Musharraf’s suspension of the legal system and constitution. Happily, according to American Bar Association President William H. Neukom, “The crisis in Pakistan . . . has sparked an unprecedented firestorm of concern among American lawyers.” (emphasis added) Indeed, the ABA has called for lawyers to stage rallies across the USA to show solidarity with their Pakistani brethren and the rule of law. “ABA Leads Lawyers in Nationwide Display of Solidarity with Pakistanis” (Nov. 13, 2007). There will be a silent protest rally by lawyers today in Washington, D.C. at noon. [update (3 PM est): At the foot of the post you'll find my reactions to the lawyers rally at noon in Albany, NY, which I attended, and to the one in Washington, D.C.]

………………………….. prof. yabut rallies    

Yesterday (Nov. 13, 2007), here in New York State, we got to see what such concern and calls to arms can do. The New York City Bar had urged its 22,000 members to a rally that was also sponsored by the New York State Bar Association and the New York County Lawyers’ Association, and other organizations, “in rallying support for the lawyers and judges affected by the emergency rule in Pakistan.” Indeed:

On the steps of the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, “Catherine Christian, president of the New York County Lawyers’ Association, said Pakistani lawyers ‘are showing the world what it means to be a lawyer — fighting for liberty and an independent legal system.’” And, “Kathryn Madigan, president of the New York State Bar Association, also called for lawyers to speak ‘with one voice in defense of the rule of law” in Pakistan.” “Lawyers Rally at N.Y. Courthouse to Support Pakistan’s Attorneys” (New York Law Journal, by Daniel Wise, Nov. 14, 2007)

But, before you applaud too loudly, and try to guess how many New York lawyers showed up for that Courthouse rally, and for another one staged by the National Lawyers Guild at the Pakistani Consulate, let me remind you:

  • there are 147,000 active and resident lawyers in New York State, the vast majority of whom work in and around NYC
  • many, many thousands of lawyers have offices within a block or two of the Manhattan Supreme Court building and many hundreds work or had business in that building yesterday
  • the weather was gorgeous for the ides of November in NYC — maybe the best November 13th since weather records were kept, with the greatest risk to attendees being a little autumnal sunburn

noYabutsSN Well, it appears that fewer than 800 hundred lawyers took part yesterday in the two Pakistan solidarity rallies. Sadly, I do not believe it was because no one knew (did Musharaff jam everyone’s Blackberries and cellphones?) or because the protests were “splintered.” Everyone just had higher priorities at lunchtime on a lovely autumn day in Manhattan. Seems to me, curiosity alone should have ensured more than a triple-digit body count.

Will D.C-area lawyers, and those converging from around the country on the Nation’s Capital for the protest, make a better show of solidarity today around the U.S. Supreme Court at Noon today? There are 45,000 active and resident lawyers in the District of Columbia, which you may recall is a tiny piece of real estate. The weather isn’t as nice as New York’s was yesterday: there’s a 30% chance of showers, but the rain should hold off until after 4 PM, and there’s a rather moderate high of 55 degrees forcasted. On the other hand, I could find no mention of the rally on the D.C. Bar’s News page (but was very impressed to hear that author David Baldacci would be speaking at a bar dinner on Nov. 16th). You can find out details about the D.C. lawyer rally here.

I’ve got to be honest: so far, I am not impressed by our stand-up American Bar; but sadly also not surprised (see last week’s “first let’s compare all the lawyers: Pakistani and American“).

[AP photo/Susan Walsh] “Mohammad Akram Sheikh, a senior advocate and past president of the Supreme Court of Pakistan bar, right, participates, with members of the American Bar Association, in a rally protesting Pakistan near the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007.” “Lawyers March for Pakistani Colleagues” (AP/Examiner, Nov. 14, 2007) And, see “Lawyers March on Washington Today in Solidarity with Jailed Pakistani Colleagues” (ABAJournalNews, Nov. 14, 2007)

update (3 PM est): First, I want to thank every member of the legal profession and academia who showed up at the rallies at noon today across the country — whether it was in Albany, NY; Seattle, WA; Washington, D.C.; Oklahoma City, OK; Raleigh, NC; or many other mini-”protests.” Second, I want to send up another BARonx Cheer in protest of all of the lawyers who could not take the time to walk a block or two to the nearest courthouse rally in their town.

The Albany, NY, rally took place on the front steps of the highest court in the State. I drove about 18 miles from Schenectady to be there. When it started, about 30 people were there, and a few more straggled in later. The weather was “fair & breezy,” with the temperature in the low 50′s. Unlike in Raleigh today, not one representative of the judicial system was in attendance, as far as I could tell. Basically, members of all the likely-suspect groups were there (and I was pleased to see them) — New York Civil Liberties Union (although its spokesperson said he was only speaking in his personal capacity), the The Albany Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Center for Law and Justice. The graybeards from Albany Law School also had a contingent, along with a handful of ALS students.

ProfYabutS I was happy that the speakers took the US Administration to task for its lukewarm reactions to the Pakistani crisis. However, to be honest, I was a bit turned off by the self-congratulatory air of some who attended, and by the refusal to say anything negative about the vast numbers of private and government sector lawyers who work in Albany but could not be bothered to show up. The NYCLU rep said he was thrilled with the turnout. I was not.

Here are a few quick thoughts and feelings:

  • the New York State Bar Association headquarters is a block from the site of today’s Court of Appeals [that's our highest court] rally in Albany. NYSBA has 118 staff members. Where were they?
  • Albany Law School is the alma mater of the majority of lawyers in the Capital Region. I wish its alumnus could have been infected by the spirit of the professors who showed up, and the handful of students (whose young professor was on hand and had “strongly enouraged” them to join the rally).
  • It was dispiriting that one Baby Boomer lawyer who was in attendance with a sign (did not catch his name for sure and don’t want to mis-identify him), seemed to have bought-in to the Bar Association Propaganda on the meaning of Shakespeare’s “kill all the lawyers” line. He even asked me, when I raised the issue, whether I understood its context. I told him I had actually even read the next line. It would be great if he would read our post “Shakespeare and Lawyers”, as well as last week’s post, but he said weblogs were not a place he hangs out, when I handed him the URL to this site. He assumed that I was not a lawyer, but I confessed that I am.

It’s great that there are a small core of leftish lawyers and law professors out there actively supporting the Pakistani lawyers and the rule of law — and doing something about it every day. But, no matter how much they might want to believe the mainstream American bar cares enough to do anything, I still say “show me the evidence,” while the Bar as a Whole continue sto be more into “show me the money.”

yinyang David Lat at Above the Law tried to boost crowd numbers at yesterday’s Manhattan rally. Given his vast audience of young lawyers, I’m even more disappointed in the turnout than earlier today. David posted earlier this afternoon, noting that Eric Turkewitz was far more pleased than I about the turnout in NYC. I guess Eric had lower expectations than I. There I go again being a damn optimist and crusty pessimist at the same time.

The Washington DC Rally was pretty anemic, when you think about how many lawyers were in that compact city around noon today. Terry Carter, writing for the ABA Journal, reports “More than 300 lawyers marched today on Washington in solidarity with lawyers arrested in Pakistan.” Writing for the organization that sponsored the march, Carter says “They were among thousands of U.S. lawyers galvanized by photo and video images of Pakistani lawyers battling in the streets in protest of the state of emergency—de facto martial law—imposed by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.” See “Lawyers March on Washington Today in Solidarity with Jailed Pakistani Colleagues” (ABAJournalNews, Nov. 14, 2007); and “Lawyers March for Pakistani Colleagues” (AP/Examiner, Nov. 14, 2007) . If this represents the “unprecedented firestorm of concern among American lawyers” touted by ABA President, I’d hate to see what an indifferent bar would[n't] do. I’d like to believe this part of Carter’s ABAJournal piece, but I am skeptical about the make-up of the Washington marchers:

“The diversity of the type of lawyers that attended was far greater than I expected,” says Nancy Prager, an intellectual property lawyer in D.C. “I only met one full-time human rights attorney, and she was from the ABA.” The rest, Prager says, were corporate attorneys, litigators, white-collar crime practitioners and defense lawyers.

Prager says she was moved to join the march when she heard of the crackdown in Pakistan. She wondered: “Would most lawyers stand up if they knew they could be at the receiving end of a bullet—not a brief?

“The solidarity that we showed was heartening.”

Some apologists for the no-shows will surely say that “if things were really bad here in the USA, and the rule of law in serious jeopardy, lawyers would place themselves and their careers at risk in America’s streets.” But, right now, I can only repeat what I said last week:

I’d love to think the Bar as a whole — as opposed to a relatively few activists who toil mostly at the fringes of the profession — would be leading the fight against tyranny here in the United States of America, but you’d have to be naive to expect it.

I’m still betting that most American lawyers will talk a good game against tyranny, but — when push comes to shove — act to protect their wallets and future job prospects first. They’ll look a lot more like the targets of Shakespeare’s Cade Rebellion than like the revisionist heroes the bar associations like to talk about as the last great defenders of justice and the rule of law. Please, please, prove me wrong, Bar America, by sticking your neck out right now — no matter who you might offend — for the American Constitution.

update (Nov. 15, 2007): See “Ruly lawyers take to the streets,” by Robert Ambrogi for LegalBlogWatch. Bob wasn’t as disappointed as I:

“I am one who criticized these rallies for being splintered, but, unlike Giacalone, I am impressed nevertheless. Would I have liked to see more lawyers show up? Of course. But as the ABA Journal‘s Carter writes, it is almost unheard of for large groups of lawyers to march in protest of anything. To see hundreds of lawyers turn out in cities across the U.S. is a credit to all lawyers, even those who did not attend. The president of the New York State Bar Association, Kathryn Grant Madigan, put it well when she told the Wall Street Journal,”This is unusual for lawyers, but it’s the essence of what we’re about.”

You can find a lengthy Comment by me at Legal Blog Watch (two, if Bob doesn’t delete the one with typos). In sum: If it is “the essence of what it means to be a lawyer,” we shouldn’t make excuses for those who can’t be bothered to do such an easy thing as show up at a rally at lunchtime on a nice fall day. If I had paid more attention to Bob’s sentence saying that having hundreds of lawyers attend rallies “is a credit to all lawyers, even those who did not attend,” I would have strongly demurred. We in the legal profession have for far too long said the bad deeds of a tiny number of us should not affect the image of the entire profession. For the life of me, I do not see how the not very arduous good deeds of an even tinier percentage should somehow affect how we ourselves or the public regards lawyers.

hawk flight Apologies to those who count on f/k/a for a regular serving of haiku. Events have kept me from finding new poems to post today. I just realized, looking at my posting on Nov. 14, 2005, that two years ago today I was ending a short trip to D.C. (which was my home for two decades, starting with college, and still where my heart and many great friends reside), and driving from the Potomac back to the Mohawk River. Here are a few haiku and senryu I posted late that evening:

 

heading home –
one hawk
floats over the Beltway

entering New York:
another autumn hill
distracts me

………………………………….. by dagosan

old stomping grounds
the river still follows
its path

his headstone
rises with the moon
above the silence

……………….. by Andrew Riutta – from Full Moon Magazine (2005)

8 Comments

  1. David,
    I have already complained about the lack of notice on the DC Bar Website to Melvin White, the President. He did respond, but told me that the DC Bar is prohibited from taking political positions. And because DC Bar is probably the only bar in the country that does not have a listserve, members did not receive notice that way either. The turnout seemed OK, I would say between 500-600 lawyers, though other sites have said 300. I’ll be posting a video later tonight.

    Comment by Carolyn Elefant — November 14, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  2. You really do have a negative streak in you. I thought we would be lucky to get 100 lawyers on the steps of 60 Centre Street. 700-800 is a huge showing by 2007 standards.

    Think about it. Lat’s readers wouldn’t show unless there was a bonus in it for them. And Turkewitz was the only PI lawyer who would show without getting a third. The rest were all criminal defense lawyers, who thought they were giving something away for free. It was a glorious day for lawyers.

    Comment by Scott Greenfield — November 14, 2007 @ 5:23 pm

  3. Hi, Scott. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. Your low expectations for crowd turnout are telling. I clearly expect more of and from lawyers than you do. It’s an interesting philosophical question as to which of us is more negative about lawyers and about what it should mean to be a lawyer.

    Comment by David Giacalone — November 14, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

  4. The turnout was higher than I expected because lawyers here don’t have any history of organized protests. Or at least I cann’t think of anything similar in the 20+ years I’ve been practicing. Add in the facts that there is no prior relationship between U.S. and Pakistani lawyers and that the rally was an ad hoc sort of thing. So I expected a turnout of 100-200, at best. It was clearly much higher.

    Comment by Eric Turkewitz — November 15, 2007 @ 6:19 am

  5. Hi David. I think my distorted views come from my perpetually disappointed idealism. I hope for much, and yet expect very little.

    Somewhere in the back of my head, I envision lawyers infused with spirit and caring, a la 1968. I know, it’s a silly dream. But because of this, I find the fact that 700 men and women actually got off their butts and did something to be far more impressive than I expected. My view of lawyers today is that they are just a bit self-serving, the product of too many years of being disappointed.

    Comment by Scott Greenfield — November 15, 2007 @ 5:03 pm

  6. [...] Indeed.  For a more thought out take on the US lawyers rallies across the country, check this out. [...]

    Comment by Blacknell.net » Friday Notes: Lawyers Protesting, Explaining Perspective, and Musical Maps — November 16, 2007 @ 9:10 am

  7. I am one of the victims of the present regimes oppressive acts and was arrested on Nov 4. I am personally thankful to all the lawyers who took part in protests in the U.S. I further urge you to write more and make your policy makers understand that we can fight terrorism better if U.S. stops supporting Musharraf. A weak Pakistan will be a safe heaven for extremists. Now that we have shown that we are an enlightened society and vow to fight oppressive regimes, we have the right to be trusted. I beg you to stress on restoration of judiciary. Hammer it on your policy makers. They are playing a havoc with South-Asian Sub-continent.

    Comment by Ahmed — November 22, 2007 @ 8:02 am

  8. [...] American lawyers shouldn’t get all self-congratulatory about the courage shown by their Pakistani counterparts [Giacalone; more] [...]

    Comment by November 13 roundup — May 20, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

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