I'm a lawyer, and have been for a long time. It's an interesting profession being a lawyer. Everyone knows at least a few lawyer jokes. Most lawyers, including me, think a lot of these jokes are funny. Less amusing is the pervasively low opinion that many people have of lawyers, the knee-jerk characterizations of lawyers as thieves, charlatans, and unfeeling purveyors of misfortune. I acknowledge that many of these snarky generalizations have some basis in fact, but I submit that lawyers have in recent times been painted with a brush that is far too wide. Facts are stubborn things, John Adams once said, and it is a fact that for all of America's history lawyers have, with varying degrees of fanfare, engaged in acts of philanthropy, altruism, and generosity.
John Adams himself is a good person to start with. He was, as we all know, President of the United States, state legislator, and diplomat. He wrote countless charming and affectionate letters to his wife Abigail during his many absences from home. He distinguished himself no less, however, in his career as a lawyer. On March 5, 1770, in what became known as The Boston Massacre, British soldiers shot and killed five civilians and wounded a number of others. Tensions were already high in the colonies and this incident added a new layer of conflict. The British soldiers were arrested and scheduled for trial in a Boston court. The local government wanted a fair trial to prevent British retaliation but could find no lawyers willing to defend the soldiers. When Adams was asked to defend the men he agreed despite the enmity of some colleagues, and as a result of his passionate defense the men were acquitted.
Flash forward to November 2007. Attorney Peter Resnik, a civil litigator, typically walked through the Boston Common on his way home after work. Invariably he would pass homeless men and women. Sometimes he would say a quick hello, sometimes not. Over time he began having longer discussions with a man named Robert Day. After the conversation turned to books Resnik started bringing books he liked to Day, who in turn passed them onto to other homeless. His eyes opened to the possibilities, Resnik started a book club for the homeless at a local church and witnessed again and again how reading and conversation helped dissipate the isolation and loneliness that plagues those who have lost everything.
Two successful attorneys from the same city but separated by over two centuries, men who had nothing to gain (and, at least in Adam's case, much to lose) but who nonetheless acted with courage and decency to do what they thought was right. That's what this blog is about: writing about attorneys, men and women, who have done something notable to improve our world. Sometimes this can be a simple act of kindness, sometimes an extraordinary act of lawyering, sometimes helping to pass laws that benefit society. Is there a subjective element to this process? Of course. Many will disagree with some of my posts, but I am not trying to preach, or proselytize, or poke anyone in the eye. Perhaps I can sand some of the sharper edges off the most virulent views some have of lawyers, perhaps not. I know that I will enjoy writing about people I admire, and I hope some of you will enjoy reading about them.