Each Election Day reminds us of how fortunate we are to be
citizens in a country where the right to vote is sacrosanct. It's
also a good time to remember how privileged we are as lawyers to
play a critical role every day with something just as
integral to our democracy: the rule of law.
The rule of law is the principle that laws should govern a nation
- not arbitrary decisions by rulers, government officials, or
small, unrepresentative groups. The rule of law gives us the right
to expect peace and order, and to expect and demand that our rights
are protected and defended. And it's the rule of law that allows us
the freedom to think the way we want to think, and to say the
things we want to say, all without fear of persecution or
But none of this happens without some very key components. One is
an independent and impartial judiciary to enforce the rule of law.
In Massachusetts, we are fortunate to have judges who are
appointed, not elected. The rule of law also requires our
government to implement it; that's where our right to vote comes
into play. And lawyers serve in the most essential role as the foot
soldiers charged with defending the rule of law.
As lawyers we understand that we work under the rule of law to
protect all of our rights. Take criminal matters, for instance.
Prosecutors defend victims, prosecute crimes and seek convictions
and punishment in order to keep us free from fear, harm, loss of
property and loss of life. Defense lawyers force the prosecution to
do their job while ensuring that their client receives a fair trial
and that their client's rights are not trampled in the
Sometimes it isn't easy for everyone to embrace the rule of law
wholeheartedly, especially when faced with tough, emotionally
charged trials, such as the one upcoming in January against the
accused Boston Marathon bomber. Yet it is often the most difficult
trials that best show how our adherence to the rule of law sets us
apart from terrorists, anarchists or dictators.
Think about the British soldiers who were charged as a result of
the Boston Massacre. Who defended them? John Adams, one of our
founding fathers. He stepped up to the bar because he realized that
if he or any other lawyer started picking and choosing who they
thought was entitled to a defense, we would become exactly what
this country had rebelled against in the first place.
Like many lawyers, I have always embraced this proposition. But I
never really felt it as strongly as when I had a case in New
Hampshire years ago where a man was accused of raping his
8-year-old child. I knew that acting as his lawyer would not be
popular, but I also knew the fact that he was accused did not make
him guilty, thanks to our rule of law. And in this instance, he
was, in fact, not guilty.
But in that case, the evidence against him seemed so strong that
on the second day of trial the judge pulled my co-counsel and me
aside and told us that our client had better bring his toothbrush
with him the next day to trial, because he was not going home.
Thankfully, we had a jury of 14 people who had the good sense not
to make a decision until they heard all of the evidence in the
case, and our client was rightfully found not guilty. But that was
an eye-opener for me because I really understood for the first time
how lucky we are to be able to have the right to be judged only on
William Shakespeare may have said it best when he intimated that,
without lawyers, we would live in a world of chaos, anarchy and mob
rule. He told us so in Henry VI, with his famous line:
"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." I know some
people mistakenly believe that Shakespeare was suggesting that the
world would be a much better place without lawyers. But he meant
exactly the opposite.
In the play, Dick the Butcher is giving advice to his boss, Jack
Cade, an anarchist with a diabolical desire to overthrow the
government and rule the people. Dick, after giving it some thought,
said the only way to overthrow the government is to destroy
democracy's first line of defense: lawyers, the protectors of truth
and justice. Getting rid of the lawyers, he reasoned, would make it
easier to pillage the minds and will of the people without being
challenged, questioned or opposed.
So while that well-worn phrase is more often used for negative
connotations about lawyers instead of positive, it is, in fact, the
highest compliment one could give to our profession. And it's
illustrative of how our relationship with the public is so
important. They come to us to protect them and to right the wrongs
done to them. And no one - not the police, not the court, not the
government - can interfere with that relationship.
Because that is the rule of law in our country. That is the right
that gives all Americans true access to justice. That is what sets
us apart from everyone else.
And that is what we, as lawyers, are proud to defend.