At the New York State Bar Association’s most recent House of Delegates meeting, I chose to jettison my planned remarks on recent association activities and accomplishments, and instead to reflect on events that had taken place in the previous couple of weeks:
In the span of 72 hours in America, 11 people were murdered in Pittsburgh because of their faith, while praying in their place of worship; 14 pipe bombs were sent to current and former public officials, including two former presidents; and two African-Americans were targeted and murdered by a white supremacist at a grocery store in Kentucky, as the murderer told a white bystander that he was safe because “whites don’t kill whites.”
Weeks later, I am still struggling to make some sense of those horrific events. And I suspect that many of you feel the same way.
As attorneys, we’ve devoted our lives to the law, and to the idea that the United States is a nation of laws. We are dedicated to religious liberty, freedom of speech and all of the other rights that are enumerated in the Constitution.
That is, I believe, why I felt both horrified and heartbroken.
At a time like this, it may be all too easy to feel that there is little that any of us can do, as individuals, to make things better.
However, upon reflection, I submit to you that we attorneys, we members of this great profession, we have a vitally important role to play, a role that we must recognize and embrace.
Lawyers are problem solvers. People turn to us when they are confronted with all sorts of troubling situations – and we help them during those difficult circumstances.
We are peacemakers. We advocate for fairness and compromise.
Our analytical skills help us see multiple facets of the same story.
Our dedication to the rule of law and what it means to our society gives us the strength and commitment to find solutions where others may not see them.
We are more than mere advocates, we are leaders. We are leaders of our profession. We are leaders of our communities. We are leaders of our local bar associations. We are leaders in our places of worship.
I urge each of you — in your communities, your homes, your workplaces, your places of worship — to deliver a message of civility. Because civility is the very thread that binds the tapestry that is the rule of law.
We have all heard the phrase, “if you see something, say something.” We need to do just that.
When we encounter someone speaking or acting with anger or incivility, we must have the strength — and the courage — to turn down the heat, to remind others that we are not enemies because we disagree about political matters.
I know it won’t be easy.
But it has never been more important for us to step up and lead. It has never been more important for us to be a part of the solution, to help heal our communities and our country.
Michael Miller is president of the New York State Bar Association. This essay is adapted from remarks delivered at a recent meeting of the NYSBA House of Delegates.