By Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Speech at dedication of new building for University of Oregon Law School

September 15, 1999

Speech at dedication of new building for University of Oregon Law School
Type: Speech
Location: Dedication of new building for University of Oregon Law School

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(Automatically generated)

Unknown Speaker
I hope you all have a wonderful afternoon the meeting is adjourned. And

Unknown Speaker
you're watching c spans America and the courts. Next associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor helps dedicated new building at the University of Oregon law school and Eugene defense about 25 minutes.

Unknown Speaker
It is rare that a speaker so perfectly fits the occasion, as does our speaker in this dedication. As we dedicate to Wm W. Night Law Center, we do so building on a legacy of qualities that we aim to carry into the future. qualities that have served our state so well, and qualities that will continue we hope to do so. There are many but I think particularly of three that are most applicable today, a pioneering session spirit of boldness in thought and action, and a wisdom that is deep and lasting in its vision. Since our beginnings as Law School of the West, the University of Oregon School of Law has worked hard to be at the forefront of legal needs and new areas of practice, not content simply to follow, we have aim to lead and to prepare legal practitioners to do the same. Along with this pioneering leadership, we've encouraged the boldness of thought and action, and ability to move beyond the ordinary two ways and means of achievements not yet considered, let alone practice. This has been a Center for Public Service and law reform. And we've encouraged and nurtured a worldview that sees beyond letters to the words beyond words to the entire text, beyond the text to the word world in which those words live and breathe and touch the lives of many a world view of deep and lasting vision. San Day O'Connor shares these qualities. Her pioneering spirit is exemplified in her career as a law student, her practice of the law, her entry into public life. It has continued through elective office and dinner appointment as the first woman on the bench of the highest court in the land, the most powerful court in the world, and probably in the history of recorded civilization. Her boldness is seen in her willingness to engage in leadership where women's involvement had previously been restricted. And it's seen in her experience in all three branches of state government, the only current member of the United States Supreme Court who has been elected to legislative office. Her wisdom is seen in a reputation for careful analysis or respect for precedent, as well as their open mindedness is also seen in her own assertion and I now quote her words the aspiration that whatever our gender or background, we all may become wise, you are different struggles are different victories, wise through work and play, profession and family. In those qualities expressed and lived, she represents that legacy upon which we have built and will continue to build at the William w night Law Center. Our speaker rearranged years family and professional scheduled many months ago in order to accommodate us, our fervent invitation to her that she be our first choices, dedication, keynote speaker, ladies and gentlemen, it is my personal honor and professional privilege to present to you Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor [automatically transcribed, may contain inaccuracies]
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Sandra Day O'Connor [automatically transcribed, may contain inaccuracies]
President Frohnmayer, he's so articulate, you're lucky to have him at this university. We were lucky to have him as an advocate.

We've been privileged to have him as an advocate at the Supreme Court of the United States when he was Attorney General of this state and made some splendid arguments that our court and Dean Strickland, who obviously is a an extremely well liked law school dean, and one who's put a wonderful stamp of his own values and characteristics on this law school very popular, I can tell from both staff and students. And Bill Paul, the president of the American Bar Association, he's a non stop traveler for a year, and trying to do some very effective work, not only within the United States, encouraging better skills for lawyers and high standards for law schools, but also addressing the need for expansion of the rule of law around the world, and how wonderful that he could be here today. And john Jake, wha who gave the best speech of all.

It's such a pleasure to be here at the University of Oregon, to participate and the dedication of the William night Law Center, you have, as you can see, created a beautiful state of the art facility, equipped and every way to meet the demands of contemporary legal education, and certainly be fitting the fine reputation it has here at the University of Oregon. And the building is bound to inspire academic achievement, and to nurture interesting and valuable scholarship and to nourish a sense of community among the school students and faculty and staff and alumni. And as wonderful as this building is, what I want to talk to you about today is actually not your new building. Instead, I want to talk about the enterprise this building is now part of and what those who use it will do once they've left. It's hardly a secret that many lawyers today are dissatisfied with their professional lives. The pressures associated with the increasing commercialization of law practice, have made lawyers as a group unhappy lot. As a recent New York Times article concluded, job dissatisfied action among lawyers is widespread, profound and growing worse. And examination of the research on lawyers overall well being is deeply troubling. attorneys are more than three times as likely as non lawyers to suffer from depression. They are significantly more apt to develop a drug dependency to get divorced or an economy place suicide. Lawyers suffer from stress related diseases such as ulcers, coronary artery disease and hypertension, at rates well above average. Unsurprisingly, a recent random Institute study of lawyers in California found they were profoundly pessimistic about the state of the legal profession in its future, and that only half would choose to become lawyers if they had to do it over.

This dissatisfaction is not limited to those within the legal community. Lawyers have increasingly been the subject of public derision. A lawyer in Texas recently filed a lawsuit claiming he had been the victim of housing discrimination. Apparently after several unpleasant experiences, the property company had adopted a policy of never selling new homes to lawyers. In economics, lawyers are typically described as creating dead weight loss, not an altogether flattering term. And a recent study characterized the portrayal of lawyers and popular films today as that of miserable human beings either unethical or incompetent at their jobs. few Americans can even remember that our society wants sincerely trusted and respected our lawyers. Now, I believe that a decline and professionalism is partly responsible for this state of affairs. Dean Roscoe pound said that our profession is a group pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service, no less than public service because it may incidentally be a means of the livelihood. on graduation from law school. aspiring attorneys do not simply gain the means to a comfortable livelihood. They also assume the obligations of professionalism, obligations in their dealings with other attorneys toward legal institutions and obligations to the public. personal relationships lie at the heart of the work that lawyers do. Yep, despite our best technological advances and beautiful buildings, the human dimension remains constant, and these professional responsibilities will endure.

Lawyers must do more than know the law and the art of practicing it. A great lawyer is always mindful of the moral and the social aspects of the attorneys power and position as an officer of the court. That point was reaffirmed by a case we decided that the Supreme Court A few years ago, the narrow question presented was whether a criminal defendant has the right to present through his lawyer, a story the lawyer knows to be false. The Court unanimously found there was no such right. The Constitution requires lawyers to represent their clients zealously the court held, but nothing in the constitution justifies advocacy, so zealous that it exceeds the bounds of the law. It has been said that a nation's laws are an expression of its people's highest ideals. Regrettably, the conduct of our nation lawyers has sometimes been an expression of the lowest. Increasingly lawyers complain about growing in civility in the profession, and a professional environment in which hostility, selfishness, and a win at all costs mentality are prevalent.

One lawyer who recently stopped practicing explained his decision to leave the profession in these bleak terms: "I was tired of the deceit. I was tired of the chicanery. But most of all, I was tired of the misery my job caused other people. Many attorneys believe that zealously representing their clients means pushing all rules of ethics and decency to the limit," he said. And this complaint is not unique. In a National Law Journal study, over 50% of the attorneys surveyed use the word of noxious to describe their colleagues. Indeed, sometimes that tourney conduct and conduct is not simply rude, but downright scandalous. lawyers can turn depositions into a brawl, attorneys have been spotted exchanging invectives and engaging and shoving matches in front of clerks offices, a scene reminiscent of combatants and Autzen Stadium that have professionals trained in the art of reason.

When lawyers themselves generate conflict, rather than addressing the dispute between the parties they represent, it undermines our adversarial system. It erodes the public's confidence that justice is being served. Greater civility can only enhance the effectiveness of our justice system, improve the public's perception of lawyers, and increase lawyers professional satisfaction. Maybe we've lost sight of a fundamental attribute of our profession, one that Shakespeare described in The Taming of the Shrew. "Adversaries in law," he wrote, "strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends." In contemporary practice, however, we speak of our dealings with other lawyers as war, and too often we act accordingly.

Consider the language lawyers often use to describe their experiences:

  • "I attacked every weak point in their argument."

  • "Our criticisms were right on target."

  • "We demolished his position."

  • "If we use that strategy, he will wipe us out."

  • "I shot down each of their contentions."

But one need not envision litigation as more argument as battle or trial as a siege. argument, for example, can be conceived as discourse. When I asked a question during oral arguments, it's meant not as an attack but an invitation council to address an area of particular concern. The most effective advocates respond accordingly, answering honestly and directly. Indeed, a good approach to oral advocacy is to pretend that each judge would like to vote in your favor and will but only if you can set the judges concerns to rest by directly answering the question the judge finds troubling. Trial similarly can be seen as an investigation in which the jury must choose among competing versions of the facts. ranting and raving probably do little to persuade a better technique is to present yourself as a reasonable person who wants to see justice done. It just so happens that justice will be done by finding for your client, not the opposing side. All too often lawyers forget that the whisper can be more dramatic than the scream.

Justice Holmes believed that "a lawyer can try a case like a gentleman" - or a gentlewoman, I would add - "without giving up any portion of his energy and force." Civility, however, is not a virtue that many of today's lawyers choose to advertise, as underscored by one lawyers characterization of his marketing strategy. clients, he explained, are not looking for a guy who coaches literally, they don't want to win. They want a lawyer who means business, an animal who's going to get the job done whatever it takes. It's appalling that any member of our profession would describe themselves in those terms. getting the job done should go hand in hand with courtesy. A lawyer can mean business without remaking himself as an animal.

The common objection to civility is that acting courteously will somehow diminish zealous advocacy for the client. Once in fact, after I made some public remarks about the importance of civility and the legal profession, I got a letter the court taking me to task. "I want a lawyer," the letter writer said, "who could be capable of hating my opponents. I want a person who is willing and eager to stomp my opponents into the dirt. There should be absolutely no friendliness shown to the opposition." I see it differently. In my view, instability disturbs the client because that wastes time and energy time that's build hundreds of dollars an hour and energy that's better spent working on the clients case than working over the opponent. And it's hardly this situation that the least contentions a contentious lawyer always loses. Now there is another aspect of professionalism that goes more to the heart of what it means to be a lawyer. Lawyers are dissatisfied with their careers not simply because of the long hours and the hard work, or even the decline and civility. Rather many lawyers question whether at the end of the day, they've contributed anything worthwhile to society.

There's a very old joke that all of you have heard to that effect involving the people up in the balloon and they get lost in a storm. And when the storm clears, they're floating over a one lane road and a bunch of fields down below. But they don't know where they are, and they don't see anybody. Finally they see a woman down there in the distance walking along the road, and they descend a little bit and call down. "Hello down there. Where are we?" And the woman looks around and looks both sides and up in the air. "You're up in a balloon call." So one of the guys in the balloon says to the other, "She's a lawyer." "Well, how do you know?" says her other companion. "Well, her answer was clear and precise and perfectly accurate and totally useless." So I think we can all agree that perfect accuracy and the interest of utter futility is not the highest calling of the profession. Nor is it the answer to five lawyers do what they do. Rather, my answer is the same I gave from the bench a decade ago. The one distinguishing feature of any profession is that unlike other occupations that may be equally respectable membership and our profession entails an ethical obligation to temper one selfish pursuit of economic success. Even though that obligation cannot be enforced either by legal feared or through the discipline of the market, both a special privileges incident to membership and the profession. And the advantage those privileges give in the task of earning a living, or means to a goal that transcends the accumulation of wealth. That goal is public service. Now lawyers hold the keys to justice under a rule of law. The keys that open the courtroom door,

the keys that achieve necessary solutions to pressing problems of clients. And those keys are not held for the lawyers own private purposes. They're held in trust for those who would seek justice, rich and poor alike. And we can take pride in the legal community's efforts to fulfill our trust. The bar is currently involved with the help of such dedicated leaders like Bill Paul, to be involved in greater amounts and more diverse types of pro bono work than ever before. And law schools are providing opportunities for their students and clinical programs to represent and advise people who but for those student programs would have no access to legal advice or legal remedies. Nonetheless, there is an enormous need unmet need for legal services for the poor. recent estimates suggests that there that 85% of indigenous Americans legal needs go unmet. And many Americans believe that justice is for just us, those who are well to do and prosperous and present at gatherings such as those today, the powerful the educated the elite, and if that perception is to be changed, and the reasons for eliminated, then the legal community has to dedicate even more it's time and resources to public service.

The notion that lawyers have a responsibility to their community and that they're uniquely capable of making a contribution is nothing new, particularly at this institution. Judge DD for example, as the dean has already mentioned, who was president when this law school was founded and lived a very life rich and service to his community and the legal profession. he presided at Oregon's constitutional convention, drafted the States Constitution, was a member of the Oregon legislature authored the DD cones, and he became Oregon's first federal district court judge after persuading the Board of Regents to start a law school in 1884. He served as an adjunct professor of constitutional law and expanded its library by donating his own book collection. Certainly life as a lawyer is a bit more complex today than it was a century ago and the increasing pressure