Friday, October 12, 2007

Of Globalism and Localism

This past week was an interesting one for me--a study in contrasts. In my 1L class we had a computer-free week, which was something different (and not necessarily popular--more on that in my next post). Outside the classroom, I participated in two very different events that struck deep chords in me, and they are the subjects of this post.

The first event took place the evening of Thursday, October 11, 2007, at the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. I spoke there as part of a panel of international law and international trade practitioners and scholars. The panel addressed the subject of international law career options. Other members of the panel included Loyola NO alumns and other practitioners, including Tom Morante of Jones Walker in Miami, as well as Professor Günther Handl of Tulane University Law School and Professor Larry Catá Backer of Penn State's Dickinson School of Law (currently visiting at Tulane). (Check out Professor Catá Backer's excellent blog, Law at the End of the Day, and his "About Me" page.) This panel, entitled Jus Gentium ("the law of nations"), was hosted by Loyola NO's newly re-formed student International Law Society (the society fell by the wayside after Hurricane Katrina).

As I listened to questions posed by the very diverse and accomplished students in the audience, and to the answers and comments from other members of the panel, I was struck by how extraordinarily complex, nuanced and rich the field of international law practice is. I know this, of course, and yet I still find myself moved by it. The feeling flashed me back to occasions in my law practice when I would be struck unexpectedly--and quite hard--by how rarified the intellectual atmosphere was where I worked.

The second event took place the very next night in Jackson, Mississippi. It was the Mississippi Center for Justice's 2007 Champions of Justice Dinner, and I was in attendance as the faculty adviser for Mississippi College School of Law's student Public Interest Law Group. The dinner drew public interest attorneys and supporters from all over Mississippi, and indeed the nation; from public interest organizations involved in Mississippi (much of it being post-Katrina relief work); from law schools (including Mississippi College School of Law and the University of Mississippi School of Law); and from law firms. The dinner was in honor of two strong contributors to public interest and social justice in Mississippi:
  • Professor Deborah H. Bell of the University of Mississippi School of Law, who runs that school's well-respected Civil Legal Clinic. The clinic has been particularly active since Hurricane Katrina, and Professor Bell was honored for her many contributions to public interest law in the state.
  • Hon. Rueben V. Anderson, who was the first African-American to graduate from the University of Mississippi School of Law and was Mississippi's first African-American Supreme Court justice. The program for the dinner aptly noted that while Justice Anderson "has been called a witness to history, [ ] his true role has been as a maker of history."

The dinner also featured an excellent slide show on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the many legal and personal challenges faced by the storm's survivors on the coast and elsewhere.

I think the Champions of Justice Dinner was moving for everyone, but for me the contrast between the themes of this event and the Loyola NO forum could not have been starker. On Thursday, I was discussing the richness and complexity of international legal practice. On Friday I was talking about people who need help getting legal representation to obtain enough food stamps. Quite the contrast.

Obviously, the contrast between these two events is a good reminder of why it is so important for lawyers to do some public service work, no matter what they do in practice. It keeps us grounded, and it gives us better perspective on the law and our legal practices. But it also served to remind me, again, of the importance of doing things in your career that you believe in.

I believe in the richness and the potential of international law. Globalization has its perils, but it also has its enormous upsides, and we are in need of responsible, dedicated lawyers who believe in what they are doing, and why. It's global service, if you will, and if that sounds quixotic or overly idealistic, so be it.

I also believe in the importance of local service. There are many, many people who need our help as lawyers, and there are many ways to get involved. And even for overly busy people, it is quite possible that taking on even more obligations of this sort can be a way to soothe the soul, not aggravate it. A way to meaningfully give back of our talents.

So for me, the global and local activities I am involved in are the best of two very different worlds. They are a study in contrasts, but when juxtaposed as they were last week, they fit together quite well.

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