|September 11th reminded us of
the importance of heroes. Confronted with a horror too big to grasp, we
sought inspiration and meaning in individual acts of heroism. The
acts of heroes ennobled us, made our sorrow easier to bear, and made us
proud to be Americans. German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote,
“Unhappy is the land that is in need of heroes.” Americans saw again
last month what Americans already knew: we are not a land where heroes
are in short supply.
Some of you may wonder whether the law really has true heroes. After the events of September, television networks told their sports announcers to give the word “hero” a rest. Compared to the heroes on the front page, calling athletes heroes seemed to “trivialize” the word. Hitting lots of home runs or scoring lots of touchdowns may be great accomplishments, but these are not heroic deeds.
What, then, is a hero?
A hero—in the true sense of the word—does more than do his or her job well, or even very well. Philosopher Sidney Hook, in his 1943 book, The Hero in History, defines a hero to be someone who in addition to doing his or her job well “makes a unique contribution to the public good.”
|Are the people who make us feel
most proud of our legal system more like great athletes or like New York
City’s firefighters? Are they the lawyers with the best win-loss
percentages, the lawyers who win the biggest judgments for their clients,
the lawyers who become partners at the youngest ages? Or are they, rather,
the men and women who work hard, tell the truth, and serve the cause of
In this age when lawyers are too frequently the target of late night comedians and pundits of all sorts who deride the legal profession as filled with amoral ambulance chasers; in a time when too many law students leave law schools less committed to using their careers to promote justice than when they entered it, it should be clear what sort of people we in the legal profession need to hold up as heroes. We need to remind ourselves and remind others—from Jay Leno to lawyer-bashing candidates for office—that the law produces American heroes.