Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Nixon proclaimed May 1 annual Law Day, encouraging all Missourians to “observe Law Day in the spirit of appreciation for the protection and freedoms we all enjoy under the law.” The first week of May, the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association will celebrate Law Day under the national theme, “The Legacy of John Adams: from Boston to Guantanamo.”
Before Adams became our first lawyer-president, he made his name as a lawyer and political activist, advocating for the protections of all – most notably, the weak, oppressed and unpopular. As a lawyer, Adams is best known for his criminal defense of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. His words and actions can help guide our understanding and appreciation for the legal protections we have under our country’s rule of law.
Adams once said, “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.” And whether business or individual, each one of us are at times the weak and powerless, up against the powerful.
For example, every business relies on, interacts with or is regulated by government. Against the government, we are the weak. And though they say you “can’t fight City Hall,” when you can, it’s because of our nation’s rule of law.
Similarly, small businesses often have contracts with, and rely on, big business. When a disagreement arises, big business shouldn’t receive favoritism at the courthouse, just because big business gave big money to the judge’s campaign. Rather, just as Adams said 200 years ago, “Judges should be always men of learning and experience in the law, of exemplary morals. … Their minds should not be distracted with jarring interests; they should not be dependent upon any man, or body of men.” On this, I’m proud that in 2008, Greene County voters went far to ensure that our local rule of law is developed by impartial judges, free from party politics, by voting in the Nonpartisan Court Plan. As a result, our local judges do not raise funds and campaign on party affiliation but rather are judged on merit in applying the law for equality and justice.
Each of us can be the weak. At some point and in some way, you may be the weak; you or your business may be harmed by another’s misconduct. And if that day comes, the rule of law will provide your protection. It is what keeps the business world from working like the underworld, so we don’t carry around baseball bats and drive cars with big trunks.
One thing I regularly see in my practice as a trial lawyer is how quickly one’s perspective on our justice system turns when it is an individual – or their business – who is harmed. When our contract is breached, patent infringed upon, defrauded against or hit by the trucker who ran the red light, we appreciate the system of justice. We appreciate the protections we have under our rule of law. In life, and in business, there are accidents; people and businesses make mistakes. And when those mistakes occur – whether in business, the operating room, courtroom or elsewhere – who should bear the costs of those mistakes? The wrongdoer or the wronged? In the courtroom, our nation’s rule of law makes the wrongdoer bear those costs, just as we teach our children what is fair in the schoolyard.
Is our rule of law perfect? Of course not. The law is interpreted and practiced by imperfect people. But at its core, the law is based in what is right and just. The judges who interpret it are chosen to practice free of political pressure and the fleeting passions of the day. And the lawyers who practice are held to stringent ethical requirements.
The rule of law is designed to protect all equally. In this way, law is not at odds with business but rather in harmony with it. It is the friend of the right and just, whether you are an individual, small business, big business or government itself. As Adams said, “The dignity and stability of government in all its branches, the morals of the people and every blessing of society depend so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice.”
This is our time to appreciate the promises our country’s rule of law provides – that in the quest for justice, business, government and individuals should be protected equally.Chandler Gregg is a trial lawyer and shareholder at Strong-Garner-Bauer PC, and is chairman of the 2011 SMBA Law Day committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.