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Declaration of Legal Renewal (Ref: p1001)

This text can be seen on-line here.

Critique: the need for change: We join together to address the need to reform the American legal system. Many of us find ourselves profoundly dissatisfied by our experience with this system, whether we work within it as practitioners or as law teachers, find it necessary to call upon it, or in some way are confronted by it. The troublingly negative effects we experience in the legal arena emanate both from the outcomes of the system and from the processses and methods through which those results are reached. Currently the predominant approach presupposes that individual and social conflicts are to be resolved through adjudication of defined rights. An elaborate adversarial processs is in place, pitting disputants against each other in a protracted contest to vindicate the rights of one at the expense of the other. The processs fosters mutual antagonism and often deems moral and spiritual dimensions of human relations to be irrelevant. There is a strong tendency to neglect, and often not even to recognize, opportunities to heal distortions in human relationships that emerge from situations of conflict and the need to reach agreement in the face of competing interests. The focus on vindicating rights based in individual self-interest itself is self-limiting because it diminishes our perception of, and inclination to act upon, the reality of our essential interconnectedness as human beings and our basic need for mutual recognition, regard, and respect. While we affirm that the movement to define and expand individual rights has advanced the cause of social justice for oppressed persons and groups and strengthened the moral character of society as a whole, the expanding assertion of rights also can be accompanied by the danger of encouraging greater separation of individuals and groups from one another while offering little to help connect people across their differences.

A call to action.

We call upon the legal profession to develop and strengthen its role as a helping profession, to act in ways that earn the respect of those it serves, to act as trusted advisors and serve as a moral presence to clients. We urge lawyers to take affirmative steps to dispel perceptions that they act as technocrats who manipulate rules for the benefit of the highest bidder. This is accompanied by the equally disconcerting perception that lawyers act in ways that strive to maximize their own and/or their clients' selfishly, or even vengefully, motivated interests, financial or otherwise, regardless of the impact on others and on society as a whole. At the most basic level, we believe that in order to progress toward a more integrative and less alienating legal culture, members of the profession need to take steps to end such common practices as characterizing the motives and actions of opposing counsel and their clients in distorted and demeaning ways. Other objectionable, wasteful, and destructive behaviors include a readiness to take positions and make legal claims known to be unjustified or misleading simply because there may be a semblance of plausible evidence or legal theory that can be deployed and manipulated to support them. We believe the adversary system and the duty of zealous representation often serve to justify such objectionable behaviors and help to create and reinforce the very cynicism, selfishness, and social mistrust that legal culture instead should attempt to overcome.

A vision of what needs to be done.

We envision a legal culture that promotes the healing of human relationships in ways that foster empathy, mutual recognition, trust, and respect. To achieve this, evolving principles of substantive law, as well as legal processses for resolving disputes, should reflect a commitment to promote a more humane, just, and caring society in ways that respect the dignity of each of its members. The effort to mediate civil disputes with a transformative outlook and the movement for restorative justice in criminal matters are examples of approaches to resolving conflict in ways that facilitate healing and reduce the perpetuation of destructive behavior. We aspire to a fundamental transformation of our legal culture, even while we acknowledge that at present it appears necessary to retain the adversary system in certain cases, such as in criminal trials where the defendant claims innocence. This aspiration calls for us to deepen the ethical content of legal education, to redefine the ethics of the profession to link the lawyer's personal and professional ethical identity with the effort to create a better world, and to humanize both the content of law and the conduct of legal proceedings so as to promote truth-telling, compassion, reconciliation, and responsibility for the well-being of the other as well as the self. The aim is to address the meaninglessness currently experienced by those encountering the legal system, to transform the legal culture to gain the meaning that comes from understanding law as a healing agent and from regarding work in law as a spiritual and ethical calling. At the same time, we must attend to the social and political institutions and realities within which the legal culture operates and with which it interacts. Fundamentally, this entails the need to recognize and respond to the fact that legal justice cannot be achieved in isolation from social and economic justice.

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