A CHAMPION AT REST
[Posted February 11, 2011] The news spread rapidly through
Others have written about Justice Hassells legacy as a pioneering legal figure. He made news, and waves, with his mental-health proposals a few years ago. He was the Supreme Courts second minority jurist, plucked straight from the private practice of law to sit on
I choose instead to focus on two aspects of the former chiefs life and his character. Taking them chronologically, the first is his involuntary position as one of the first African-American students to integrate formerly all-white
Justice Hassell spoke little of that occasion, but I suspect that his experience was a bit different from mine. While my junior high school was fully integrated immediately, Norview, as I understand it, wasnt; I have read that the first group of minority students there was very small, and constituted a tiny segment of the schools population. That, I perceive, is a very different dynamic.
My daughters generation, from what Ive seen, regards racial prejudice as a sort of anachronistic curiosity; from what Ive seen of her social choices, and those of her friends, race is essentially irrelevant to them. It wasnt, forty years ago. What I infer that Leroy Hassell learned from that time was, I suspect, the same two lessons that I learned: First, there were certain people who decided what they thought about you by looking only at the color of your skin. And second, the rest of us were going to prevail, as long as we persevered.
Justice Hassell persevered. Four years after leaving Norview, he entered
The second aspect of this man Ill mention here is his commitment to pro bono service. For the last eight years, every time I had a merits argument before the Supreme Court, I watched at the beginning of the days docket as newly-licensed lawyers were sworn in and admitted to the bar of the court. On each of those occasions, the Chief Justice gave a short welcoming speech to the new lawyers, fully half of which was an exhortation to provide pro bono services to indigent clients. It never varied; he always impressed upon each lawyer the need to provide this public service.
I have no idea how to measure how effective these urgings were, but I know that he was fully committed to improving the availability of pro bono services. In this light, I invite each of my readers who are attorneys to reflect on how much pro bono work you have provided over the last year, or the last ten. Keep in mind what pro bono work is not: It does not include work for one of your good corporate clients for which you simply decline to submit a bill, in the interest of generating goodwill and future business. It does not include representing your best corporate clients CEOs teenage son who got a speeding ticket, again for no fee. That kind of work is called marketing, and it doesnt count against the 2% of your time per year that the Rules of Professional Conduct call for you to perform pro bono publico, for the public good.
Heres how the RPCs define pro bono services: poverty law, civil rights law, public interest law, and volunteer activities designed to increase availability of pro bono legal services. That is the yardstick by which each of us must measure our contribution to the betterment of society, not merely to the expansion of our own wealth. RPC 6.1(c) provides one alternate method of satisfying your duties, in case (for example) youre a corporate or tax lawyer and you don’t feel capable of handling a civil-rights lawsuit: You can provide direct financial support of programs that provide direct delivery of legal services to meet the needs of the above areas. If youre in that situation, I encourage you to click on this link and make a donation. Jay Speer, Executive Director of the
For the rest of us, please feel free to use the conventional method, and take on a case or three for clients who could never afford your services at the rack rate. If you have a law license, youre expected to do this. And given how important was to the late Leroy Rountree Hassell, Sr., you will be honoring the legacy of a champion of this cause, now at rest.
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