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From the President

Chavez: Recognizing a life of advocacy

By Luis J. Rodriguez
President, State Bar of California

Luis RodriguezWhen we think about our profession, many things come to mind, such as the various areas of law that we come across, the heated disputes that engage us, the rules of the game and our good and bad reputations, as well as those of our opponents.

Yet the common denominator for all is that we get paid to advocate for our client’s position using nonviolent measures. The various laws, rules, codes and guidelines serve as the parameters of our behavior. In March, we celebrated the life of an advocate who fought for his “clients.” These clients were farmworkers, and their “attorney” was labor leader Cesar E. Chavez.

One may or may not agree with him ideologically. But there is no denying that his commitment to advocacy through nonviolent methods for those with little means and education taught us a lesson in advocacy. He was an admirer of historical figures like St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi, who demonstrated public service and peaceful measures. He was also a human being who made mistakes throughout his life that remind us that we can sometimes fall short, despite the best of intentions.

As I traveled up and down this state and spoke to many people, I have seen the great dedication to public service by many in our profession. I have seen great commitment to raise money for law student scholarships, to raise money for public interest organizations, to educate the community about their rights, and so much more. I have seen a landscape composed of many colors and shapes that in close proximity may not make sense. Yet, when one takes a step back, one sees this collage form a representation of public service. This is not how many people see our profession. We are often portrayed as crooked hired guns aimed at doing away with the other side. Sometimes the intensity of the advocacy eclipses its purpose, which is to resolve conflict within the parameters of civilized behavior. We strive to reach advocacy that attempts to maintain order and peace in times of heated conflict. These were some of the lessons that I learned from Chavez, the advocate who spoke for his clients toiling in the sun.

The strength of our profession is advocacy, but the nourishment for its survival is the ability to shape our image into a respected one. We do this through the various commitments to public service. As I indicated in the beginning of this piece, we celebrated Chavez’s birthday on March 31.  Specifically, we celebrated his public service.

Let us continue to advocate for our side, but let us not forget what Chavez said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community . ... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their own sakes and for our own.”