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From the President

A lawyer’s role as problem solver and peacemaker: It’s time to change our approach to client service and our image

By Patrick Kelly
President, State Bar of California

Patrick KellyWe and the media have often thought of lawyers as courtroom advocates. As a trial lawyer, I understand and respect that aspect of our practice. However, it is time to refocus our thinking to include a more vital need in the current social and economic climate – our responsibility to act as problem solvers and peacemakers.

Abraham Lincoln recognized this need almost 150 years ago when he said: "Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser, in fees, expenses and waste of time. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good [person]. There will still be business enough."

Just as Lincoln recognized, we as lawyers need to accept and act upon the public's need for us to be not only advocates, but more, to be problem solvers and peacemakers. With the decline in available court resources, this need is more critical than ever.

I’ve devoted much of my career to the peacemaker’s role through alternative dispute resolution and peer mediation such as  the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Services, now known as the Center for Civic Mediation.

Through that work, I became acquainted with many of the leaders in ADR. One such leader, Forrest Mosten, a mediator and UCLA School of Law professor, is an expert on the subject. He has written a companion column in this month’s California Bar Journal about how his law practice thrived after he decided to be a non-court lawyer.

He also helped involve some of the best and brightest thinkers on the subject to offer their insights on this issue. I’d like to thank these columnists for their valuable contributions and urge each of our members to carefully review their thoughts and suggestions for the evolution of our practice to one that thinks of client needs and problem solving as our highest priority. To give you a brief review of these contributions:

  • Luz Herrera, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, writes about how limited-scope services can play a role in serving the needs of clients and increase the peacemaking role of lawyers.
  • Thomas D. Barton, a professor at the California Western School of Law, discusses the importance of preventive legal health care.
  • Russell Korobkin, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, covers how to incorporate principles of peacemaking to the process of negotiating a settlement agreement.
  • Richard Chernick and Barbara Reeves Neal, who are noted mediators and arbitrators at JAMS, give a primer on how to design an effective dispute-resolution process. 
  • Kenneth Cloke, director of the Center for Dispute Resolution in Santa Monica, instructs us on how to be agents of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I encourage my colleagues to read and carefully consider the guidance these distinguished contributors have given us. If we, as attorneys, can address this need ourselves, not only will the public be better served but, in time, the public will recognize this added dimension and its positive impact on our service to them – and to our image as attorneys in the community.