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TCL > October 2003 Issue > The Bricks and Mortar of the Legal System

October 2003       Vol. 32, No. 10       Page  69
CBA President's Message to Members

The Bricks and Mortar of the Legal System
by Robert J. Truhlar


"Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in."
(Wolf, in The Three Little Pigs)

"Our mortar is dry and you can try."
(Bob Truhlar, 2003)



The image of bricks laid one at a time to build solid, straight walls and square-cornered buildings brings to mind the characteristics of strength and endurance. Brick walls hold fast, as in "it was like running into a brick wall." We all learned early in our lives from the fable of The Three Little Pigs that a brick house "rules." We consider buying bricks for an institution of our choice, such as the many people who bought a brick to contribute to the fine new College of Law at the University of Denver. Recently, at my church, the youth group traveled to Mexico to build a Habitat For Humanity home. We bought construction paper bricks and placed them on a community-room wall to help finance the trip.

The bricks of our legal system are strong in Colorado. The foundation lies firmly in our State and Federal Constitutions. A well-developed state, county, and municipal court system is in place. Fortunately, and wisely, the public has seen fit to support the building of new courthouses around the state. Our judiciary is competent and committed to justice. We can be proud of our merit selection system. It is among the best in the country. In Colorado, our legal system has a foundation of solid bricks.

Lawyers Serve as Strong Mortar

The essential bond of a strong wall is its mortar. Mortar binds many strong bricks to form a more useful and durable whole. Similarly, lawyers hold the legal system together. They bring the ingredients of specialized training; continuing education; high moral character; and concern for their clients, the poor and disadvantaged, and the public.

One area in which lawyers have become an essential mortar-like component is in providing pro bono services. Many people have limited access to the judicial system due to their economic circumstances and their inability to deal with a complex legal system. Others find themselves forced into the legal system involuntarily by circumstances relating to our criminal laws, family situations, and problems involving children. People can immediately feel desperate for help without many resources to hire an attorney. Lawyers in Colorado have consistently answered the call to serve pro se clients who need pro bono services and to design, develop, and implement programs to serve large numbers of people.

Truly, lawyers are heroes when it comes to providing free legal services to those in need. On the other hand, we are the licensed professionals with the privilege to practice law in our state, so a great deal can be expected of us. We must do our jobs as expected. Many people would be unable to access the legal system without dedicated and generous attorneys. Lawyers provide the necessary, yet often-overlooked bond between the citizens and justice.

Hero, a movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, and Andy Garcia, is a favorite of mine because it so aptly makes the point that we all are disparate people in this world with different jobs to do. It’s worth viewing for the scene on the window ledge when Hoffman tells Garcia to "Do your job, be a hero!" Still, once your job is identified, you must do it well. Others expect that of you, and they do their jobs as a communal trade-off. All of us are asked to be heroes, leaders, or doers in one way or another.

Others Do Their Jobs

It’s poignant to consider that each day hundreds or thousands of people do their jobs so that each of our lives runs smoothly. This morning, since awakening, I relied on the work of the farmers, grocers, clothes-makers, television producers and news reporters, road construction crews, traffic-light timers, Burger King breakfast cooks, phone installers and programmers (both regular and cellular), my office staff, the security people and staff at the federal courthouse, and (unfortunately) my home plumber—and it’s only ten o’clock. I wonder what all these hardworking people expect from the lawyers in return. Every day, people are providing us with the necessary and often-overlooked access to tools and services we use.

Some people’s work, although heavily relied upon, goes relatively unnoticed. One of my older brothers is a distinguished professor at the University of Minnesota in the field of quantum theoretical chemistry. I think of his work as chemistry by computer. He’s also the director of a supercomputer institute. These computers are so fast that they finish the problem before their cooling fans can turn on.

My brother has published more than 550 journal articles, 65 book chapters, and 14 computer programs. Recently, it was determined by some method that he was the fourteenth most cited chemist in the world from 1981 to 1997. He and one of his colleagues have designed a potential energy surface that reproduces quantum effects on the product state distributions of the differential cross sections for F + H2 g HF + H!

Whatever. But what’s he doing for me?

Once, during a visit to Denver, I asked my brother what he was working on. The title of his research was beyond my understanding. I asked, "What good is that?" He explained that it adds to our knowledge of how everything works. I responded, "Like what?" He clarified that it would help us predict when the hole in the ozone layer will become critical—that is, when the world will end. "Wow," I thought, "that’s important! Now you’re talkin’!" I was really hoping someone was taking care of that. Thanks, Don.

I asked, "When you find the answer to that last one, could I be one of the first people you call? After all, I am your brother." He exclaimed, "Why? You won’t be able to stop it!" I guess he’s right. That is his job with those supercomputers, not mine. I think he and his colleagues are taking care of that for all of us. I hope they are right. They’ll tell us something when we need to know it, but they’ll do their jobs for us in the meantime.

Great Expectations for Lawyers

So, what is the job the public expects the lawyers to be doing? This would be an interesting question to ask our friends and neighbors, or even strangers. Their answers may surprise us and would surely educate us. For one thing, I believe that the health of the courts and the jury system is left to our care. We can be proud that such an important task is left to us!

Unfortunately, in Colorado our Constitution does not secure our citizens a right to a jury trial in civil cases. These jury trials emerge from procedural rules or particular statutes. We can be criticized when the system appears not to work in high-profile cases or when large verdicts are viewed as runaway juries. The public expects us to be taking care of our little piece of modern-day society. It’s our job.

Every day as lawyers, people count on us to safeguard and improve our legal system. We do this in many ways. We safeguard our system when we go to court and represent our clients and when we serve on committees to improve the profession. We contribute when we lecture to attorneys, law students, and members of the public. We provide a service when we monitor proposed legislation. We strengthen the system when we do our professional best in handling all legal matters. We are the only link between the people and their legal system. Furthermore, we can advise people of their rights and implement both preventative and reconciliation measures to keep them out of court.

Lawyers are truly the mortar holding together the legal system we all need. So please join me in a renewed commitment to expand access to the legal system to the citizens of Colorado by doing our jobs the best we can.

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