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One of the most influential lawyers in American history wasn’t real. Atticus Finch, the protagonist in Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, has been credited with prompting many lawyers to take up their profession. That a character of fiction should have such an enduring legacy is remarkable, yet as one scholar put it: “Atticus has become something of a folk hero in legal circles and is treated almost as if he were an actual person.” Indeed, lawyer and novelist Scott Turow confessed that he’d once promised himself that when he grew up, he would “try to do things just as good and noble as what Atticus had done.”
As beloved and revered as he is, Atticus Finch remains a literary creation. Meanwhile, there are plenty of real lawyers who fight against great odds with courage and heroic conviction. They fight for social justice every day, which gives added weight to a particular date in the calendar to focus attention on the subject.
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly designated February 20 as World Day of Social Justice and invited individuals and member states to devote the day to activities that support a variety of goals, not the least of which is justice for all.
Tackling injustices of all kinds is a daily concern that’s not reserved just for the legal profession, but defending the rule of law—a fundamental tenet of social justice—is something that clearly resonates within the legal profession.
At LexisNexis, for example, the rule of law is a theme that unifies the company across the globe and is passionately supported by its employees. LexisNexis actively works to advance the rule of law through its day-to-day business, products and services, and its actions as a corporate citizen.
Like many lawyers and general counsel to corporations and government, we do it by advocating transparency of legal systems, supporting economic reforms that support the rule of law, and sponsoring and partnering with organizations to promote a variety of issues. One cause in particular that LexisNexis supports is combating human trafficking. LexisNexis offers direct financial support and legal and technical advice to those working in the field to eradicate the illegal trade wherever it exists. Two organizations the company proudly sponsors are the Somaly Mam Foundation and Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire (AFESIP), or Acting for Women in Distressing Situations, both based in Cambodia. (You can read about other initiatives and perspectives in the LexisNexis newsletter, Advancing Together.)
LexisNexis also shares with its customers a commitment to provide access to justice to the poor and disadvantaged through pro bono work and by donating services and technologies.
For those in the legal profession, a World Day of Social Justice is an opportunity to review efforts made and draw attention to contributions by others, and to look ahead—to consider what kinds of initiatives can most benefit those in need, and not just in the United States (as the organization Lawyers Without Borders has shown).
That may be a challenge for individuals who are often pressed for time and a profession that is frequently under pressure of the four cursed words “do more with less.” Indeed, at least one study of top law firms has shown that most fall short of their pro bono targets. Yet the rewards of donating one’s time and effort can make the sacrifice worthwhile. Practicing simple altruism out of concern for the welfare of others, whether at home or abroad, makes for a better world.
That theme was explored recently in a cover story of the ABA Journal, in which several leading lawyers who incorporate pro bono into their lives are profiled. Working for free can also lead to personal gain, as Charles R. Macedo, a partner at Amster Rothstein & Ebenstein LLP in Manhattan, discovered. Fundraising and assisting charitable organizations early in his career had tangible results not just for those to whom he lent his time. Says Macedo: “The expertise and goodwill I developed with such projects then translated into getting other bigger projects for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. So pursuing something that was important to me personally helped develop my professional career.”
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