Working Well. Together

The article is really about funding the expansion of the Thormodsgard Law Library at the University of North Dakota Law School.  It’s accreditation, apparently, is hanging by a thread, though the Legislature isn’t overly concerned.  The funding showed up as number 14 on the top ten list of things to be funded.  Fourteen isn’t good enough.

But the part that raises hackles isn’t the potential loss of accreditation of the only law school in the Great State of North Dakota.  It’s the Dean’s explanation of what she sees as the qualities the school seeks to instill in its lawyers.

Strolling through the Law Library and down the stairs to the basement, Dean Rand goes on to explain that the qualities of cooperation and diligence are of the foremost importance to the UND Law School. “Those are the sort of skills that are essential to a UND educated lawyer; we want our lawyers to be part of the legal community, to work well with one another,” she explains. “We want for them to be able to foster a positive, cooperative environment within the legal profession. We are not cultivating cutthroat, merciless lawyers here. We are cultivating collaborative, talented lawyers.”

When in doubt, there’s always the false dichotomy for justification.  Cutthroat or cooperative.  Here are some UND law students discussing the choices:

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As qualities go, society has put a premium on cooperation and consensus.  It’s all the rage.  And indeed, in some areas of life, its proper and productive.  Just not law.

Our system is adversarial.  It’s meant to be, with lawyers representing their clients’ interests even when those interests don’t overlap or coincide.  When there are places where a meeting of minds can be achieved, hooray.  We are not intrinsically uncooperative.  We don’t seek out conflict, create problems where none exist.  We need not be cutthroat.

But we must never elevate cooperation above the zealous representation of clients.  It is not the goal.  We do not sacrifice our clients to get along.  We do not give away our clients’ interests or rights to be part of the “legal community, to work well with one another.”  What the heck is Dean Rand thinking?  What the heck is she teaching her students?

“Consensus” has reached near-mantra status. Not just among young lawyers, but all lawyers.  No one seems to question that it’s better to work well with one another, to agree, to reach consensus, then to adhere to a belief.  It’s better to settle a case, to take a plea offer, to reach a resolution, than to fight.  All the fight has been sucked out of us.  Everything is better by committee.  There is no higher calling than to work well together.

As lawyers, we represent clients.  Cooperation is fine to the extent it serves our clients’ interests.  Beyond that, it’s wrong for us.  Sometimes, there’s no choice but to fight.  You can’t do that when your mindset is that working well together is the end in itself, the highest goal one can achieve.  Lawyers represent clients.  We do not necessarily play well with each other.

A thought for Dean Rand:  Forget about funding expansion of the library.  Get a high speed internet hook up and you’ve got everything you need.  Instead, spend some time understanding what these students will be doing with the rest of their lives, and then stop trying to ruin them before they even start.  Worry less about the ABA pulling your accreditation for library issues, and worry more about losing your ticket for the inability to grasp what lawyers do.

Oh?  You’re right.  It’s the ABA we’re talking about.  No need to worry beyond the number of books in the library.  Never mind.

H/T Stephanie West Allen

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