Daily Journal Op-Ed
By Janice Kamenir-Reznik
Friday, February 15, 2008; Page 6
Copyright 2008 Daily Journal Corp, posted with permission
Let's face it, most lawyers find moving around large sums of money juicy and thrilling. I recently retired from the legal profession, having practiced and managed a law firm for more than two decades. We represented mostly large, developer clients, gaining sizeable and valuable benefits for them and significant fees for ourselves. As such, I am aware of the prevailing culture in most law firms - a culture that discourages the representation of small clients and cases and encourages lawyers to bring in wealthy clients and large, lucrative cases. But pressure, subtle or not so subtle, from their firms is not the only reason lawyers gravitate to wealthy clients and big, complex cases. With much at stake, these cases produce high adrenaline, high excitement and high fees. And lawyers who bring in the large clients and large-fee cases are rewarded with bigger paychecks. This is all very obvious and actually, in many ways, defines the culture of the privately practiced legal profession.
To help spread the word about the genocide in Darfur, Jewish World Watch, the group I co-founded, recently gained approval from the State Bar for an MCLE class entitled "On the Ground and in the Camps: Voices from Darfur." The one-hour program outlines the background of the genocide in Darfur, informs about international and domestic genocide-related law and introduces the faces of the people we met during our recent trip to the refugee camps at the Chad-Darfur border.
What is remarkable about the classes we have been providing is the overwhelming attendance at each of the programs and the tremendous response it stimulates, primarily from young associates in law firms. The conference rooms are overflowing with eager and ambitious young lawyers, who work 24/7 to meet their employers' and supervisors' high expectations; yet, who also give up their lunch hours to come to what might be interpreted as a heavy, even depressing program. And, after the program, many of the attendees take on tasks to organize their firms and friends to mobilize against the genocide and to help bring relief to its victims.
The interest in the genocide in Darfur on the part of law firms and lawyers is encouraging on many different levels. On the most human level, it is encouraging to know that the same passion that lawyers can demonstrate in courtrooms and board rooms for their client's financial interests and for their own financial gain also exists for people 10,000 miles away who are being murdered and raped by evil and diabolical dictators. But an even more important reason to celebrate the engagement of lawyers on this issue relates to the unique role they play in our society as leaders in the community who often hold positions of power and influence and who can have a disproportionate impact on politics and policy.
Of course, many lawyers are involved in the financial and international arenas, where important decisions are made regarding global policies. It is critical that they understand the implications of the work they do - even if it seems unrelated. For example, there are certain countries whose support of the government in Sudan assists in continuing the genocide. One such country is China. China supplies the Sudanese government with most of its arms and purchases most of its oil, thus providing the Sudanese government with much of its income. Any deals made with the Chinese government or companies in China must be viewed in that light.
The response to our class has proven to us that there are many lawyers who are looking for a way to get more involved in significant issues of international importance. We hope that this class and others like it will encourage lawyers to take that step and develop their expertise in ways that enrich the community, and indeed the world, with the passion, principles and commitment to justice that is inherent in the soul and constitution of many lawyers.