by Eugene K. Pettis
Most significant events in life have a precursor, a forewarning of their arrival. How these events impact us and society is often determined by whether we answered the “clarion call.”
History is replete with examples of the consequences of survival and destruction, depending on whether a clear message of needed action was heard and fulfilled.
American Revolutionary Paul Revere’s ride in 1775 to Lexington was intended to inform John Hancock and Samuel Adams that a British assault against the colonists armed in Concord was inevitable. Fortunately, Revere’s warning was taken seriously and a plan for Hancock’s and Adams’ escape was executed. How would history have been written if Hancock did not escape the British invasion?
Remember the “October surprise” of 1962, when a U.S. U-2 aircraft took several pictures believed to be sites of nuclear missiles under construction in Cuba? As we now know, the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles on the island to deter any future invasion attempts by the U.S. Fortunately, President John F. Kennedy heeded the warning and ordered a blockade of the island, setting off a direct confrontation with the Soviets. By determined action, the confrontation ended with the Soviets dismantling their offensive weapons in Cuba and returning them to the Soviet Union.
But not every clarion call has been answered. Oftentimes, this failure has led to devastating results.
Perhaps one of the most significant was Pearl Harbor. Two warnings of approaching Japanese attack planes were ignored. Early morning, on December 7, 1941, a Japanese midget sub was spotted and sunk near the entrance of Pearl Harbor. Shortly thereafter, an Army radar station on the north shore reported the sighting of planes about 50 miles away. The Navy lieutenant believed they were U.S. planes returning from a reconnaissance mission, and the sightings were ignored. Shortly thereafter, we now know, one of the most brutal attacks on American soil was carried out.
We in the legal profession have heard clarion calls on impending crises that should inspire us to act — not just for the good of our profession, but for society as a whole.
We’ve heard the warnings about the proliferation of law schools and so many fresh law graduates without marketable skills and available jobs entering the profession bulging with more than 96,000 lawyers. What is the impact on not only our profession, but society as a whole, if we fail to better prepare graduates for first-day readiness to compete in the new marketplace? Do we have the political will to make necessary changes to create a modern-day curriculum? Have we heeded the clarion call?
We’ve heard the urgent calls to action for legal guidance for people who cannot afford to hire lawyers, at a time when funding for legal aid services is plummeting because IOTA funds are drying up. What is the impact — on society and businesses — when a father of four children cannot concentrate on doing his job today because he faces eviction tomorrow? Have we heard the passionate pleas for pro bono service and stepped up to do our part?
We’ve grumbled about colleagues’ rudeness to litigants and legal opponents, and unprofessional behavior that obstructs cooperation in settling disputes and can make a difficult job seem, at times, unbearable. We’ve heard the admonishments to bolster professionalism and maintain civility in an increasingly crowded and competitive arena. What if we do nothing? Will we permit the professionalism of officers of the court to be further diminished? Will we allow the glow of the justice system to become more tarnished in the eyes of the public?
If Paul Revere and President Kennedy had ignored the clarion calls to take action, our world would be much different.
How will history remember us, the lawyers of Florida, as we face pressing issues that impact not only our profession, but society?
Will we ignore the warnings and suffer dire consequences?
Or will we find our place in becoming engaged and working together toward solutions to help us not only survive, but thrive — by boldly answering the clarion call?
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