Happy Law Day from Thomson Reuters
Happy Law Day! Legal Current asked leaders across the Thomson Reuters Legal Professionals business to share what Law Day means to them.
Established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958, Law Day celebrates the rule of law on May 1. In the United States, it’s an opportunity for legal professionals as well as students to reflect on the role of law in the foundation of the country and to recognize its importance for society. Many lawyers mark the day by visiting local classrooms to talk about the law and the profession, while civic groups and bar associations commemorate the day with programs, presentations, and events.
The American Bar Association’s 2023 theme is “Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility, and Collaboration.” Individuals across Thomson Reuters shared their perspectives on the theme, what the Law Day tradition means to the profession, and how to respond to the ABA’s call to support “rebuilding trust in our institutions.”
Nita Cumello, global account director, Legal Large Law noted the importance of transparency in building trust in the legal system.
“The fundamental underpinning of confidence in any individual, organization, or system is trust,” Cumello said. “Trust is built through consistency, truth and accuracy, and action. Building trust requires relentless commitment to these foundational elements.”
Rachel Utter, senior manager, Codes Editorial, Research Products, reflected on why individuals may distrust the legal system.
“Even after going to court or following legal news reporting, many still see our courts as intimidating, inaccessible, and untrustworthy,” Utter said. “Perhaps this is because most people only go to court for ‘negative’ things, such as contesting a traffic ticket, going through a divorce, or serving on jury duty, which is typically more inconvenient than inspiring. And in legal news, reporters understandably focus on the most socially divisive and tragic hearings, and unfortunately, sometimes the outcomes of such cases, even when completely transparent and legal, give the public pause about whether a court supports safety, security, and civility.”
Utter emphasized the importance of legal professionals helping to educate the public on the justice system.
“I am on the Minnesota Women Lawyers’ Foundation Board and a member of the Warren E. Burger Inn of Court, not only to engage with my peers and customers in the legal community, but also to support their efforts to build civility amongst lawyers and to support legal education in the community,” Utter said. “Minnesota Women Lawyers’ work to help Girl Scouts see the legal system and the Warren E. Burger Inn of Court’s volunteer work in high school classrooms can help kids grow up with more familiarity with the legal system. These efforts can build perspective as to how courts work, what laws constrain their actions, and a larger focus on our civic responsibility throughout the entire legal system – from drafting laws, hiring law enforcement, training and licensing legal professionals, and ultimately how courts operate.”
Mark Haddad, general manager, Small Law Firms, agreed that legal professionals can help demystify the justice system.
“It is about individuals who are lawyers using their legal education and practice experience to foster thorough, transparent, and open dialogue, and be forces of change and integrity,” Haddad said. “And for institutions like Thomson Reuters, both as a company and for employees who work there, knowing that getting this right is more important than ever; the way that our editorial functions work, how we listen to and respond to customer needs, and how we develop solutions to safeguard the rule and practice of law are all important anchor points to reestablishing more trust and faith in our U.S. legal system.”
Kate MacEachern, content consultant, Operations Content, noted specific ways to strengthen trust.
“Judges could start by recusing themselves from litigation where they might be perceived to have an interest – and avoiding relationships and conduct which might cause their impartiality to be questioned,” MacEachern said. “For attorneys, one can zealously advocate without descending into inflammatory and inciting language and conduct. But more, rebuilding trust comes with becoming a part of the community. Doing pro bono work and supporting legal services for those who can’t afford them, talking to people about why decisions are made even if the attorney doesn’t agree with that decision. Everyone who is part of the legal system needs to commit to upholding it rather than attacking the system as a way to try and get a different outcome for one client in one case.”
In addition to the need to strengthen trust in the justice system, another challenge facing the courts is the need to modernize. The 2023 State of the Courts Report found that the delays, backlogs, and workforce shortages plaguing the U.S. court system – all exacerbated by COVID – demonstrate the need for courts’ digital transformation. Jessica Platt, vice president, Sales-Client Management and Productivity, noted how Thomson Reuters can support courts’ efforts to modernize.
“We should be consultants on the courts’ digital and technology transformation,” Platt said. “Examples include case filing and management software, making it easier for a pro se litigant to file a complaint with the court, and technology to assist with reliable and unbiased virtual hearings. These technologies will open additional avenues for the public to access justice, as well as shorten the time it takes for a judge to hear a matter.”
All of these issues demonstrate why Law Day – and its focus on cultivating a deeper understanding of the legal profession – is a valuable tradition.
Emily Colbert, vice president, Practical Law, shared what the “Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility, and Collaboration” theme means to her.
“Over the past several years, we have seen our nation become increasingly divided and a degradation of trust and truth, “Colbert said. “The call to collaborate and to collaborate with civility illustrates the need to build this nation back up together using the rule of law as a guidepost.”
Eliot Wrenn, consultant & product development manager, Reference Attorney, noted the challenges of strengthening trust in the legal system.
“The judiciary is traditionally one of the least dynamic of our institutions, and rebuilding the public’s confidence could be a significant challenge,” Wren said. “That challenge is made harder by the federal judiciary’s lifetime appointments and the polarization that wreaks havoc on so many state judicial elections. We need to start by shoring up trust and confidence in our more dynamic institutions, like the legislature and executive offices. When those institutions use their power to make real, tangible improvements in the lives of people and the strength of our democracy – instead of focusing on winning elections and consolidating power – public confidence in institutions in general should soar.”
Law Day is an opportunity for legal professionals to work together toward overcoming these challenges and to uphold the significance of the role of law in American society.
“It sounds simplistic, but to lead by example can build and rebuild trust,” said Cindy Larson, publisher, Super Lawyers. “The concepts presented by the ABA in the conversation guides are applicable to each of us as we engage in our communities and assess and decide how we will get involved and take on our own personal responsibilities for the themes of civics, civility, and collaboration.”