President's Message - May 2018
by Lisa Denig, Esq.
I have been reading lately on the topic of civil society and public discourse, a topic many of us bemoan as tragically dead in this day and age. However, it occurred to me that lawyers – and more particularly, lawyers of the WWBA – serve to protect and preserve public, civil discourse more than any other profession.
First, lawyers must consistently practice civil discourse in their profession or, at the very least, be ostracized by their peers and, at the worst, be sanctioned by the Court. Courtroom discourse is structured so that each side has an opportunity to provide their version of the facts as they see them, and the presence of a judge and perhaps even a jury ensures that these oral presentations will be courteous. While we certainly work within an adversarial system, the way that we communicate our advocacy is strikingly more civil than the public discourse of today.
Additionally, lawyers work to encourage public discourse about legal and ethical issues through CLE’s and presentations given to a wide array of audiences. While these topics are often “hot-button” issues for the citizenry, under the direction and moderating of lawyers, panelists tend to present their strongly held viewpoints in the most civil and polite manner. This respectful and courteous atmosphere allows for a deeper exploration of sensitive topics that benefits both sides of any debate.
Although technology has opened up the “public sphere of communication” in ways previously unimaginable, it has not served to promote public, civil discourse. The opportunity that new technology brings in opening up minds and disseminating new ideas has taken a backseat to the relative anonymity inherent in these new forms of communication and, consequently, the incivility that it can breed. Our ability to form relationships that only a few years ago would have been constrained by distance should make us feel more connected; indeed, it has done the opposite as those entrenched in certain viewpoints are able to merely seek out like-minded brethren. When this happens, true public discourse dies and is sadly replaced by egoistic self-validation.
I am proud that members of the WWBA have sought out public spaces to continue the much needed civil discourse that society requires. Our members have presented programs on topics including the LGBTQ community and domestic violence; sexual harassment in the wake of #METOO; and racial discrimination in jury selection. These sensitive issues simply must be discussed in the public sphere and that conversation will only be helpful when handled in the most well-mannered and respectful way.
So keep talking, WWBA members! Your civility and intelligent discussion will most certainly serve as a light in the darkness of our current sphere of public discourse.