Yesterday I gave a speech at the American Bar Association Convention in Toronto. The fact that 7000 United States lawyers came to a convention in Canada says much about the nature of the relationship between our two countries.
Before I got started I told the story about my first ABA convention many years ago. I had a great time. I learned a lot. I met some good people. And I bought a t-shirt. It said in big letters: “Talk is Cheap.” Then in small letters underneath it said: “Until you hire a lawyer.” That t-shirt was never far from my mind in the days when I practiced law.
The substance of my remarks were about the fact that in so many other places around the world, the very notion of the rule of law – something we take for granted – is wholly absent from society. And it’s not necessarily because people are mean or evil. Though sometimes, that is all too true. It’s often simply because they don’t understand the fundamentals of the rule of law. They don’t know about fair and impartial courts. They don’t understand reported decisions. There is no predictability of result. There is no enforcement of judicial decisions.
So, there is a huge demand for knowledge about how to impose the rule of law. But what about the supply?
Well of course there are many programs that exist. The United States government has been promoting the rule of law for over four decades. The U.S. Agency for International Development is the government agency in charge of U.S. foreign aid and rule of law programs. USAID sponsors rule of law projects with the help of partner organizations in more than 60 countries around the world. And many of these USAID projects are only possible in partnership with the American Bar Association in programs like the Rule of Law Initiative.
But we need to do much more. And we have the capacity to do much more.
Today, the United States, Canada, and several other countries are oversaturated with bright, energetic, and talented young lawyers. The New York Times recently reported that across the United States, twice as many people passed the bar exam in 2009 as there were new job openings.
In this environment of surplus talent, we have an opportunity to match our over-supply with the global demand. To spread our knowledge of the rule of law to the places around the world that need it so desperately. Not to insist on our specific rules and norms, but to give others the tools to apply their own values in a coherent, consistent, and fair way.
Rather than having young lawyers being unemployed or underemployed, saddling them with holes in their resumes, and wasting their energy, their talents, and their enthusiasm, I’d like to see a new Peace Corps of young lawyers. A new Peace Corps of our best and brightest who spread the thing that separates us the most from so much of the world. The thing we all care so deeply about. The rule of law.
I was fortunate enough to have a chance to visit with outgoing ABA President Steve Zack about these issues. Maybe we will be able to do something about them.