Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Vikram D. Amar (Dean, Illinois) & Jennifer K. Robbennolt (Illinois; Google Scholar), The Role of Lawyers and Law Schools in Fostering Civil Public Debate, 52 Conn. L. Rev. 1093 (2021):
Partisanship can make policy discussion and civil debate difficult. Partisan differences in how facts and policies are understood contribute to the escalation of conflict and a lack of cooperation. Lawyers are not immune from these human tendencies. But good lawyers have, and good law schools teach, values, knowledge, and skills that can aid in fostering and modeling more productive debate and resolution of conflict.
Lawyers are trained and socialized to internalize and safeguard the foundational tenets of our constitutional democracy, to uphold the law even when it does not reflect their own individual preferences. The professional rules of conduct encourage lawyers to separate the professional from the personal, and expect that vigorous debate, dissent, and zealous advocacy will be done in a professional manner. Lawyers are taught to think about issues, cases, or arguments from multiple sides and to value rational argument, the primacy of evidence and facts, and neutral processes in which cases are decided on their merits. The nuanced approaches to conflict that are required of lawyers—distinguishing productive and unproductive conflict, both creating and claiming value, and acting as both advisors and advocates—equip lawyers with abilities that help them generate and manage more productive debate. Law schools, then, should strive to provide even better grounding in these values, knowledge, and skills.
Lawyers should endeavor to highlight for themselves, their clients and colleagues, and their opponents nuanced approaches to conflict and debate. And law schools and lawyers should work to educate the broader citizenry about the values of our constitutional democracy and to model effective and civil dispute resolution strategies.