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Lawyers exemplify public service 

Lawyers uphold society; without them, the Constitution would be powerless

As president of the San Luis Obispo County Bar Association and a lawyer in local practice since 1976, I am proud of my colleagues in our area who exemplify not only client service but service to our whole community and the larger society beyond. Many of the attorneys in our county contribute long hours as volunteers to community programs that emanate from the Bar Association, among those the Lawyer Information and Referral Service of the Bar. Such community service programs are described in detail on the San Luis Obispo County Bar Association website (, which itself is a public service in addition to serving attorneys.

Please join in celebrating the contributions of local attorneys by attending two special Bar Association engagements. The justices of the California Appellate Court for our region will speak at noon on Oct. 20 at the Madonna Inn and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will speak at noon on Nov. 17 at the Embassy Suites. Admission is $35 for each event, which includes a delectable lunch. You can register for the events on the San Luis Obispo County Bar Association website. Lawyers uphold society; without them, the Constitution would be powerless. Laws in the absence of lawyers have no substance. Lawyers bring laws to life, help remove laws that violate the Constitution, and refine the law through cases they pursue on behalf of their clients. The public relies on lawyers to protect rights in civil and criminal courts. Giant companies and individuals who do wrong are brought to justice by lawyers. Our justice system is robust thanks to lawyers.

Former Chief Justice Ronald George in a speech at UC Berkeley in June related his history as the son of poor immigrants who engendered in him a sense of service. He viewed his experience in law school, first at Princeton and later Stanford, as preparing him for a career in service. His dedication to a life of service led to an appointment to the bench and eventually to the Supreme Court. There were times, he said, when he had to make difficult choices and though he sometimes struggled in deliberations, he knew the right decision would be that which best serves society and the rule of law.

Abraham Lincoln, who is famous for his passion for the law and justice, epitomized the profession. He advised: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” Lincoln, we remember, fought some of the most powerful and dangerous segments of society to protect the rights of the weakest, knowing that justice for them had to be achieved to preserve the Constitution and the rights of everyone. In that regard, he said:

“This is essentially a People’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.” (July 4, 1861, Message to Congress)

The civil rights laws that were passed during President Johnson’s administration were enforced by courageous lawyers who acted as did Lincoln, for the same purposes. In that spirit, lawyers continue working to eliminate the pockets of prejudice and inequality that still weaken our society.

Lawyers draft wills and trusts, secure property rights, protect financial transactions, assist adoptions, help resolve family disputes, and pursue and defend civil rights; in fact, every aspect of our life as a civilized, just nation depends upon the good work of lawyers. Whether encouraging and assisting clients toward settlement in negotiations, pursuing or upholding their rights, or protecting their economic interests, lawyers serve. Please join in celebrating their service.


David C. Peterson is co-chair of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the Bar Association, chair of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association ADR Section, and president of the San Luis Obispo County Bar Association. He is a full-time mediator and also an adjunct professor of mediation at Pepperdine University. Send comments via the opinion editor at

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