J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Chief Justice Mathew Durrant: Our Role as Peacemakers


Chief Justice Mathew Durrant delivered the Keynote Address on Friday morning at the J. Reuben Clark Law Society Leadership Conference. Like his father, George Durrant, who spoke Thursday night, Justice Durrant had the crowd in stitches at the beginning of his talk, then presented thoughtful remarks about the importance of lawyers as peacemakers: although lawyers are often stereotyped as earning their living by fanning the flames of disputes, Durrant argued that the best lawyers seek opportunities for resolution.
 
Justice Durrant explained three ways in which a lawyer functions as a peacemaker. To begin, an attorney should see herself first as a problem solver and not as a business person. He knows there are enormous financial pressures as an attorney and does not discount these demands, but argued that these concerns cannot be the attorney’s driving force. The very best lawyers subordinate their financial interests to the interests of their client. While they might make less on a case, ultimately their reputation as someone who gets to the heart of matter in the least costly way should result in more business.
 
Second, an attorney needs to practice law in a dignified, professional, and civil way. There is a perception that the best lawyers are hard charging, “Rambo” type lawyers. In Durrant’s mind, that is the least effective way to practice law. It results in distrust, and litigation costs increase as both sides fight it out with multiple motions and depositions. Better lawyers insist on treating everyone with respect, regardless of how they are treated. 
 
Third, an attorney needs to have consistency of character with both his private and personal life.  An attorney cannot check his religious conviction at the door of his law firm. Says Durrant, “If you are a dishonest lawyer, you are a dishonest person. An attorney cannot, and should not compartmentalize his ethics.” 
 
Judge Durrant concluded his remarks with an example from Abraham Lincoln’s life. In 1855, Lincoln was asked by a group of famous attorneys to join their defense team as local counsel in a patent infringement case known as “McCormick Reaper.” Lincoln carefully prepared a defense, not realizing until trial that co-counsel had no intention of using Lincoln’s contributions but ignored and even ridiculed him. When elected as President of the United States five years later, Lincoln set aside any personal offense he may have had and appointed all three attorneys as members of his Cabinet because it was in the best interests of the country. Quoting Lincoln, Judge Durrant said, “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser—in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”
 
By Julie Smith


Posted: November 7, 2014

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