A Lawyer’s Lesson on Sandy Hook

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

By Nelson P. Miller

Associate Dean, Grand Rapids Campus

What should a lawyer think about the lesson of the horrific homicides of Sandy Hook? How does the law school’s mission connect, if at all, with the lesson of that nearly unimaginably violent and disturbing event in which 20 young schoolchildren died at the hands of a mad and suicidal gunman?

Reflective individuals and organizations–especially schools–across the country must find a lesson in Sandy Hook.  To ignore an event of its kind is to give up a piece of our humanity.  In ignoring the event, we may also miss an opportunity to serve our clients better or, in the law school’s case, to prepare students better for practice.

A lawyer’s mission includes the client’s prosperity, which includes the client’s protection.  In too many cases, a lawyer’s work involves encountering and overcoming Sandy Hook-like evil.  Lawyers are no strangers to violence.  With hundreds of U.S. children dying from abuse each year, the law school certainly has graduates who prosecute (and other graduates who defend) individuals who are charged with heinous crimes that look far too much like small Sandy Hooks. Lawyers deal daily with protective orders against sexual abuse and torture, civil orders addressing child abuse and neglect, and criminal responsibility and civil liability for murder, wrongful death, and rape.

We should not be blind to what we face.  The law profession helps its members fight and overcome Sandy Hook-like evil, both through prevention and through redress.  The law school prepares its graduates to join in that work.  If we cannot help one another fight the evil that we encounter in practice, and give one another a protective sense of mission in overcoming it, then we will have failed in something essential to our purpose as a profession.  As lawyers, we have peculiar means to perceive and disarm threats, and peculiarly redemptive means to address their awful consequences when we fail to perceive and prevent them.

That may be the lesson of Sandy Hook, a lawyer’s lesson to be sure, that we must act responsibly as vigilant guardians of the young, weak, and powerless.  The lesson of Sandy Hook is a call again to arms borne by the law school’s graduates every day.  Those arms, including justice, civility, care, foresight, prudence, protection, and (above all) law, are not the physical kind the killer used at Sandy Hook.  Yet in these and other violent times, they are arms nonetheless – and powerful ones at that.  I will call them “moral-arms.” May the school’s graduates bear those moral-arms securely, skillfully, and wisely that we not have another Sandy Hook soon.  May the law school prepare its students well to join graduates in that special work.

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Filed under About Cooley Law School, History, Faculty Scholarship, The Value of a Legal Education

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