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Bar News - June 21, 2013

Morning Mail: Boies & Olson: Civics and Civility

Part of the statewide civics program, Constitutionally Speaking, a recent talk by two renowned lawyers also served as a master class in the kind of cooperation not often seen in today’s legal and political arenas.

David Boies and Ted Olson spoke to a packed house at the Capital Center for the Arts in Concord on May 17 and received honorary degrees from the UNH School of Law the next morning. They showed why they are widely recognized as two of this country’s greatest lawyers and people we should seek to emulate.

From an upstart lawyer not afraid to take on the big cases at Cravath, Swaine and Moore, Boise has developed into the go-to lawyer for “bet the world” litigation, heading his own superfirm, Boise Schiller, which has an office in Hanover. Ted Olson has demonstrated his excellence in the government and private sectors and is probably the greatest living Supreme Court advocate. While on opposite sides in Bush v. Gore, they turned their mutual respect into a friendship, which is a reminder that lawyers (and people) can “disagree without being disagreeable,” a mantra they repeated several times.

That phrase rings true for me ever since Larry Spellman told me war stories about fighting hammer and tongs in court up north and then having dinner and drinks with opposing counsel before retiring to prepare for the next day. Personally, I think we need more of that in the bar and in government.

Boise and Olson spoke of uniting around a cause – gay marriage – that they saw as civilly just. They spoke of an elastic Constitution and against original intent. They discussed their strategies and how they prepared their case for trial and the Supreme Court appeal.

Through all of that, the concepts of civility, civics, and civilization were constant. It is not a coincidence that those concepts all have the same root word – “civis,” meaning citizen. Boise and Olson showed that citizens need to have healthy debate, recognize differences and cooperate to have a healthy community.

These two lawyers agreed on the gay marriage issue, but they disagree on many others. Regardless of whether they are on the same or opposing sides, Boise and Olson made clear that society progresses through civil discourse and mutual respect. That is a civics lesson we should all remember.

R. Matthew Cairns

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