When the Lawyer Nelson Mandela is a Peacemaker and a Healer

Anti-apartheid activist and lawyer Nelson Mandela in the office of Mandela and Tambo, a law practice set up in Johannesburg by Mandela and Oliver Tambo to provide free or affordable legal representation to blacks.On December 5, 2013, Mr. Nelson Mandela, passed away. Among all his shining facets, he is remembered as the face of the campaign against Apartheid, the face of compassion and the face of forgiveness. He is even remembered by some, as the face of terrorism. Mr. Mandela did not only play the roles of a father, a husband, a friend, a political leader, a son of the soil, but also a Lawyer.

As someone dwelling and growing in the legal world, I also have my idea of the legacy he left in the legal community and profession. A legacy, if not in the whole profession, at least to an important part of it.

At a time when some Lawyers seem to face a crisis of meaning when it comes to their profession, at a time when Lawyers are portrayed as “guns” ready to load and shoot, and at a time when the popular perception of lawyers has turned negative, it is important to remind Lawyers of their capacities as “healers and peacemakers”.  Chief Justice of Supreme Court of the United States Warren Burger once said:

“The healing  function ought to be the primary role of the lawyer in the highest conception of our profession….”  (….) “The entire legal profession- lawyers, judges, law teachers- has become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom contest that we tend to forget that we ought to be healers – healers of conflicts. Doctors, in spite of astronomical medical costs, still retain a high degree of public confidence because they are perceived as healers. Should Lawyers not be healers? Healers, not warriors? Healers not procurers? Healers not hired guns?”*

In a broken society where rights are guaranteed and living in written constitutions, Lawyers can actually help people have access to those promised rights. Lawyers can make sure these guarantees do not become a sham. 

Mr. Mandela knew where he fit in the legal landscape. He expressed this knowledge by once saying:

“I regard it as a duty which I owed, not just to my people, but also to my profession, to the practice of law, and to the justice for all mankind, to cry out against this discrimination which is essentially unjust and opposed to the whole basis of the attitude towards justice which is part of the tradition of legal training in this country. I believed that in taking up a stand against this injustice I was upholding the dignity of what should be an honorable profession.” **

As a future Lawyer, I’m inspired by Mr. Mandela’s courage. Inspired by the fact that he used his calling as a Lawyer to heal and make peace, I’m inspired by this Lawyer who believed in a just distribution of legal justice, who understood that it was his responsibility as a Lawyer to reform the legal system to make it accessible to the needy and just for all. Finally, I’m inspired by this man who found a way to take account of those who lack the power and the resources to stand up for themselves. 

Where do you fit in the legal landscape?

By Sandra Awovi A. Komassi, founder of letudiantendroit.com


*The Role of the Lawyer Today, Volume 59, Notre Dame Law Review, 1983 

** Mr. Nelson Mandela’s  words on the law and justice, from when he stood in the dock as an accused person – and lawyer – in an apartheid courtroom.

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