Opening Statements

The J.D.-Hendrix Experience


Russell Pearce has two photos on his office wall. One is Louis Brandeis. The other, Jimi Hendrix.

While the two legendary figures may seem dissimilar, Pearce argues that the driving forces behind the law and rock ’n’ roll can be in perfect harmony—and he’s made a short film to prove it.

Revitalizing the Lawyer-Poet: What Lawyers Can Learn from Rock and Roll challenges law students and lawyers to think about what the business of rock can teach them about the practice of law. “We can use rock ’n’ roll as a model for how you can have fun, do good and make money all at the same time,” says Pearce, who teaches professional responsibility at Fordham University School of Law.

Pearce first took note of the connection in early 2006, when he was asked to speak at a conference that tied legal ethics to the music of Bruce Springsteen. “I found myself putting together a PowerPoint presentation with narration, footnotes and music,” says Pearce. “Then into my office came two Fordham law students with film backgrounds.”

One was Brian Danitz, a director and cinematographer whose work has been featured at the Sundance Film Festival. The other was Romelia Leach, a former Hollywood producer. “I said, ‘Why don’t we turn this PowerPoint into a film?’ We began the project, and it became much bigger than I anticipated.”

Big it has become. Pearce has distributed about 3,500 DVDs of the 15-minute film essay, along with a teacher’s guide, to law schools, law firms and government agencies.

In the film, Pearce argues that lawyers have failed to resolve what he calls “the crisis of professionalism.” That crisis sounds like this: The turmoil of the 1960s erased the perception that lawyers were morally superior and had valuable legal expertise that, combined with the development of public interest law and the creation of a new ethical duty to provide pro bono legal services, led lawyers to de-emphasize the public good in their everyday practice. The result, he contends, is a tension between making money and doing good that has left lawyers unconvinced that their work has special meaning.

Pearce’s solution? Take a cue from rockers, who show passion and sometimes challenge so­­cial injustice while unabashedly making money. “Nobody would say rockers are there for the public good. They want to make money as well,” Pearce concedes. “But they have fun, and they’ve contributed to society by helping us think about the public good.” Lawyers can view their work in the same way.

“I’m trying to get back to the fact that we do great work as lawyers,” says Pearce. “Like rock ’n’ roll, the legal profession has human drama, and it’s important to the life of our country and its businesses. If we can get past this notion that when we make money, there’s something tainted in what we do, I’m hoping lawyers can rediscover the love for their work and make money at the same time.”

Using film has also made Pearce change his tune. His next gig is a 30-minute film exploring how legal ethics are shaped by political philosophy; it’s scheduled for release before the Novem­ber election. “It’s hard to find a way to teach professionalism that’s new,” Pearce says. “But younger lawyers click with this. I’ve gone from a guy who knew nothing about film to somebody who’s really convinced that, for legal education, it will have a valuable role.”


Correction

The "J.D.-Hendrix Experience," May, was given the wrong byline. The story was written by G.M. Filisko.

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