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Trimble: ‘Reflections on a Lawyer’s Role in a Firestorm’

April 8, 2015

john-trimble-iba As I write this column a week before it will be published, the firestorm over the recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) still rages. No one today can predict how long the maelstrom will rage. The only safe generalization I can make is that supporters on both sides are dismayed, and much confusion exists about the meaning and consequences of the new law (perhaps there will be greater clarity by the time this goes to print).

I would venture to say that every lawyer in our association was consulted by someone about the meaning of the statute. Our families, our co-workers, our neighbors and our friends asked our opinions of the law and asked us to help them understand it. For many of us, the inquiries came from all over the country as the news about the law spread. We were asked about it on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Many of us received calls from clients with Indiana ties who wanted to know the ramifications to their businesses. I had a call from a high school classmate who teaches AP Social Studies who wanted to know how to teach about it to his class of high school seniors. I fielded a concerned call from a college student who was trying to decide whether to come to Indiana to go to law school. The stories are many, but the theme is the same … people wanted a lawyer’s view of the issue.

Many of us read about new laws, and quite often the sum total of our knowledge is based upon what we hear on the news or read in the newspaper. However, the RFRA controversy has been different. Most of us realized that we could not just casually advise people about the law if we had not studied it, so we studied it. I suspect that many of you also realized that because of the high pitch of the rhetoric over the law, we lawyers needed to be as measured as we could be about how we characterized the implications of the law.

This whole experience has awakened in me a new understanding of the role we play in society. While lawyer jokes abound and some question the integrity of the profession, the truth is that we are the persons to whom others turn when they need important answers. It is our role in society to bring reason to discourse and to give straightforward answers when a firestorm rages over an issue of public disagreement. No doubt, a few among us may have fanned flames from either side, but I am confident that most of us in the IndyBar fulfilled our role. We were informed and helpful no matter how we felt about the RFRA. Each of us will likely continue to counsel clients and the public if we are called upon to do so.

Diversity and inclusion are core values of the Indianapolis Bar Association. We urge everyone on any side of the RFRA debate to work to lift up our community so that the world will understand that Indianapolis is a great place to live or visit. #WILLYOUBETHERE?

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