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Government LawyersThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

October 2011, vol. 13, no. 1

From the Chair

Abundance in a Time of Scarcity

Most government agencies are experiencing or anticipating the beginning of new fiscal years. It is probably safe to say that this experience is not bringing good news for most and is pushing some agencies toward critical shortfalls in personnel and resources. For many agencies the experience reminds management that public budgets appear to be among the few real zero-sum games, and this can certainly make for a competitiveness that can cripple what should be a cooperative effort directed toward the singular goal of public service. Whose program will win? Whose entity will survive? Whose new initiative will be timed to catch the tide of public opinion or administrative priorities? Who gets to hire? Who gets the raise? Who gets cut? Who will be the scapegoat—management, labor, retirees? Or more critically, what of the recipients of services that government provides and are now told they should no longer expect?

Government lawyers are as much or more than anyone on all sides of the game. We know that in our case it really is true that staff—people—are the most important resource. And we also know that in our collective case it is equally true that as both lawyers and public employees we may be the least understood resource. Further, because we are in many cases split between labor and management, policy making and front line, bargaining unit and non, high profile and at the barricades, it is hard for us to see ourselves (or for the public we serve to understand us) as having the same ultimate goals and interests.

But despite many apparent differences, we do share goals and interests. Government lawyers at every level share a professional commitment and identity that crosses every boundary. The real zero sum for us is the loss of the ability to effectively perform our mission and serve our constituencies, whom we generally believe ought to expect the services we provide because it is their right as citizens and as human persons in the kind of society to which we are committed by our oaths, our service, and the values that underlie them. Across every kind of boundary, shortage, and other exigency, government lawyers as public servants put their gifts at the service of the public in unique and critical ways and in doing so provide a key element of the abundance which enables all of us among the public to continue to believe in the possibility of that society.

The ISBA both generally and in the specific instance of the Committee on Government Lawyers provides a space where we as public lawyers can come together without boundaries and through mutual dialogue, service, education, and challenge, to strengthen the gifts we share and better articulate the components of our visions of public service. It is my hope that this year will bring a broadening of the constituencies with which we associate and which associate with us, an expansion of the ways in which we inculcate values and skills in younger members of the profession and a deepening of our ability to contribute to breaking down the barriers that are between us by the voices and situations that claim that scarcity is the new reality under which we need to live and work. I believe what we know to be the common good, and its centrality in all decision making, will be significantly strengthened and will help reclaim and restate what we further know to share the abundance. The process should never be reduced to winners or losers—unless we allow it to be. ■


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