Reno offers solutions Her message: Attorney General Janet Reno, speaking to the American Bar Association convention, says lawyers should promote solutions to disputes, not just lawsuits.

February 06, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno yesterday called on the nation's lawyers to help simplify the legal system and to spend more time trying to solve their clients' problems short of filing lawsuits.

"I think of lawyers as protectors, as swords and shields," Ms. Reno said in Baltimore. "No matter what we do in the practice of law, we must never forget how important it is to stand up for the Constitution.

"But there is the critical role of the lawyer in the community as problem solver. We must have the courage to stop short of litigation and use more low-key methods to stop disputes."

Ms. Reno, speaking at the American Bar Association convention, urged lawyers to "embrace our role as peacemakers."

"We should seek solutions to problems, not just resolutions of legal issues," the attorney general said.

Ms. Reno's remarks focused on a number of ways lawyers can better serve clients. She said lawyers should strive to support laws that are clear and easily understood.

"I have asked the ABA and lawyers across America to join me in making the words we use and the laws we pass as simple as

possible," said the attorney general, who was appointed by President Clinton in 1993.

Ms. Reno also encouraged the lawyers, including those working for her in the Justice Department, to accept more volunteer work.

"I have encouraged all department employees to volunteer in schools, community associations and local bar activities," she said. "Being peacemakers and problem solvers means we as lawyers must get out of our offices and into the communities."

In her most pointed comments, Ms. Reno urged lawyers to counsel their clients about all of their options before they file lawsuits.

Lawyers at the Justice Department, she said, are instructed to try to resolve disputes through a number of types of mediation.

But throughout the legal system, she said, too few clients are told of those options, known as "alternative dispute resolution," and those who are don't always understand.

"If you ask the average American person what ADR is, they might think it is a form of cash register. They won't know what you're talking about," Ms. Reno said. "We can't talk in names and letters without meaning what we really say."

Ms. Reno's appearance was one of the final major events of the convention, which ends today.

In one of the week's important developments, the ABA nominating committee Sunday narrowly chose Philadelphia lawyer Jerome J. Shestack as its president-elect.

Mr. Shestack, 70, defeated Charles M. Thompson of Pierre, S.D., in a 31-30 vote. Mr. Shestack, who will become president in August 1997, said his priority would be to improve the public image of lawyers.

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