Governance & Membership
President's Message - May 2023
Oklahoma Legal History is Ours to Make
By Brian Hermanson
As a child, I loved to learn about historical figures. I would spend hours reading the biographies of people who shaped our history. I was amazed at how many of them started from humble beginnings yet ended up being famous for their deeds. Many did not seek fame, but the circumstances they faced and the manner in which they faced those circumstances made them historic. It must be noted that some people became historic because of the good choices they made and others for the bad ones.
When I went to college, my interest in history continued as I became a political science and history major. Even now, I find myself drawn to articles about the people who shaped our world. People seem to marvel at the people who do those good acts and demonize those who rebel against what is good.
During my years of practice, I have had the opportunity to read about many attorneys who have taken incredibly unpopular positions for the good of the profession. One of those stories in early American history is about John Adams. As many of us know, John Adams was one of our country’s founders and a writer and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He also became the second president of the United States. But some people hold him in the highest esteem for his defense of eight British soldiers who opened fire on colonial citizens during the Boston Massacre in 1770. While Adams was a strong patriot, he felt it was his duty to provide a defense for the charged soldiers.
Adams put his career at risk, but his defense of those soldiers was credited for the men becoming acquitted of the charges. What an incredible sacrifice he made to protect the rule of law.
During my legal career, I have had the opportunity to meet many attorneys who I felt were giants of the legal profession. They have risked much to take a stand for what is right, even at the risk of their own reputation and livelihood. While I will not list them, I can tell you most of them were humble men and women. If you met them and had a discussion with them, you would not know there was anything special about them. If you talked to them about their past, they would minimize their involvement and change the subject.
But the one thing I find about these true heroes of our profession is that they were no different than any of you. While bright, they were no smarter than any other attorney. While heroic, they did not seek out fame and, in fact, withdrew from it. While brave in taking on a cause, they were placed in a position where they felt they had no other option but to stand up for those who needed their help.
These attorneys are the reason we should all be proud of the legal profession. For every attorney who stands up and receives media attention for their work, there are many other attorneys across Oklahoma who, every day, stand up, announce ready and come forward to represent a person charged or a victim harmed. They don’t do it for fame. While it is what we do as a profession, many times we are not doing it for the money.
I think people would be stunned at the amount of work Oklahoma attorneys do without pay. Pro bono work helps the homeless, protects the wrongfully terminated and assists people in getting their property back, among hundreds of other ways. People are helped by these hardworking members of the bar association who do what is right without any remuneration.
As we celebrate Law Day, an event that started in Oklahoma, let us remember that all of you are the makers of the legal history of Oklahoma. Know that we will be the attorneys others will hear about in the years to come. It may not be in a book or newspaper, but when attorneys gather and talk about those great things that happened in their city, county, state or nation, they will discuss those lawyers who did amazing things to help others. And some of those stories may very well be about you.
As you go out into the world today, what will be the legal history that you will be making? Will you be remembered for your sacrifice, professionalism or willingness to step forward to help instead of shrinking into the shadows? That is your story to write by your actions.
I am looking forward to reading and hearing about that history. Because that history is the best part of Oklahoma legal history.
Brian Hermanson serves as district attorney for the 8th District of Oklahoma.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 94 Vol 5 (May 2023).
Statements or opinions expressed in the Oklahoma Bar Journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Oklahoma Bar Association, its officers, Board of Governors, Board of Editors or staff.