8:30 P.M., MONDAY, APRIL 23, 1979
"THE ROLE OF LAW IN SOC IETY" An Address by Harold M. ~lliamsJ Chairman United States Securities and Exchange Commission
The Legal Aid Society Servant of Justice Award Dinner New York, New York April 23, 1979
I feel privileged to participa~e in this program honoring Whitney North Seymour. While this is only the
Legal Aid Society's second Servant of Justice Award dinner, I am certain that it will rapidly become part of the venerable tradition of New York's legal and corporate communities. Just as the Society itself has come over the years to be recognized for its sense of responsibility and commitment to community betterment, this award and its distinguished recipients remind us that dedicated and inspired individuals -- whether in the private or public sectors -- can make a difference in enhancing the administration of justice and
in preserving the integrity of our institutions. While Mr. Seymour, and the initial honoree, John McCloy, are both lawyers, it is not for their proficiency in the law for which they are honored, but rather for their appreciation of the role of law in a healthy, democratic society. In discussing the role that lawyers play in our society, Norman Redlich, Dean at New York University Law School, has said:
"It is our burden and our glory that we are expected to live by a high professional standard and earn a living at the same time. We do not have the luxury of the clergy who can live in the temple and condemn the market place. We have to carry the standards of the temple into The market place and practice our trade there. That is why a country which questions its moral behavior inevitably questions its lawyers." */ I would like to discuss the "standards of the temple" that is, the role of law itself, its relationship to values and moral and ethical behavior and its impact on the governmental process. We have developed a tendency to view the "law" as a discrete body of rules and regulations which, by governing conduct, ensures justice and the enhancement of morality. My concern is that, as we turn increasingly
"temple" of the law for solutions to social problems and as a guide to conduct, we give less and less recognition to any conception of values and morality ~bove the law. And
that is a trend which is unhealthy for the law and for society. It is unhealthy for two reasons. First, it tends to
relieve the individual from responsibility for personal values and conduct beyond that prescribed by the law. Second, it places
.~./ Redlich, "Lawyers, The Temple, and the Market Place," in The Record, p. 200.
a burden on the governmental
process to deal with issues
which would be more effectively resolved in the private sector. In a number of my talks -- on such matters as corporate accountability, regul~tion of the accounting profession,
arid the development of the national market system -- I have dealt extensively with what I believe to be the respective roles of government and the private sector in today's environment. Therefore, I will focus primarily on the
first point in my brief remarks this evening. In my view, a good measure of the health and strength of a society could be read from a graph depicting two variables. One line on the graph would reflect the level of values and ethical behavior. The second line would reflect the conduct When the values and
to which the law compels adherence. ethics line is significantly
higher than the law line
-- that is, when concepts of acceptable behavior are significantly higher than the standards which the law imposes If, however, the
-- the society enjoys good moral health.
gap between the two lines narrows, it reflects a greater dependency on the law and a decline in moral vigor. In the United States today, I believe that these two lines are coming much closer together. Increasingly, we as
-4a society wrong, look to the law to...