When I was a new attorney (OK, even newer than I am now), I heard a more experienced lawyer say, in response to an internal discussion about an attorney who had just been censured by the Utah Bar, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” This, of course, referred to the fact that it can be quite easy to be going along, trying to do the right thing, and look up to find that you’ve crossed a technical or ethical line, even if you’ve tried to act with the best of intentions.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I,” has since become one of my favorite phrases, in a multitude of contexts.
The phrase suggests that pitfalls and temptations are common to all, and cautions any of us against assuming that we’re too good for “that” to happen to us. The sentiment is not strictly true, of course, because every can make their own decisions and exercise significant control over where we end up “going.”
But . . . even though we’re not the pawns of fate, can I suggest that each of us exercise some caution against assuming that we’re too good to worry very much about what happened to John Swallow other than to pass judgment on it? I’m not suggesting that what John Swallow did wasn’t egregious (it was), and I’m not suggesting that others do similar things on a wide scale or with such utter brazenness (I don’t think they do).
However, while there’s plenty of judgment going on right now (present company included) — as there should be — this should also be a learning experience for anyone involved in politics in Utah and not just an opportunity to pile on. There are important lessons in the report about ethical conduct, cautionary scenarios about how someone who’s not careful can fall into ethical traps, and warnings about how not to react to a problem. So, take time to read through the report and ask yourself how you’re doing — whether it’s in politics, business, or law. And if you see a problem — follow the number one lesson of the John Swallow report: own up, correct it as best you can, and move on.
In the heat of a campaign or political battle — just as it is in law with respect to representation of a client or in the pursuit of business interests — it’s easy to lose perspective about what you’re doing. A report like the one on John Swallow from the House Committee is a good way to get perspective and remind each of us that, there but for the grace of God, go I.