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Reverend David T. Link

Not often in these pages profiling extraordinary lives that exemplify the best of the legal profession is one compelled to pause, reflect, and re-read a life story that simply dazzles in a way few carefully scripted screenplays could. We write about these legends of our profession so that younger readers might see examples of prodigious service that hopefully will guide their own chosen paths. Few of us could aspire to accomplish half of what David T. Link has in his virtuous life; but certainly all of us have to admire the journey on which life has taken him. As Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of Notre Dame, has said about“ Father Link”, he is the model we had in mind when we created the American Inns of Court Professionalism Awards.

A man of letters and erudition, Father Link is now Reverend David T. Link, J.D., LL.D., D. Litt., D. Sc., Assistant Director of Religious Services, Northern Region of the Indiana Department of Correction. As a Catholic priest, he presently serves as the chaplain at the Indiana State Prison, a maximum security facility, where the inmates he ministers call him “Doc.” He serves men of all faiths and, in his capacity as Deputy Director for Religious Services, also assists offenders in the Department’s PLUS (Purposeful Living Units Serve) program, a faith and character-based re-entry initiative.

Before the loss of his wife of 45 years, Barbara, and his call to the seminary, he was the Joseph A. Matson Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law at the Notre Dame Law School. He left his position as partner of the Chicago law firm of Winston & Strawn to join the Notre Dame faculty in 1970. He first taught tax law, taking advantage of his experience from the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service. He became the Law School’s dean in 1975, and his 24-year term as dean is the longest tenure among American law school deans. Throughout his teaching career he taught first-year law students professional ethics. Because of his stature as a dean, professor and lawyer, he was appointed to be the first president of the University of Notre Dame in Perth, Australia; the founding dean of the law school at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis-St. Paul; and the deputy vice chancellor and provost of the University of St. Augustine in South Africa.

He co-founded the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, Indiana, and served as chairman of the Council of Providers of Services to the Homeless. South Bend is widely regarded as a model community in its support for individuals experiencing homelessness and David Link was a key figure in initiating that effort. His civic efforts also have included reform of the electoral system in Indiana and numerous other initiatives for the improvement of ethics in the practice of law as well as in government.

It is difficult to even scratch the surface of Dean Link’s record of accomplishments as a law school dean. But there are at least three aspects of his tenure that earned him the Professionalism Award.

First under Dean Link, Notre Dame implemented a “pervasive” program of ethics instruction. According to Professor W. William Hodes (co-author of the great ethics treatise, Hazard & Hodes’ The Law of Lawyering), this program “self-consciously include[d] more than just extra time devoted to the rules of professional ethics.” Dean Link directed that “every professor in every course [is expected] to discuss ethics along with substantive, theoretical, and procedural law.” Professor Hodes said that “the Notre Dame program goes beyond the much-discussed and highly promising curricular reform of incorporating legal ethics issues into many substantive courses. Students are further taught that lawyers can be counselors and mediators in addition to advocates. Rather than ‘accepting adversarial ethics unquestioningly,’
students ‘discover the lawyer’s potential as a peacemaker and as a leader in all levels of society.’”

Second, Dean Link was a great proponent of the importance of mentoring. He once observed that when he “graduated from law school [in 1961], people learned to practice law at the feet of a master. Lawyers would take you under their wing, either within your firm or, in my case, at a government agency and later at a law firm. Even if you went into solo practice, there was someone in town to mentor you and teach the practice of law. Somewhere along the line, however, the mentoring system broke down.”

Dean Link’s solution to the break-down of the mentoring system was to turn the Law School itself into a community of mentors. “Law schools shape students into skilled and decent professionals not so much by what is said in the classroom, but by the example set by the faculty. Through exposure to these role models, students absorb the skills and values needed to practice law,” Dean Link says.

Third, Dean Link has a well-defined theory of professionalism that, like ethics and mentoring, he made a part of the law school curriculum. Dean Link retired in 1999 as Dean at Notre Dame in part to devote his energies to the founding of an entirely new law school at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. He set four goals for his new institution: faith and ethics, professionalism, service, and national and international. The goal of professionalism had the following components: “to promote rigor in law studies to assure the highest level of professional competency; and to teach and learn law as a liberal art, so as to prepare students for their calling as professionals serving individuals, causes and the common good.”

The Indianapolis American Inn of Court assembled a few comments from David Link himself about the origins of our profession and adversary process:

[T]he predecessors of today’s lawyers were not so much adversaries as they were advocates and guardians of the judge’s efforts to maintain justice and peace in the community. Thus the legal profession, like the other two ancient professions, [medicine and ministry,] has its origin in healing. The primary goal of a healing lawyer is peacemaking. Peacemaking is not a substitute for “adversarial” ethics. In fact, the two are complimentary.

A lawyer who is never willing and prepared to “do battle” for a client will not serve his or her clients well. But the same is true of a lawyer who is anxious to go to “war.” Again, some battles are necessary; most are not. If a lawyer is in an adversarial situation, he or she must be zealous in advocating for his or her client within the bounds of the rules of the professional responsibility. But a lawyer must always be prepared to avoid adversarial situations when possible.

The ultimate goal of a lawyer is not to “win” but to achieve justice and healing. Just as a doctor can treat or cure a patient without bringing about healing, so, too, can a lawyer win a lawsuit without healing his or her client. And just as a patient can be healed by a doctor even though his or her disease remains uncured, so, too, can the client of a lawyer be healed even if the client’s problem can’t be cured.

These words and his deeds inspire all of us who are motivated by the mission of the American Inns of Court. Whether you call him Reverend, Father, “Doc”, Dean, Professor, Dad, or simply friend, one thing is clear, you know by his humanity and integrity that you have to call him special. He is the consummate role model.