"It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly... who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
Since arriving in China as a young lawyer in 1987, Edward Lehman has dedicated himself to his chosen “arena,” striving toward a China legal practice operating based on international standards for the legal profession. From the beginning, this was not “the path less traveled by,” so much as blazing an entirely new trail through unknown and unstable terrain. Each step was a struggle; each obstacle was a challenge to be overcome and an opportunity for professional growth. As the first foreign lawyer to work at a private Chinese law firm, Edward Lehman entered the arena with fear and self-doubt, but more importantly, a vision.
From the beginning LEHMAN, LEE & XU’S three founders strove for the dream of establishing a private law firm in China, based on merit, relentless advocacy, and efficient systems. At a time and place where corruption was the de facto way to get things done, the firm was founded on the principle of shunning corruption and a dedication to promoting the rule of law.
At the time LEHMAN, LEE & XU was founded, the People’s Republic of China had very little in the way of legal tradition. At its establishment in the early 90’s, the firm struggled in an arena lacking clear boundaries, and often lacking clear laws, policies and regulations; the laws that existed were not followed. While the firm was established to be an “ordinary” law firm, doing what ordinary lawyers around the world do, seeking zealous representation of clients, the historic timing of the firm’s establishment in China has made its practice extraordinary. It has also at times made the firm vulnerable.
In the same way the gladiator in the area is vulnerable to the unseen spear or a sneak attack from behind, LEHMAN, LEE & XU and its lawyers are sometimes exposed to risks. This is an unavoidable part of operating at the forefront of the legal profession in China, and in Mongolia.
Vulnerability is not weakness, it is an inescapable part of competition. Skillfully overcoming vulnerability is the only way to victory. In the arena, instantaneous decisions mean life or death for the gladiator. It is the ability to think quickly, to act decisively, and to follow through with determination which allows the man in the arena to press his attack and to defend against the blows of his enemies. These same qualities are reflected in the lawyer who skillfully, creatively, and determinedly advocates on behalf of the client. It is unavoidable that such decisions made “in the heat of battle” may expose vulnerabilities.
The advocacy of LEHMAN, LEE & XU requires creativity, adaptability and courage. At every stage the firm has done what it can to shift local paradigms toward “Rule of Law,” and to push each day toward small changes in the Chinese and Mongolian legal professions. For the firm, and for Mr. Lehman, there is no option to sit on the sidelines. From day one, LEHMAN, LEE & XU lawyers have been in the thick of the fight. Where legal ambiguity requires decisive decision making, or where a client’s needs require quick actions, the firm has not hesitated to make those decisions, and take those actions as required to achieve positive results for the client. Though these actions may not please everyone, or these decisions leave the firm in some way vulnerable, the firm does not hesitate.
We understand that while in the arena the only guarantee is that the firm will continually be criticized by detractors and people who are not “fighting” in the arena nor engaged in representing people fairly and objectively. Today, as a pioneer with a thriving practice, the firm has no shame in actions taken and decisions made.
We will not be slowed down nor deviate from our mission due to detractors and those who wish us to fail. We may sometimes undertake clients or tasks which are unpopular or seem odd. We will not prejudge potential clients or shut ourselves away from the thoughtful representation of our clients. We will not be ruled by fear and we will not be ruled by our critics.
The law firm and our lawyers are passionate advocates. We strive for perfection and excellence every day. We must be imaginative to undertake our responsibility as professionals. We are determined to reach our goals. We strive for this everyday by simply "doing the next little right thing." We will continue on, we will not lose our tolerance for vulnerability, which is the birthplace of joy, love, caring and creativity. The joy of practicing law and assisting in the creation of a system of rule of law has been a long and difficult battle. It is our passion. We do not believe this is a "zero sum game," our success or failure does not diminish another.
In the arena LEHMAN, LEE & XU has reserved seats for our critics, those who would promote falsehoods and point out the mistakes of the past while ignoring the long line of successes. These seats are labeled: Shame, Scarcity, and Comparison. Shame is the institutional self-doubt about the representation of clients and the communication of truths which may be unpopular or perceived as making the firm vulnerable to litigation or criticism; Scarcity is a consciousness of what we as a firm are contributing and how it matters to our clients; Comparison is how we measure up against other law firms and legal professionals, in our jurisdictions and around the world. As a law firm we know that these reserved seats will be taken by those who wish to shame, to make our efforts scarce, and who wish to compare by focusing on our mistakes.
As a law firm we value Courage. We do not ask for pity, we are grateful for the opportunity to use our skills, to hone our craft. In the arena of the Chinese and Mongolian legal systems, where we strive to promote the rule of law, no amount of criticism will stop us from stepping into that arena each and every day and making the difficult decisions and taking the swift actions our client’s require.
We have true clarity of values. We have been sued wrongfully. Any legal professional or any law firm actively engaged in our work with our mission expects to be sued; almost any organization can be sued for any reason. We do things that are unpopular, we represent a broad range of clients, we advocate under difficult circumstances. The allegations and reports found in some places on the internet are not true. These are the “dirt, sweat, and blood” of the man in the arena, which are the marks of decisive action and accomplishment in the midst of struggle and vulnerability. We will not change our approach because of criticism or negative articles. As Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
It is said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” The internet makes that journey even faster than Mark Twain could have imagined.
As lawyers, we are advocates for the truth. LEHMAN, LEE & XU was founded on solid principles from which we have never deviated. This is our nature. We are a team with a collective goal. We cannot disguise our uniqueness, nor would we try. The firm was started by authentic, ordinary legal professionals fueled by hubris, stubbornness, and naivety in a twenty square meter office in a converted dormitory room on the campus of Beijing University. The firm has been successful, and has grown and expanded. Our law firm is our message, our professionals are our message, our daily work is our message and carries with it the truth of the firm’s more than 23 years of successful and effective advocacy in a challenging and changing arena. We carry on as an organization "comfortable, being uncomfortable."
We are in the "arena" described by Theodore Roosevelt; practicing law, advocating for clients, developing efficiencies, making the uncommon ordinary, and serving others. Most of all we are, individually and as a firm, contributing in our own small and seemingly mundane way to the goal of cultivating the Rule of Law in a sometimes hostile and ever changing arena.