Earlier this month I happened to run into a few old friends. Actually, they probably still qualify as “new” friends as they were several of my former law students from the trial team I coach at the University of Illinois College of Law in Urbana-Champaign. They are recent grads, who successfully passed their bar exams, and they were attending their admissions ceremony at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. A new chapter is beginning for them, just as a new chapter is beginning for me.
The Starting Line
Every lawyer in Illinois has launched their legal careers by taking an oath to the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Illinois and to the rule of law. I recently attended the two admission ceremonies for the First District of Illinois. With the Motion for Admission granted by the Court and the oath administered, the attendees heard from Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke at one session and Justice Mary Jane Theis at the other. They focused on several keys to entering the practice of law with the pursuit of justice in the public and private sectors.
Justice Theis spoke with emphasis on civility: Most lawyers understand their role as being an officer of the legal system. Rudeness, personal attacks, incivility – it doesn’t win cases. Judges hate it. Juries hate it. Incivility is not just bad manners, it is bad lawyering. Ultimately, the lawyers who are successful are the ones who understand it is based on respect. Respect for our opposing counsel, our clients, the court, and, ultimately, for the rule of law.
Justice Theis went on to discuss that lawyers are a people of service. Many clients come to us at the worst times of their lives. Crimes, accidents, financial troubles, family issues. The service we provide is to use our skills to take those people from a place of crisis to a place of peace.
My Clients Change, My Service Remains
For the past decade, I have cherished my time in private practice during those most rewarding moments of helping private, pro bono and appointed clients navigate a wide variety of civil and criminal matters. It was not uncommon to find my client’s contact with the courts to be some of the most stressful times of their lives, just as Justice Theis alluded to. Typically if they were sitting in my office or next to me in a courtroom, they were in a time of some need.
This is one of the most rewarding elements of the practice of law regardless of your practice focus. People in need call upon your knowledge and skills, and in due time you hope to address their problems. The practice of law is an ultimate service industry of problem solvers. Fact finding, analyzing, creative thinking and engagement, all are vital elements to reaching the end goal. It is not easy and it is not all learned in a classroom or from a book. It takes guidance. As I now leave private law practice to assume the role of Professionalism Counsel at the Commission on Professionalism, I shift my focus to serving over 90,000 members of the bench and bar in Illinois. They are my newest clients.
The quality of legal services and the accessibility to justice in all corners of our state demands that the Commission serve its attorneys, and the public as a whole, especially through continued legal education, outreach, and the expanding statewide lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program pairing new lawyers to more seasoned, experienced lawyers.
Linking experienced attorneys with new lawyers who have recently been admitted to the practice of law seeks to elevate the competence, professionalism, and success of our lawyers. The year-long program rewards both the mentee and the mentor, allowing them to develop their practical skills, knowledge of local customs and practices, and improve on their legal judgment. Professional and personal friendships often develop, further adding to the integrity of the practice of law and a sense of community amongst the bar.
My work at the Commission will include fostering such mentoring opportunities to attorneys all around the state. Local bar associations and lawyer groups should consider sponsoring the Commission’s mentoring program and plan endorsed by the Illinois Supreme Court. All new attorneys should have the opportunity to find a supportive mentor as they embark on their legal careers. While my work will expand such opportunities for mentoring statewide, the program cannot be successful without mentors dedicated to participating in the program. The Commission’s feedback shows that participants in the mentoring program–new and seasoned lawyers alike–develop a sense of pride and purpose for their work as a result of the program. Please join me on this endeavor.
Justice Theis left the admittees with a final word. She said that justice is a goal that must be searched for continually. It reminded me of a theme I strive to live by: The journey is the destination.
This is my place in working for justice. But I will keep searching. Keep improving. Doing more.
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