Rituals, Reminders and Responsibilities

PAD-InitiationRetired Justice Mary Ann G. McMorrow once again inspired by her words and demeanor.  She who herself accomplished so much on behalf of justice – including smashing the glass ceiling, being the first woman Supreme Court Justice, and the first woman Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court – took the podium with grace and poise to say kind and encouraging words on behalf of Judge William H. Hooks of the Circuit Court of Cook County and Michele M. Jochner, judicial law clerk to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Freeman, who both received the 2012 Hon. Mary Ann G. McMorrow Service to the Profession Award, given by the Chicago Alumni Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.  Phi Alpha Delta (PAD) is a legal organization devoted to promoting the core values of integrity, compassion, courage, professionalism, service, diversity and innovation. One memorable aspect of her message was an exhortation to all of us in the room to remain empathetic as lawyers. She quoted Mahatma Gandhi who said, “What fills me with the greatest sorrow is the hard-heartedness of the educated.”

Afterwards, I talked to several people about why this event and Justice McMorrow’s words resonated with them. The oft-articulated theme was: this reminds us about why we became lawyers in the first place. The words of inspired and inspiring speakers do that. And I got to wondering if maybe it isn’t more than the mere words, but also certain ritualized actions that make a difference.

Certain formal rituals endure despite our ever-more-casual world. Why? Maybe because they remind us that we serve principles and ideals beyond ourselves as individuals. Maybe to remind us of why we became lawyers in the first place.

For example, last month I was privileged to preside with Justice Anne M. Burke of the Illinois Supreme Court at the induction ceremony for new members of PAD.  That ceremony initiated over 200 law students and alumni members including Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Dean Gregory Mark of DePaul University College of Law.   It included much formal ritual: the wearing of robes, a formal announcement of the history and core values of the organization, the meaning of its crest, etc.   And, as is the hallmark characteristic of most induction ceremonies, the new members stood, raised their right hands and pledged to uphold the Constitution, “the laws and legal precepts of our country,” to respect the courts, and to be “just and honorable in all professional activities.”  It was not just another day.

Pledging allegiance to the Constitution, our laws, and to justice and honor in our professional lives is also part of the admission ceremonies of new attorneys that took place in Illinois last week and is happening all around the country this fall.  In these ceremonies, there is a ritual and formality reflecting the weighty privilege and responsibility of becoming an officer of the legal system.  Similarly, there are swearings-in of officers of bar associations, and all new law students in Illinois and many other states are encouraged to take a Pledge of Professionalism that reinforces their membership in this organization of individuals devoted to uphold the principles that are the hallmark of a democratic society.

Do we need the pledges, the swearings-in, the rituals?  Maybe we do.  These rituals represent the abstract but nearly palpable principles of justice that bind us together as a democracy.  And the rituals serve as an important reminder of why we lawyers were attracted to serve the law in the first place.  We are not just filling a job but fulfilling a calling.  That calling requires allegiance to a higher ideal.  Allegiance to our Constitution and laws regardless of personal interests, client desires or financial pressures.  That calling requires integrity and honor even when negotiations get heated.  It requires candor and honesty even when it is inconvenient.  I pledge upon my honor.

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