Monday, August 17, 2015
Early in my teaching career I had the honor of welcoming our first-year students throughout a one-week orientation, and on the last morning, I was directed to “inspire them.” It was a task that proved as daunting to me as it was rewarding, and in preparing for the start of another academic year, it serves as the inspiration for my post today.
To the new law students and those of us privileged to guide their journey, I offer these thoughts as a welcome to the legal profession. First and foremost, remember that being a lawyer is an immense responsibility. Never forget that people trust you with their lives and their livelihoods when they choose you as their lawyer. They deserve the best that you can give them – as a lawyer and as a person. How you treat your clients has a rippling effect on the people they know, their communities, and the judicial system.
Who do you want to be as a lawyer? . . . That is the most critical question as you embark on this career. As you consider that question, I want to share with you a story about a lawyer who graduated from William & Mary, one who laughed that he was an important part of the law school because he was part of the foundation holding up the top three-fourths of his class. Despite his less than stellar GPA, he went on to develop a very successful law practice, using his amazing legal mind. More important than that, though, was the effect he had on clients’ lives, not just their cases.
For instance, a client of his wrote, “He was a special person. He seemed concerned about his client’s health and well-being, along with their legal cases.” Another client wrote, “He had a tremendous heart and always had the time for us whenever we needed it, despite his busy schedule.” A third client noted that “He guided me through many complex legal issues over the past four years – he was a great attorney and an occasional sushi lunch buddy.” Clients spoke of him being a “truly a kind and caring man.”
Through kindness and respect for others and the profession, he was well regarded by other attorneys too. One wrote, “I have had cases against him over the past few years and have always thoroughly enjoyed his company. The legal community has lost a hard worker and a kind gentleman.” Another wrote, “He was a great, honest and good man. He was kind to others, and compassionate in how he approached the practice of law. In short, he was a gentleman.” Another opponent noted that he “always enjoyed having cases against him. He was well respected, a hard worker and a joy to be around. He will be missed in the legal community.” One attorney noted that he “never knew him, but the lawyers here in our office who had cases with him always volunteered that he was one of the good guys.”
Lastly, a William & Mary faculty member and fellow member of the Bar explained that she “frequently receives inquiries from people who need an attorney, but have no money to pay one. In such circumstances, I have again, and again, and again, contacted him and asked him to help. He has never said “no.” When people ask me what kind of law he practices, I say “free law” because he is so generous with his services.”
A young student who externed with him noted, “I look to him as my role model. He is not only the type of lawyer I want to be, he is the type of person I want to be. If I achieve that, in my mind I will be successful.”
It starts now, as you begin law school – what kind of lawyer do you want to be?
As you embark on this profession, you will be entrusted with the keys to the judiciary. With that privilege, you are making a commitment to the highest standards of professional behavior, behavior that includes self-enforcement and required competence. Once you make this commitment to higher standards of behavior – the likelihood of getting caught when you break the rules is 100%, because you will always know if your actions violate the tenets of our profession. Life as a lawyer breaching these standards will be empty and unrewarding. Law is an honorable profession, one that you should be grateful to become a part of and proud to maintain as honorable.
Challenge yourself to make this career about more than a quest for things material; such a quest will prove empty and unrewarding. Entering this profession brings with it the responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves through the complexity of the judicial system. Our country is filled with an overwhelming number of people who need your skills and your passion just to preserve the life, liberty and happiness that the rest of us often take for granted. There is a devastating need for legal services in this country; I hope you will not leave the cry for justice from the most vulnerable among us unanswered.
Don’t forget why you came to law school. Write down those reasons today as you embark on this journey, and look to them often during law school. If you remember those reasons each morning, this will be a career that sustains your spirit. Welcome to this honorable profession; we need you.
 The lawyer was Ken Roberts, William & Mary Class of 1990, my late husband, who died suddenly after turning 41. He was the kindest, most compassionate and generous lawyer I have ever known. He inspired me during his life, and he continues to do so today, as an attorney who regularly made a difference in the lives of others.