Extend a hand to our newest colleagues

Issue January 2004 By Richard Van Nostrand

The month of December is a time fondly remembered by many of us because it is when we were first admitted to the practice of law. Whether you were sworn in at the Supreme Judicial Court, as I was more than two decades ago, or amidst the grandeur of Faneuil Hall, or at the Springfield Hall of Justice, I suspect each of us can recall that moment -- that moment when what at times had seemed like an interminable journey had finally reached its destination.

Three years ago, I had my first opportunity to speak at the swearing-in ceremonies. Sitting onstage at Faneuil Hall and seeing the event from that side of the room for the first time, I recall my nervousness. More so, I recall being struck with the momentousness of the occasion for those who were about to take their solemn oaths.

Those new lawyers held idealism, which is the best hope for our profession, clearly visible in their eyes. The weight of speaking to those men and women was not lost on me then. It was unquestionably one of highlights of my service as an officer that year. Now, even with several such ceremonies under my belt, it remains as one of the most meaningful and enjoyable things I do as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

Without doubt, new lawyers look forward to doing well in the legal profession. I am certain, too, that most if not all also look forward to using their license to do good. It is at those ceremonies when I best understand how critically important the Massachusetts Bar Association, and the organized bar in general, is in helping our colleagues with both.

At one of the ceremonies, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick Ireland spoke of the assistance those new lawyers had received from others along the way. He asked that each reflect upon that help as the future unfolded and, in turn, extend that helping hand to others. Paraphrasing, "because," Justice Ireland asked, "if we do not extend that hand, then who will?"

In my remarks, I encouraged those new lawyers to answer Justice Ireland's call to service. Each of us can lend our support to that cause by making that encouragement more persuasive and meaningful through our example.

Following are my remarks at one of the recent ceremonies:

"Supreme Judicial Court Clerk (Maura) Doyle, (Boston Bar Association) President (Renee) Landers, (Board of Bar Examiners representative) Ms. (Alice) Richmond, my soon-to-be fellow attorneys, your family and friends.

"It is with exceptional pleasure that I stand before you to bring congratulations and welcome on behalf of the officers, staff and 18,500 members of the Massachusetts Bar Association. It goes without saying that each of you individually and all of you collectively are the future of our profession.

"Your swearing in today is the culmination of your extraordinary hard work and dedication over many years. It is also the culmination of the support of your family and friends and that of the many educators and mentors you have encountered along the way.

"Your achievement is well deserved.

"Take a moment, at least for today if not for longer during this joyous holiday season, and savor that accomplishment. Savor it -- for the challenges that you will face are far from over. Unless you are the unique individual indeed, the practice of law will challenge you intellectually, emotionally and at times even physically. By your hard work and dedication (not to mention your passing score on a certain pop quiz this past summer) you have earned the right to face that challenge.

"Fortunately, you will not be alone in facing that challenge. Standing ready to assist you, frankly your best allies in the years ahead, are your fellow attorneys. Whether you look to the organized bar associations like the Massachusetts Bar Association or the Boston Bar Association or the 30 or so fine city, county and specialty bar associations, recognize that we have all 'been there' and are 'doing that.' And we are very willing to help you find the answers and support that you need. This can take the form that best fits your need and your personality -- from 'how-to' educational programs, to practice area committees and sections, to one-on-one mentoring, to networking functions, the list is virtually endless. I am certain, and I'm sure my counterpart from the Boston Bar Association will agree, that every single one of you can find whatever assistance you might need through the organized bar.

"Lest I make this 'challenge' sound too unappealing, recognize that the challenge that accompanies your license to practice law also provides an opportunity; an opportunity to change people's lives and improve not only the communities in which you live and work, but also society at large.

"You will be, as lawyers, the connection between law and our society. Undoubtedly, you will make your impact felt with your clients and those around you. But I strongly encourage you to attempt to make your impact felt on a broader stage as well.

"And here again, fellowship with your brothers and sisters at the bar can assist in seizing that opportunity, whether it is through --

-- Speaking out on critical issues facing the public, the profession or the judiciary, or

-- Developing positions and seeking the approval or defeat of pending legislation, or

-- Identifying an issue and pressing for needed legislation, or

-- Striving to find a way to provide legal services to those less fortunate, or

-- Helping us in our attempts to diversify our profession so that it better mirrors our population, or

-- Speaking to schoolchildren about the rule of law and the preservation of our rights and liberties.

"Meaningful opportunities exist to be heard and felt. And those opportunities are limited only by your passion and your willingness to forge ahead. My fellow attorneys-to-be, you can make a difference. You can and will certainly make a difference in the lives of your future clients. And you can make a difference in making our world a better place. Please join with us in seizing those opportunities ... and helping to make that difference.

"Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to share your wonderful day and I look forward to seeing you around."