A warm welcome to our newest lawyers

Issue December 2015 By Robert W. Harnais

Last month, Supreme Judicial Court Clerk for Suffolk County Maura Doyle swore in 1,176 new lawyers here in Massachusetts. The new lawyers took their oath during eight separate admission ceremonies over the course of six days at Faneuil Hall in Boston.

I had the privilege of speaking to many of our newest Massachusetts bar colleagues at the ceremonies. But if I had more time and the opportunity, I would have loved to pass along some words of wisdom to help them get started down the right track.

One of my friends suggested the best words of wisdom I could provide might be, "Don't do what I did." But the truth is, I must have done a few things right because I love my profession. I love being a lawyer. So here are a few tips for our newest attorneys:

Surround yourself with good people. The best part of being a lawyer is the people I get to practice with. Not just people in my office, but the judges, clerks and so many others I see in court day in and day out.

Don't be shy about asking for help. Everyone was new at some point. You can get valuable advice from veteran lawyers; most are happy to share their considerable knowledge. If you're in court, introduce yourself and talk to the people who work there. The more you know about how things work, the better you can perform for your client.

You will make mistakes. Everyone does. Learn from them. Don't make them twice.

No matter which kind of law you are practicing, you will begin to accumulate "wins." They can come in the form of prevailing in court for your client, making a useful suggestion to an office associate or getting over some other hurdle. They are all good. At the same time, don't let those "wins" go to your head. We work in an adversarial profession. You will have ups and downs. Keep a level head. Stay grounded.

Get involved with the Massachusetts Bar Association. We can help you get a strong start with free access to legal research, networking opportunities and so forth. We can help surround you with those good people I mentioned earlier. Become involved with our Young Lawyers Division, volunteer at an event, attend free Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes.

Most importantly, take pride in being a lawyer. You are part of a noble profession. You are taking up the mantle left by lawyers before you. You are a representative of the Massachusetts bar. You have a responsibility to do your best, not only for your client, but for your fellow lawyer.

I've said it before, but it's important enough to repeat: we need to restore civility to our profession. Practice civility yourself and you'll attract the right kind of person and hopefully inspire it in others. In the end, it comes down to this: do the right thing.

Our profession has a long tradition of passing knowledge down from one generation to the next. It is one of the ways we keep the profession strong. Lawyers like to practice with and against competent colleagues. When I first entered a courtroom, I didn't even know where to stand. But compassionate and helpful veterans helped me along.

It won't be long until you're passing down your own advice to tomorrow's new lawyers, and you can feel confident that you've already started on the right foot. By passing the bar and joining the MBA, you've already got two of those "wins" I mentioned earlier under your belt. It's just the beginning, and I wish you continued success throughout your career.

On behalf of all of us at the MBA, welcome to the Massachusetts bar -- and welcome to the Massachusetts Bar Association.