Admission of lawyers to the bar is one of those important occasions
which invites us to leave life's details behind and to examine the
foundation our legal house is built upon. What distinguishes a society
based on laws from anarchy? The answer depends upon what authority those
laws are based.
A legal system sets out rights and responsibilities.
Are these rights based simply on the grant of the state? In totalitarian
regimes whether communist, national socialist or fascist, the source of
legal rights and responsibilities is the state. In these regimes,
humankind exists for the state. In such autocratic states men and women
have only those rights the state is willing to confer and all of those
responsibilities the state ordains. Such totalitarian regimes sometimes
impose order but at the cost of loss of basic human rights.
The American system of laws rests on a different foundation. Our
founding fathers thought deeply about the meaning of life and expressed
their ideas best in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence.
There they said:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain
unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness - that to secure these rights, governments are
instituted among men.
Human rights are endowed by the Creator under our system. The state
does not confer them and thus cannot take them away. Governments exist
for the benefit of humankind. Under our constitution and laws, the human
race does not exist for the benefit of governments or dictators of any
kind. Governments exist to better secure those rights.
With each right we Americans hold is a corresponding responsibility.
Freedom without responsibility is license. If the experience of the
French Revolution taught us anything, it is that a government where
license reigns in the absence of responsibility cannot long endure; and
civil society becomes a casualty when men and women exalt their own
rights so irresponsibly that the rights of others are ignored and
One cannot truly respect the source of his own rights if he lacks
respect for the rights of others.
Pericles in his funeral oration for the dead of Athens reminded his
fellow citizens about responsibility when he said that "it was by
courage, and by recognition of duty, and the shunning of dishonor" that
those who had died had won greatness.
We sometimes dwell on the great material success and the riches with
which our country has been blessed. However, the country's greatness
lies not in our material wealth. When we exalt pursuit of wealth to the
paramount place in our lives, our pockets may be full but our spirits
On this fall day, recall the words Jefferson penned in Philadelphia
on July 4, 1776 -
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
As you and I go about the details of our daily labors those words
will inspire us to live up to the attorneys' oath we took:
- To do no falsehood
- Nor consent to any to be done in court
- To promote no false or unlawful suit
- To delay no person for lucre or malice
- To practice according to the best of your learning and
discretion with fidelity to the court as well as your client.
Some of you will be litigators, as were some of us. Do your honest
best for your clients. They look to you to take them through their legal
troubles. But remember the words of Lincoln, who was not only a great
litigator, but a great lawyer.
Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise
whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often
a real loser -- in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a
peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good
man. There will still be business enough.
One of our great humorists once said, "Nothing exceeds like excess."
You come to the bar, when our nation is dealing with the results of
excess. We encouraged spending, and discouraged thrift. We encouraged
consumption and discouraged production. You, the young professional
people of our nation, have the ability to lead us out of this
difficulty. Whatever challenges our sick economy presents, you have
the youth and the talent to overcome.
Finally, enjoy this day. Years of hard work in law school are over,
and with support of your loved ones you have attained membership in the
bar. Good luck to all of you in your chosen profession.