During your time in school, you have learned the law well. Now after
years of study, months of cramming, and successful bar results, here you
are – minutes away from going forth as an attorney. But I must tell you
that you have really only just begun the process of being an
attorney. All of us who are members of the bar remain, throughout the
length of our careers, part of this process – the process of the
communal pursuit of justice.
We have come a long way since 1730 when judges rode the circuit with
the court clerk, and the number of attorneys in the Connecticut colony
was limited by law to eleven. Those were the days when members of the
bar certainly knew each other well and shared the same view of collegial
civility and professional conduct. More than one hundred and fifty years
later, at a time when, I am sure, it must have seemed that the number of
lawyers had soared, Chief Justice Andrews described the qualities that
were needed in an attorney. In part he said:
"It is not enough for an attorney that he be honest. He must be
that, and more. He must be believed to be honest. It is absolutely
essential to the usefulness of an attorney that he be entitled to the
confidence of the community wherein he practices...a lawyer needs,
indeed, to be learned...and he must have prudence, and tact to use his
learning, and foresight, and industry, and courage. But all these may
exist in a moderate degree and yet he may be a creditable and useful
member of the profession, so long as the practice is to him a clean
and honest function. But...if once the practice becomes to him a mere
‘brawl for hire’, or a system of legalized plunder where craft and not
conscience is the rule, and where falsehood and not truth is the means
by which to gain his end, then he has forfeited all right to be an
officer in any court of justice or to be numbered among the member of
an honorable profession."
You are entering a legal atmosphere very different from the 1730
world of eleven attorneys, or the 1891 world of Chief Justice Andrews.
In some ways, this is the best of times. The attorneys of today have
more education and greater technological skills than ever before. We
bring to the table the extraordinary strength and capability that comes
from our diversity. The opportunity to become an attorney is no longer
limited by economic privilege, gender, or color. Our individual
differences, intellect and insight are well matched to the issues of the
But I must be honest. It is also the worst of times for the legal
profession. In 1730, or 1891, or even in the 1970s when I became a
lawyer, there was an expansive sense of legal community. When one became
a member of the bar, one joined an association of those who not only
understood what it had taken to reach that place, but who were also
intent on showing the way to professionalism through their unswerving
In those days when we joined the bar, we instantly had more mentors
than we could possibly need. Those men and women, whether part of the
formal structure of a large firm, or an informal presence at short
calendar, demonstrated by their conduct the respect for other lawyers
that was expected of us as new members of the bar. The process of
argument was no different then. To the justice system, the nature of an
argument is a debate, a productive vehicle to explore all sides of an
issue. It has been such forever. At the heart of our profession is the
belief that excellent advocacy on all sides of a question, coupled with
excellency on the bench, leads to justice and fairness.
But, increasingly, those of us with considerable years in the
practice have become concerned about the evaporating sense of legal
community and the gradual disappearance of civility. Whether in
argument, negotiation, or simple interaction, we have been overtaken by
an increase in antagonism that all members of the bar recognize. For
you, the newest of our attorneys, one of the most disappointing aspects
of the erosion of civility is that you will not have known a difference.
You may believe that this is the way that the practice of law should be.
It is not.
Civility is not a study in manners, nor does its absence necessarily
implicate unethical conduct. It is instead the atmosphere of courtesy
that comes from a mutual respect for the position of attorney that each
of us holds.
I do not mean to suggest that the issue of legal civility is a
problem peculiar to Connecticut. It has been the subject of a nationwide
plethora of articles with titles such as "professional attitude", "civil
reaction", "fostering civility", and "the uncivil lawyer". One such
article documented a law journal survey disclosing that 50 percent of
the attorneys questioned used the word "obnoxious" to describe their
The escalating lack of civility everywhere has also spilled over, to
an upsetting extent, to include disrespect between the bar and bench.
When that has happened, when disappointment in a legal ruling has
overtaken good judgment, and unfortunate public statements against the
ability of the court, or worse, have been made, all of us in the legal
One result of the escalating incivility is the unfortunate effect
that it has had on public perception of the lawyer in particular and the
justice system in general. The slick bumper sticker "my lawyer can beat
up your lawyer" seems to capture the essence of what many members of the
public have come to expect in an attorney – a personal gladiator. What
does that say about the public perception of what the courtroom itself
Commentators offer many reasons for the decrease in civility among
lawyers - there are too many of us to develop the necessary personal
relationships that engender respect...society's language is more direct
and abrasive and its tolerance for inappropriate behavior has
increased...the escalating pressure of deadlines has robbed us of the
time needed to approach each other politely...the list goes on and on.
At this point it almost does not matter why we are where we are. We
must fix it, and you, as the bar's newest members, are the key to doing
so. With the entrance of each new class of Connecticut attorneys, we all
have an opportunity to start anew. We need to take a step back to a less
antagonistic time. As you begin your career in the law, I ask you to
remember, always, why you were initially drawn to the profession – the
desire to make a difference in society, to be one of the guardians of
I ask you to take pride, not only in the profession, but in all its
members. I ask you, no matter how volatile the issue, not to succumb to
pressure from your clients, the public, or the media when they would
encourage you to denigrate the bench or your colleagues. As a member of
the bar, you have a responsibility to respect the court and the office
of the judge, regardless of how incorrect you may feel was his or her
judgment. You also have a duty to approach your fellow lawyers with
respect. Remember that an increase in the volume or sharpening of the
tone of an argument does not increase its persuasive reasoning or its
United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens observed that
"[a] polite rejection of a settlement proposal can be just as firm as a
show of indignation, and a succinct objection as telling as an
The courtesy described by Justice Stevens is an essential element of
effective advocacy. Civility must flow from a respect for that in which
we are all actively engaged – the quest for justice.
To foster an atmosphere of civility, it is necessary for all members
of the bar to gain a deeper appreciation of each other. Developing
immediate relationships among recently acquired colleagues is often
difficult for a new attorney. One of the most rewarding ways to do so is
to offer your intellect, energy and time to one of the considerable
volunteer efforts sponsored by the state or local bar associations.
Despite the frantic pace of today's practice, lawyers have always
considered educating the public about the justice system to be one of
the most important obligations of the profession. The Connecticut bar
association, either through its young lawyers section or its public
service efforts, actively participates in extensive initiatives to
encourage the public to understand their legal rights and obligations.
Whether you take part as a volunteer coach or judge in mock trials, or
engage middle and high school students in debates about their
constitutional rights and responsibilities, or lead superior court
tours, your contact with other participating attorneys will inevitably
enhance your relationships in the statewide bar, while you are also
undertaking important public responsibilities.
On both the state and the local levels, bar associations are heavily
committed to providing pro bono services. At the Connecticut bar
association, the Connecticut pro bono network, providing services to low
income persons with urgent legal problems, and the walk-in clinics,
located in four Connecticut cities, and providing "legal first aid" to
pro se litigants…..all deserve your consideration.
I also encourage you to join the purely social activities of the bar
associations. The social interaction inevitably leads to an increase in
collegiality among attorneys and judges.
You are about to enter a noble profession. To uphold its honor and
dignity with honesty, tact, foresight, industry and courage is today, as
it was in the time of Chief Justice Andrews, the worthiest of pursuits.
I extend to you, on behalf of the men and women of the judicial branch,
our sincerest congratulations and best wishes.