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Remarks of Justice Peter T. Zarella
Ceremony to Admit New Attorneys
November 1, 2004

Thank you, Chief Justice Sullivan. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today. The journey that has brought you to this beautiful theater has been a long and arduous one, and we are here to celebrate your accomplishment.

While your formal law school education is behind you, learning how to practice law successfully and competently will continue to be a challenge for years to come. Though you may eventually become an expert in your chosen area of practice, there is more to fulfilling the oaths that you are about to take than knowledge of the law. The successful practice of law requires the continual exercise of good judgment and your willingness to make a conscious commitment to fairness and integrity in all that you do.

Biography of Justice Peter T. Zarella

Judges' Corner
 

When you become an attorney in this state, you also become a commissioner of the superior court. The second oath that you will take today speaks to your responsibility as an officer of the court. Once you have taken this oath and become an integral part of our system of justice in this state, you have a responsibility to the court, in addition to your allegiance to your clients.

Over the past few years, observers of the legal system have recognized that, increasingly, lawyers are failing to balance the duty to represent their clients vigorously while fulfilling their responsibilities as an arm of the court in a civil and professional manner. This imbalance has resulted in a decline in civility and professionalism that directly affects all lawyers, as our profession is no longer esteemed in the same way it was in the early days of this country when over half of the participants in the 1787 constitutional convention were lawyers. Sadly, this lack of civility in our profession is reflective of an even larger problem that has led to a coarser society that impacts all aspects of our lives today.

On this important day when you become members of the legal profession, my colleagues and I welcome this opportunity to enlist your help in meeting the important challenge of reversing this trend of incivility and restoring professionalism and civility to the practice of law. The problem is a complex one that will not be resolved overnight, but it is heartening to know that bar associations all over this country have recognized and accepted this challenge, and are taking steps to raise our collective awareness and to encourage professionalism and civility in the way we do business as lawyers. Nothing less than the functioning of our system is at stake, and so we must succeed in this endeavor. You have an exciting opportunity, through your individual efforts, to make a difference.

As you begin your practice of law, you enter the profession with an unblemished reputation. It is, therefore, worth all the effort it takes to build and then maintain your good reputation, as there is no greater asset that any lawyer holds. Knowing how to achieve this is not a skill that has likely been taught in your law school classes. I would, therefore, like to suggest some important steps you can take to begin building a good name and making your contribution to restoring an environment of civility and professionalism to the field of law. In this pursuit, i am hopeful that you will achieve not only prosperity but fulfillment of your professional aspirations as well.

The first step to building a good reputation is to become known for your integrity. Be a person of your word, and your opponents and the judges you appear before will trust what you say as being truthful.

Secondly, be a lawyer who works hard for your client, but plays fair, and be aware that what goes around, comes around. I'm sure some of you encountered law students who resorted to tactics like hiding library resources to gain an advantage. Those law students become the lawyers who fax emergency motions to the court, but mail them to opposing counsel in an attempt to prevent counsel from having sufficient time to prepare for argument on the motions.

Those lawyers who repeatedly rely on "sleight of hand" tricks and duplicity eventually find that the scales often tip in favor of the lawyer who is known for his or her integrity and fairness when judges are faced with tough calls on credibility.

Practicing civility and professionalism in all of your dealings with opposing counsel, court staff and judges - and even within your own firm - is a relatively easy way to begin building a reputation of credibility and dependability. For example, if you schedule a deposition, have the courtesy to arrive on time and to respect the schedule of opposing counsel and all involved. Lawyers who cancel depositions when opposing counsel is en route often find that such unprofessional actions are returned, and such reciprocal bad manners contribute to the decline in professionalism on a larger scale.

It is also important to understand that zealous representation of your client and civility are not mutually exclusive in practice. In the words of Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy in a 1997 speech to the American bar association, "civility is the mark of an accomplished and superb professional, but it is even more than this. It is an end in itself. Civility had deep roots [in] the idea of respect for the individual. We are civil to each other because we respect one another's human aspirations and equal standing in a democratic society. We must restore civility to every part of our legal system and public discourse. Civility defines our common cause in advancing the rule of law….freedom may be born in protest, but it survives in civility."

In a developed society, a court of law is the civilized alternative to a pugilistic battleground for resolving disputes. It is a sad commentary that so-called "Rambo tactics" have become commonplace among some in our profession. In a 2002 article entitled the ethics of zealous advocacy: civility, candor and parlor tricks, the author, Douglas Richmond, a partner in a Kansas city law firm, defines incivility as being "all manner of adversarial excess," including "personal attacks on other lawyers, hostility, boorish behavior, rudeness, insulting behavior, and obstructionist conduct." in my mind, it also suggests approaching the practice of law as if it were a series of athletic contests or a game, the goal of which is to win at all costs. We lawyers and judges must demonstrate awareness that we are not players in a game. The practice of law generally involves matters that go to the heart of personal relationships, often in conflict. As a lawyer, your role must, therefore, be not only to see that your client's rights are vigorously protected, but also to see that truth triumphs over dishonesty and justice overcomes lawlessness as you assist the court in resolving conflicts.

One of the root causes identified for the loss of civility in the legal profession is that the practice of law has become more of a business than a profession. Keen competition, pressure relating to billable hours and concerns about the firm's "bottom line" have become, to some lawyers, reasons for justifying unprofessional conduct. Common sense, however, tells us that discourteous conduct towards opposing counsel often results in a negative impact on the bottom line, as it risks incurring the displeasure of the court or inspires payback from opposing counsel. Either of these consequences may lead inevitably to financial costs or even monetary sanctions that must be absorbed by the firm in extreme cases.

The practice of law has historically been referred to as a noble profession. The increase of incivility and unprofessional behavior, however, has tainted the public's view of lawyers, and so we must join forces to restore nobility to our profession through our civil treatment of, and respect for, everyone who has a role in the legal process, whether we are on the same side - or the opposing side - of a dispute. We must be adversaries without being enemies. We must return to a practice of taking the high road with fairness, courtesy and simple good manners. We must mend fences rather than trample them.

We have an important role to play in society, but we must approach it with humility. As John Davis, a former United States solicitor general, is quoted as saying about our profession, "true, we build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures. There is little of all that we do which the eye...can see. But we smooth out difficulties; we relieve stress; we correct mistakes; we take up other men and women's burdens and by our efforts we make possible [a] peaceful life."

I hope that you will embark on your professional journey with a sense of pride in your chosen vocation and a collective resolve to make your individual mark in restoring our profession to its place of esteem and nobility in our society. As William Shakespeare said in the play, Taming of the Shrew, “do as adversaries do in law. Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.”

On behalf of my colleagues on the Supreme Court and the men and women of the Judicial Branch, I congratulate you and those who supported you in becoming members of the bar of the state of CONNECTICUT.

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