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Swearing-in of New Attorneys Ceremony
Remarks by Justice Peter T. Zarella
October 27, 2008

Thank you Chief Justice Rogers,

I first want to tell you how pleased I am to have this opportunity to address you today on such an important day in your lives. You stand on the threshold of your legal career, and I can assure you that from this day on, life will never be the same. It will be more challenging and more fulfilling than you could have ever have imagined as you burned the midnight oil, studying for the dreaded contracts exam.

I find it wholly appropriate that you are becoming attorneys as we near the year 2009, the year that we will celebrate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in February 1809. We all know him as the man who led the country through the Civil War, but I would submit to you that he holds special relevance for all of us in this magnificent room today, in that his career prior to the presidency was “attorney at law.”

Judges' Corner

In fact, the American Bar Association has announced the 2009 Law Day theme as: A Legacy of Liberty – Celebrating Lincoln’s Bicentennial. So with that in mind, I’d like to start the celebration a little early by citing a few things that this remarkable man might pass along to you today, as you begin your careers.

First, I believe he would tell you that after years of studying, taking tests and performing mock trials that your education has really only just begun. In other words, the process of being an attorney is just that – a process that requires that you stay up to date on the law, the courts and current events. You must educate yourself day in and day out, to be relevant and useful to those you represent. Lincoln himself advised in a letter, “If you wish to be a lawyer, attach no consequences to the place you are in, or the person you are with; but get books, sit down anywhere, and go to reading for yourself. That will make a lawyer of you quicker than any other way.”

And you, the Class of 2008, have so many other valuable resources – the Internet, your colleagues, and bar associations that will offer both support and educational opportunities. You’ve learned about the law, now it’s time to learn how to practice the law, and your local and state bar associations will be a valuable resource as you move from the new kid on the block to an experienced partner, solo practitioner, state’s attorney, public defender or judge. In addition, you must be prepared to give as well as receive: volunteer to serve on bar committees, offer to speak at schools, and provide pro bono work for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. 

I believe too that Mr. Lincoln would encourage you to use your good common sense; that book knowledge alone won’t cut it. For example, he once wrote that “extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech.”   True enough. However, Lincoln quickly added, “And yet there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a failure in advance.”

Put another way, polish goes a long way, but without substance you will lose your shine. You need to work hard to earn that substance, and a key secret to your success will be attention to the details that can make or break a case. “The leading rule for the lawyer,” Lincoln wrote in notes for a law lecture, “is diligence. Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.” Or, as he once wrote in a letter, “Work, work, work is the main thing.”

By approaching law in this manner, I can assure you that you will be well positioned and prepared to best represent the clients who come to you for help. Their future, and sometimes their lives, will be in your hands. You may represent the couple on the verge of losing the family home to foreclosure. You might represent the defendant facing serious criminal charges, or you may represent the people of the State of Connecticut as a state's attorney. You might be appointed to be the voice of children whose family is torn apart by divorce. In all of these cases and more, you must not only have the skills to represent your clients with zeal and ability – you must also be patient and supportive. And, I would suggest, it’s best to pick your battles. While zealousness has a role in advocacy, strive as well to cultivate the more difficult art of negotiation, for that may be the best possible advocacy on behalf of your client.

This is not a new concept. In those same notes for the law lecture referenced earlier, Lincoln wrote, “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 (person). There will still be business enough.”

To this, I would add, remember that antagonism is not advocacy. You hear a lot these days about civility in our courtrooms, and sometimes you’ll hear about its unfortunate absence. If I can give any advice that you carry out of here and tuck into your briefcase, it would be this: Be polite and recognize that the most effective advocacy comes about when reasoning, not tone or posturing, is used. Each of us has a duty to approach our colleagues with respect, no matter what the issue or how contentious it may be.

And you will have cases that are greatly complicated by an unexpected twist or turn of events. You will sometimes be frustrated. If you do your job right, you will have many long nights ahead of you, some where you are crafting that last sentence of the final argument, at 4 a.m. – a few short hours before you are to deliver it. You will encounter clients who want you to squeeze blood from a rock or pull a rabbit from a hat, and yet refuse to understand why neither one is particularly realistic. On those days, I would urge you to remember why you decided you wanted to become a lawyer in the first place; to remember the first time that the words and the sanctity of the Constitution struck you. To recall when you understood the significance of the rule of law and why it matters to the people of the state and how important it is to preserve. To know that in your heart that you are indeed helping the people you represent. The profession of law is noble for a reason. All of the day-to-day activities, all of the little things that lawyers do on a daily basis, are premised on and contribute to the strengthening of the principles that have guided this country since our forefathers crafted a social compact under which we agreed to live. A lawyers job is to safe-guard the rule of law.

Lincoln, the career attorney, understood this. As he paced the telegraph office, awaiting word from a town named Gettysburg or a crossroads called Chancellorsville, as he learned of thousands of deaths from battles in faraway Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, and as he wondered whether the nation would survive or forever be cut in two – his strength came from his belief in and commitment to preserving the underpinnings of this great country. And you too will derive your strength, ability and commitment from those same underpinnings.

Make no mistake, you will sometimes face daunting responsibilities, where you will need to draw on those principles that inspired you in the first place. Be ethical, be straightforward, and don’t be afraid to ask more experienced attorneys for advice. And above all, remember that the profession of law is not just a business. It transcends a mere occupation. It is a lifelong communal pursuit of justice. As you embark on this pursuit, I extend to you, on behalf the entire Judicial Branch, our sincerest congratulations and best wishes.

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