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Remarks Of Justice Peter T. Zarella
Attorney Swearing In
November 6, 2009

Thank you, Chief Justice Rogers / Justice Katz.

First, let me just say what a pleasure it is to address you, the new admittees to the bar, and your families today. This is the culmination of one of the most significant achievements you will attain in your lifetime, and I hope that many years from now you will look upon this day with fond memories and pride.

As you begin your legal career, I would suggest to you that there never has been a greater need for competent, caring attorneys than there is today. You need only to open the morning newspaper or watch the evening news for a couple of minutes to see the toll that the economy has had on countless lives. People have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and in some cases, their families.

Judges' Corner

So, I think you know how fortunate you are as you sit in this regal auditorium today. You have families who love you and support you. You have an education. And you stand at the doorstep of a new and exciting career. You didn’t get to this point in your life by chance. You were given an opportunity, you made the most of it, and now you stand on the threshold of your career.

With success, however, comes the responsibility and the obligation to help others less fortunate. Or as Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the payment you make for your space here on Earth.”

Put another way: Pro bono service to people in need is the payment you make for the honor of being an attorney.

As you know, Connecticut’s own Rules of Professional Conduct clearly recognize this responsibility. To quote Rule 6.1:

“A lawyer should render public interest legal service. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations, by service in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.”

As an aside, note the words that are used in this section. When the rules address the various ways to do pro bono work, it’s you may do this or you may do that. But when it comes to the question of whether or not to do it, the word used is “should.” Make no mistake: the distinction is neither unintentional nor insignificant.

In fact, pro bono service is so important that the American Bar Association declared the week of Oct. 25th to the 31st as National Pro Bono Celebration Week.

And we do have a lot to celebrate regarding pro bono service, which attorneys in Connecticut and nationwide do every day. In fact, a national study conducted by the ABA this year showed that nearly three-quarters of attorneys voluntarily provide free legal services to either an individual in need or a deserving cause. The study also showed that lawyers devote more hours to pro bono work than they did previously, and are volunteering their time at nearly three times the rate that members of the general population do.

Yet, appropriately, in organizing a national week of awareness, the ABA also recognized the importance of efforts at the state and local level. As I mentioned earlier, Connecticut itself contributes greatly through the pro bono services offered by thousands of its lawyers. For example, you may or may not be aware of the Connecticut Pro Bono Network -- a collaboration established in 1991 between Connecticut’s legal services agencies and the Connecticut Bar Association. The program seeks to recruit attorneys and paralegal volunteers to provide legal representation for low-income clients involved in civil cases. Many different agencies and programs are involved in the network, including – to name just a few – Statewide Legal Services, the AIDS Legal Network, Lawyers for Children America, Connecticut Lawyers’ Legal Aid to the Elderly, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Lawyers Without Borders, the Truancy Intervention Project and the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center.

With this variety of organizations you can easily find an organization to fit your interests or a particular area of practice. And when you do sign up, you’ll join the other 4,374 volunteer attorneys and paralegals in the network. In addition, approximately 800 non-lawyer volunteers provide assistance to low-income individuals through the network every year.

Alternatively, you may find your niche through committees of your local or state bar associations. For example, the Foreclosure Prevention Subcommittee of the CBA’s Pro Bono Committee was formed to help deal with Connecticut’s foreclosure crisis. This Committee is comprised of State Department of Banking staff, staff from the Attorney General’s office, legal services agency staff and members of the CBA.

Indeed lawyers' service to those in need is good news and a superb reflection of the law profession’s commitment and dedication to the profession. But I have another message for you … good isn’t good enough.

For every attorney volunteering, many more people may be losing their homes or their jobs. Veterans may be unable to get the benefits they deserve. Elderly patients confined to a nursing home may have problems in probate court or difficulty with their finances. Parents who have no insurance for their sick child may need help as collection agencies bear down for payment. In these distressed times, I think it’s safe to say we need an army to help indigent people who need legal assistance. And I am here today to call upon you to enlist.

You, as lawyers, have a social responsibility to contribute to the community in which you live. Part of that contribution entails using your gifts and talents to help those in need. It’s really that simple. You may win awards and commendations and titles over the years – undeniably, all accomplishments that will generate pride in your work. But, I would submit to you that making a difference in a person’s life through pro bono service will be the greatest reward you receive. Not surprisingly, such service will also you make a better and more empathetic representative of your clients.

So please do contact your local and state bar associations to volunteer. Or join the Connecticut Pro Bono Network. As important, set an example for your colleagues and urge them to go out today and make a difference.

I will leave you with these words from Albert Schweitzer: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

You need only to seek, for I believe you already know how. Thank you for this opportunity to address you and enjoy the rest of this wonderful day. As you embark on this pursuit, I extend to you, on behalf of the Connecticut Judicial Branch, our best wishes and sincerest congratulations.

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