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Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California July2004
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A welcome to new admittees

By Anthony P. Capozzi
President, State Bar of California

Anthony Capozzi
Anthony Capozzi

You now join an ancient and honorable profession, a profession that I deeply love and to which I have dedicated my professional life. Law is a profession whose work shines the bright light of hope and opportunity on our highest aspirations and most difficult challenges. And though the lawyer’s work is old, it is never finished. As long as people seek peace, equality and justice, the lawyer’s work will continue.

2004 is a momentous year in the life of the law and our profession: We celebrate 1954 and the Brown v. Board of Education decision, when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a separate but equal educational system is inherently unequal. We celebrate 1964, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the creation of the Legal Services Corporation in recognition of the rights of those without access to our justice system.

And with history as our guide, the future is our canvas. Always remember:

  • The answer to our problems,
  • The fulfillment of our dreams,
  • The future of our children,
  • The liberation of the oppressed,
  • The protection of the weak,
  • The punishment of the corrupt,

All depend on the rule of law and lawyers, judges, politicians and citizens. All depend on you.

Our society is based on the rule of law. It is meant to be a rational system, characterized by fair play and common sense. Lawyers and judges have made and continue to make enormous beneficial contributions toward improving the legal fabric that holds our democratic society together. 

You have an obligation to protect the freedom of the individual. It will be easy, throughout your career, to lose sight of the magnificence of the law. A client will demand this . . . A partner will demand that . . . A timesheet needs filling out . . . A brief needs reworking . . . It is important to constantly remind yourself each day that you are a professional and that your duty is to uphold the Constitution.

You will discover that the image and the reality of lawyers are quite far apart. The public mistrust of lawyers is ancient.

Even Plato could not resist describing lawyers as “keen and shrewd,” but with “small and unrighteous souls” who have no mature human soundness and wrongly think themselves masters of wisdom. William Shakespeare in Henry VI wrote, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Shakespeare was actually complimenting lawyers, telling us all that without lawyers and judges taking an active part in our society, there will be tyranny. Thank you, Shakespeare, for the compliment.

Keep in mind: There were cries “to kill the lawyers” when 24 lawyers signed the Declaration of Independence. There were cries “to kill the lawyers” when a young Massachusetts lawyer named John Adams defended British redcoats. He defended them because it was right, even though he knew he would be scorned and ridiculed. There were cries “to kill the lawyers,” when an Alabama lawyer named Frank Johnson, refusing to be intimidated by death threats directed to him and members of his family, ruled that a black woman named Rosa Parks could not be required to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus simply because she was black.

Despite all of the lawyer negativity, the truth is that in our hours of national crisis, our society has always embraced the lawyers and has looked to lawyers for guidance and leadership. An appellate lawyer from Virginia wrote the Declaration of Independence. A trial lawyer, yes a trial lawyer, from Illinois, issued the Emancipation Proclamation. A corporate lawyer from New York led us through the dark hours of the Great Depression and then a world war. And most recently, a trial lawyer, as mayor, led the people of New York through the tragic aftermath of 9/11. 

The role that lawyers have played in leading us through times of crisis, and in defining, developing and preserving our rights, our liberties, our responsibilities, even when doing so is unpopular, is one of the things that makes me proud to be a lawyer and proud to be the representative of more than 196,000 lawyers in California. 

If I can give you any advice, never forget that you were a person before you were a lawyer. Treat people, and that includes other lawyers, as you would like to be treated. Treat people with the respect and dignity that both you and they deserve. 

It is important to find a balance between your professional and personal selves. Cherish your family and friends. You will remember your times with them long after you recall a skillful brief, a successful settlement or a jury verdict. 

My final point is to believe in yourselves. You are exceptional people, possessing extraordinary abilities and talents. You have received an excellent education and passed the most difficult bar exam in the country. Use your education and your talents to do good and be good.

This is not to say you won’t make mistakes. You will. We all do. You will recover from them. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to lose. It’s better to fight for what you believe in, even if you lose every time, than never to have tried. 

From now on, time will pass without artificial academic pressure. Whatever you want to do, do it now. Enjoy and cherish the legal profession.

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