Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Bar Admissions Ceremony
Nov. 13, 2018

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, at the Palace Theater in Columbus, Ohio.)

Good morning.

I’m Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Welcome to the bar admissions ceremony.

My fellow justices and I are pleased that you could join us here at the recently renovated Palace Theater.

This 90-year-old historic building ... the first skyscraper in Columbus ... recently received an interior facelift, thanks to the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts.

This theater has taken on a majestic look.

That’s fitting for our purpose here today.

Those of you being admitted to the bar are undergoing a transformation of your own. An exciting one……the start of a lifelong journey.

I am honored to be among the first to congratulate you.

The other thought I have as I look about these majestic surroundings concerns the law. In America, the institution of law is majestic in its purpose ... and its promise.

The American system of justice has its faults. That is true. But it also is envy of the world. When you leave here today you will have become a steward of that system. It is a system that is founded on fairness and impartiality.

You will be counted on to maintain its ethical integrity and its independence, objectivity, and strength.

You will take an oath today to uphold the high ideals of your new profession.

No profession or occupation has contributed more than the legal profession to the establishment and preservation of order in our society.

That’s a key part of the majesty of our system.

Attorneys dedicate themselves to protecting the rights of all, including the powerless and those who may be engaged in unpopular causes. The amount of good that one attorney can accomplish can be monumental. Sometimes it changes the legal system. But it always changes the life of the client.

No other vocation includes members who donate more time and resources to civic and charitable activities than the legal profession.

And ... I must add ... no profession disciplines its members as consistently as our profession.

All of these things, and so much more, makes the law a noble calling.

As Chief Justice I can say, and my fellow justices concur, that this is one of the most pleasant duties for the seven of us – a court session that admits you to the bar.

Please treasure this moment with your family and friends. You have earned it.

Cherish it with the parents, grandparents, spouses, partners, significant others, children and friends who are here with you today ... either in this theater ... or in your hearts.

I congratulate everyone who has nurtured, encouraged, loved ... perhaps nudged a little or a nudged lot ... and supported these candidates for admission to the bar.

Candidates ... you completed the education, examination, and character and fitness requirements that allow you to enter this honorable profession ... and to practice law in Ohio.

I have never regretted my choice of a career in the law.

 I’d like to offer you advice as you navigate your path into our profession.

Don’t fret too much about that first job if it hasn’t materialized ... or what the work will be like when it does. Take a deep breath and enjoy your day and your new status.

You have entered a profession that demands integrity, performance, and excellence. Our profession demands achievement but also rewards it.

A law degree is so very relevant in the professional world ... and it can help a lawyer morph into just about any profession About 10 percent of corporate CEOs hold law degrees, in the world of politics and even entertainment, lawyers are to be found in abundance… and the need for legal knowledge is pervasive ... it crosses many lines of work.

Think about this idea broadly: Where can a law degree take you? The answer is ... It can transport you to many places.

Take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves and be observant enough to recognize them.

Don’t wear blinders…often the opportunities aren’t found on that straight and narrow path that you’ve been walking ... don’t be afraid to take a detour ... I did and it worked out OK for me.

Please ... for your own sake and for your fellow attorneys ... review the disciplinary rules of our profession. Get to know them, not merely as an academic exercise. Think about all the rules in the context of practical application.

These rules have been well-thought-out by your predecessors and colleagues in the field. They are a critical part of the majesty of our profession.

Here’s another piece of advice that I can’t emphasize enough: seek out a mentoring relationship with a seasoned attorney.

The Ohio Supreme Court has put in place a mentoring system. Sign up and take advantage of it. Observe lawyers in action who are civil, courteous ... and prepared. Then emulate them.

From the very beginning of your practice, ensure that you treat clients, judges, and fellow attorneys with courtesy, civility, and respect.

Be honest and straightforward with your clients. Work for them in an efficient, ethical, and intelligent way. If they don’t have a case ... be honest with them about that.

With all clients, return their calls ... explain your fees and costs up front ... put all of that in writing ... be forthright.

When writing a brief ... be brief, or as brief as you can be.

Think about the power of your words, not the length of your argument.

A successful appeal depends upon establishing a record at the trial level. That record can become your basis for an appeal. If the record is meager, don’t expect to win on appeal. At the very beginning, think your case all the way through, beyond the first court.

Here’s a piece of advice I always give: Never show up for court on time ... be at least 15 minutes early .... And know the Ohio Rules of Court AND the local rules of court where your case is being heard.

Touching all these bases shows that you are intelligent, a good planner and that you have respect for the court and the law.

Always be respectful. For example, if you are arguing on appeal that a lower court was wrong, do so with respect. Harsh criticism won’t help you on appeal ... to say nothing of how you will be perceived the next time you appear in that lower court.

Be humble. Yes, you have achieved a law degree and admission to the bar. Try to be inspiring instead. Think about your status ... about being in a position of trust.

Oh, and be collegial ... and have a sense of humor.

Think about your greater self ... your value to your family and friends. Make time for both. Strike a balance early in your career that incorporates time with loved ones, recreation, and spirituality, whatever form that takes.

If you keep these guiding principles in mind, the only other thing you will need is the love and support of those close to you now and others who become part of your life as you live it.

It is part of the tradition of this court session to have a law school dean speak on behalf of all of the deans.

Therefore, it is my pleasure to introduce our first speaker this morning [this afternoon] ... from the University of Cincinnati Law School, Interim Dean Verna Williams.

Thank you, Dean Williams.

Next, I would like to introduce the Ohio State Bar Association President, Robin Weaver ... Robin ....

Thank you, Robin.

Next is Robert Morrow. Mister Morrrow serves as vice chair of the Board of Bar Examiners. He will make the motion to admit the successful applicants ... Bob ....

Thank you, Bob.

We have a motion before the Court. Are there any objections? Hearing none, the motion carries.

Now, I have the distinct honor of administering the oath.

To speak on behalf of the Justices, please welcome our most senior justice, Terrence O’Donnell.

Justice O’Donnell is retiring at year’s end. He and I have served together for a long time. He was appointed in 2003. I was already on the court but only for about 6 months ....

We had the good fortune of serving with the late Chief Justice Tom Moyer, and I can say that both of us benefitted in countless ways from that experience.

Justice O’Donnell will be retiring at the end of this year having served the profession as an attorney, a judge both on the common pleas and appellate courts of Cuyahoga County and of course as a Supreme Court justice.

Justice O’Donnell ....

Thank you, Justice O’Donnell.

Now we have come to the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the presentation of certificates.

Before we begin, here’s some instructions:

For the attorneys on the main floor, please rise, one row at a time when indicated by the ushers.

Follow the usher’s hand signals to approach the stage. As you receive your certificate, a Justice will shake your hand.

Concerning photos: Please take your photos at the side of the theater only as you return to your seat. We need to keep the center as clear as possible. Thank you.

Thank you for coming.

That concludes this afternoon’s bar admissions ceremony. But before we close this special session of Court, I want to thank signer Lewis Wright for ensuring that everyone could share in the proceedings.

I also have a few housekeeping reminders:

The west side of this building faces Front Street. Please cross Broad Street and walk south on Front for half a block and visit the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center. The Ohio State Bar Association will host a reception in the Grand Concourse of our building. OSBA staff members will be outside the theater to direct you.

The Supreme Court and the Moyer Judicial Center is open until 5 p.m. Please see your program for directions.

New lawyers can register with the Office of Attorney Services at the south end of the Grand Concourse near the Courtroom after the ceremony.

Information about registering is contained in the white envelope you received.

Please also consider registering for the Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program.

The Supreme Court, to help with the transition from law school to the practice of law, will pair you with a veteran attorney who will serve as your mentor. Following the ceremony, mentoring representatives will be available to answer your questions about the program and explain how to register.

Just look for their table at the south end of the Grand Concourse.

You can sign up online for the mentoring program beginning tomorrow, but you first have to register for active status with the Supreme Court.

Thanks again to all of you ... and God bless.