Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Bar Admissions Ceremony
May 13, 2019

Good afternoon.

I’m Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. Welcome all to the bar admissions ceremony.

We are pleased that you could join us in the Palace Theatre.

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.

I often reflect on how appropriate it is to be holding these ceremonies in a theater.

After all, hasn’t the last couple of years of your life been like a play? High drama, intense focus, tragedy, comedy, suspense and then, a happy ending.

After its recent renovation, 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.

To quote the late Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, “No profession has done more to establish and preserve order under the rule of law than the legal profession.

Our late Chief Justice went on to say: “The profession upon which you have embarked has a uniquely pervasive influence‒not only on the law, but also world history, culture, and diplomacy. “

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 a case can change the legal system, and sometimes even history. 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.

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.

While today marks a huge milestone for you, brace yourself.

Your real legal education might just be beginning.

Yes, you are delighted that your formal legal education is over as is the Bar exam.

But now the real learning begins.

Being a lawyer is a journey, not a destination.

At times your journey will seem as though you’re climbing the Himalayas at other times its smooth sailing… until you’re blow off course by the unexpected.

Whatever that journey brings, your education will help you navigate and the more trips you take the better you get at navigation.  

So, on this momentous occasion, let me offer you a few words of advice.

What you do in the coming few years will set the tenor for your role as lawyer.

First of all, review the disciplinary rules. Know these rules not just as an exercise in academics, but in their practical application.

When you even suspect that you may be approaching a situation that presents an ethical question…discuss it with someone who has more experience.

Your personal and professional honor are at stake.

Next, I would recommend associating with a member of the profession who is willing to act as a mentor.

The Ohio Supreme Court has put in place a mentoring system.

Do yourself a favor and take advantage of all that mentoring has to offer.

Then think about this: Observation.

Observe lawyers in action. Observe the way they interact with one another, with their clients and with the court.

It will become obvious to you that the most effective and respected lawyers are those who are civil, courteous ‒ and prepared.

There are four groups of people with whom you will be in contact during your professional life:

They are clients, judges, fellow attorneys, and court personnel.

Each group deserves courtesy, civility, and respect.

Make sure that you are honest and straightforward with your clients.

If they have a case … work for them in an efficient, ethical, and intelligent way. If they don’t have a case … be honest and advise them as such.

Always be available and return phone calls.

The number one complaint from clients is that they cannot reach their attorney. That one fact precipitates innumerable complaints to the bar.

Make sure that fees and costs are explained up front ‒ and put them in writing to protect yourself.

When appearing before judges, never be on time … be at least 15 minutes early.

Know the Ohio Rules of Court and the local rules of court.

Knowing the rules shows intelligence, and respect for the court.

When appealing to a higher court, always remember that briefs are to be just that – brief!

Be succinct in your arguments, and be honest.

Nothing discredits a lawyer faster in the eyes of a judge than being misleading on points of law.

If you’ve established a record in the lower court, that is your ammunition for appeal. So, think about that as you first approach a case.

Act in a civil manner at all times with opposing counsel. Do not make false or misleading statements as to the facts or the law.

Cooperate in discovery. The more that each side knows about the case, the quicker a resolution can be devised.

Above all, do not become arrogant just because you have a law degree and the rest of the world does not.

Once you start to practice you will be amazed at what you don’t know. But that is true with all professions.

Experience, hard work, and diligence will close your gaps. Believe me, you will see gaps as you grow as an attorney.

Lastly, I highly recommend that you take what you do as an attorney very seriously. You are in a position of trust and one that focuses on duty to the client and to the court.

The stakes are high, and the expectations are great.

But carve out time for your family, yourself, your non-legal world. Pay attention to your health, physical, mental and spiritual.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep a sense of humor. You’ll need it.

Congratulations once again.

Now I would like to introduce our first speaker, the dean of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Alan Michaels. After 10 years as dean, Dean Michaels will be transitioning from a dean with a stellar record of advocacy, leadership and scholarship to a role as a law professor where all of those talents are equally at home.

Dean Michaels …

Thank you Dean Michaels for those thought-provoking remarks.

Next we have Ohio State Bar President Robin Weaver.

Thank you Robin.

Judge Mark Wiest serves as chair of the Board of Bar Examiners.

He will make the motion to admit the successful applications. Judge Wiest …..

Thank you, Judge Weist.

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 Justice Sharon Kennedy.

Thank you, Justice Kennedy.

We are now coming to the moment you’ve been waiting for.

But before we begin, please keep in mind we have a few ground rules, that if followed will allow this ceremony to continue without a hitch:

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

Follow the usher’s hand signal to approach the stage. After you have your certificate, please return to your seat using the center stage stairs... Word of advice…Use the handrails when descending the stairs.

(The Certificate presentation begins.)

(Program conclusion)

Thanks to all of you for coming today.

That concludes this afternoon’s bar admissions ceremony. Before we close this special session of Court, I want to thank Rhonda Phelps (the sign language interpreter) for ensuring everyone could share in the proceedings.

I also have a few housekeeping reminders:

Please walk down to the corner, toward the river, and walk south to 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 are open until 5. Please see your program for directions.

In addition, new lawyers can register with the Office of Attorney Services at the south end of the Grand Concourse 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. Mentoring representatives are available today 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 must register for active status with the Supreme Court. Please take advantage of mentoring. It’s a method of securing CLE credit as well as securing relationships that will serve you well both personally and professionally.

Thank you and God bless.