Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Ohio Bar Admissions Ceremony
May 11, 2020

(Remarks prepared for delivery on Monday, May 11 streaming live from the Ohio Supreme Court)

Good afternoon, everyone.

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

Welcome to the May 2020 Ohio bar admissions ceremony.

We are making history today.

This is a virtual bar admissions ceremony the first ever for our state.

You, as applicants, will be sworn in virtually another first for our state. I will explain the details when we reach that part of our program.

In normal times, we would be gathered together in a brightly lit theater in Columbus. And the rest of the Court would be onstage with me. Justices Kennedy, French, Fischer, DeWine, Donnelly and Stewart. But they too are joining this session remotely.

I can say as Chief Justice, 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.

But these are not normal times.

The coronavirus pandemic has put a temporary hold on many proceedings around the world – from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Let me make it clear that this ceremony qualifies as extraordinary.

It is extraordinary not because of the technical expertise required to hold this event across the Internet.

It is extraordinary because of what each of you has accomplished – as a student of the law.

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

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

You are entering a profession steeped in the majesty of the law. In America, the institution of law is majestic in its purpose ... and its promise. 

The American system of justice is not perfect. 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.

When you think about the legal profession holds an exalted position in our society.

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

The 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, even if it’s at a distance ...

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 disciplinary counsel.

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 fifteen 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 to be 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 and make you a better lawyer.

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.

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

Today we have Doctor Charles Rose, dean of the Claude W. Pettit College of Law at Ohio Northern University ...

Thank you, Dean Rose.

Our next speaker is the president of the Ohio State Bar Association, Eleana Drakatos.

Thank you, President Drakatos.

It is now my honor to introduce Judge Mark Wiest of the Common Pleas Court in Wayne County – and chair of the Board of Bar Examiners.

Judge Wiest will make the motion to admit the successful applicants.

Judge Wiest ...

Thank you, Judge Wiest.

We have a motion before the Court. Are there any objections?

Hearing none, the motion carries.

I now have the distinct honor of administering the oath.

I would like for all of the applicants to stand and raise their right hands.

Applicants, once I administer the oath, in order to swear yes, you are to click on the ‘affirm’ button on the polling feature on the side of your screen.

If you cannot answer that way, for any reason, please submit your response in the Questions Section of your control panel.

Once again, click on the ‘affirm’ button or answer in the Question Section.

You’ll have 30 seconds to affirm.

I will now administer the oath. Say your name once I begin

I, ____________________, hereby swear that I will support the Constitution and the laws of the United States and the Constitution and the laws of Ohio,

and I will abide by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.

In my capacity as an attorney and officer of the Court, I will conduct myself with dignity and civility and show respect toward judges, court staff, clients, fellow professionals, and all other persons.

I will honestly, faithfully, and competently discharge the duties of an attorney at law.

So help me God.

Now it is time for you to click on the ‘affirm’ button or answer in the Question Section.

Congratulations, attorneys!

Now, to speak on behalf of the Justices of the Supreme Court, it is my pleasure to welcome Justice Michael Donnelly.

Thank you, Justice Donnelly.

Congratulations again to our new attorneys.

While we would have enjoyed handing out your certificates personally, we will rely on the mail to get them to you – with best wishes from the Court.

Earlier, I mentioned our mentoring program. That information will be included in the mailing of your certificate.

You do have one more step to complete.

You must register as an attorney with the Office of Attorney Services at the Supreme Court.

You will soon receive an email from the Office of Attorney Services with instructions about how to complete your registration.

Through this process you will receive your Attorney Registration Number. That’s the number that you will use on all court documents for the rest of your career.

Once again, on behalf of the Supreme Court, I congratulate you for your achievement.

Thank you for taking part in our virtual bar admissions.

And thank you to all the friends and relatives who took part remotely on this special day.

This concludes today’s ceremony.

Thank you and God bless.

Marshall please adjourn court.