Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Bar Admissions Ceremony
Dec. 14, 2020

(Event was on December 14, 2020, with webinar)

Good morning.

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

Welcome to the December 2020 Ohio bar admissions ceremony, from the Courtroom of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus.

By necessity, this is now our second virtual bar admissions ceremony.

As you know, each speaker will appear virtually, on your computer or television screen.

Those being admitted today were the first to take the Ohio Bar Exam remotely.

The remote bar exam, again by necessity, did not happen effortlessly. The Attorney Services Division lead by Gina Palmer worked tirelessly to coordinate with NCBE and others to provide a quality, secure testing event.

I know that each of you are delighted to have that exam over with and believe it or not, all of my colleagues on the supreme court remember the same feeling of relief that you experienced when you saw your name on the list of successful applicants.

Speaking of colleagues please know that Justices Kennedy, French, DeWine, Fischer, and Donnelly are viewing this ceremony remotely.

I am happy to introduce several distinguished speakers who will congratulate you – and advise you on your future as a member of the bar:

My colleague on the Supreme Court bench, Justice Melody Stewart who is in the courtroom with me.

Dean Andrew Strauss, of the University of Dayton School of Law…

The president of the Ohio State Bar Association, the Honorable Judge Linda Teodosio ….

And the Honorable Judge Mark Wiest of the Common Pleas Court of Wayne County. Judge Wiest is chair of the Board of Bar Examiners.

The names of all applicants for admission to the Ohio bar appeared on your screens before the start of our ceremony. 

You, as applicants, will be sworn in virtually.  

I will explain the details when we reach that part of our program.

In normal times, we would be together with your friends and family in a packed house at one of the beautiful theaters in Columbus.

Instead, we are adapting because we must.

When you begin practicing, you will find that flexibility and the ability to adapt will be two of your most valuable talents.

Finding solutions to problems – big and small – will be part of your career. That’s what lawyers do.

Today, we will focus on the many reasons you should be proud of your achievements.

First, the numbers.

Of the 958 aspiring lawyers who sat for the exam, 741 -- or 77.4 percent achieved the passing grade.

This is the highest passage rate in Ohio since July 2013.

The figures get even better.

Among the 810 first-time test takers, 85.3 percent of you received passing scores. 

Take a moment to absorb that.

During the most trying year of your lives, you succeeded.

In the most challenging year you’ve ever faced, you thrived.

You won’t walk on a stage today in front of your friends and family.

Instead, your perseverance in the face of this pandemic has formed a special platform.

This is your time. And your friends and family will hear us call your names today.

Your countless hours of study are about to open a whole new world for you. 

Your journey as a lawyer begins today.

vBar admissions is a graduation of sorts. But you will remain a student – a student of the law.

The good news is that 2021 is around the corner and with it the promise of relief from this pandemic. I have great faith in the efficacy of the vaccines coming to our state…and the freedom that will mean for all Ohioans. 

It’s time to focus.

Focus on the type of lawyer you want to be. 

The benefit of having a certificate of law opens broad horizons.

Allow me a moment to give some advice.

I know it’s difficult to look for that perfect job through remote technology.

Don’t be discouraged. You have persisted very well so far.   

Use this achievement as fuel to keep your momentum going, until you get the opportunity that was suited just for you.

You may be surprised.

You may not get the dream job that you envisioned when you were leaving law school or began studying for the bar.

That’s OK.

I advise you to take a leap of faith.

Lawyers are needed more than ever today to help people who find themselves in need of legal advice caused by societies’ disruptions.

With evictions and foreclosures are but two problems that present themselves.  Those who qualify for pro bono services are the most disadvantaged.

Think about how you can use your expertise to help those who are disadvantaged.

I’m a huge believer in pro bono work.

Volunteer your services with the Access to Justice Foundation or Ohio Legal Help.

I can tell you, as a public servant myself, there’s no better reward than the gratitude of an Ohioan who has nowhere else to turn.

You can change lives.

I guarantee that. 

Working for others will build your confidence in applying the law, and advocating for clients.  

You are the future, and your ability to be resilient during this year is awe-inspiring.

To get here, you faced challenges. You applied discipline.

Celebrate what you have done.

Then, march forward into a profession that needs you, and welcomes you.

As we gather together across cyberspace, through Zoom and computer screens, we are proving that we can celebrate a milestone that is very, very special.

Today is a special day for those who love and care about you – for all the people who have watched and supported you as you worked hard to achieve your law degree and pass the bar.

Your special group includes parents, grandparents, spouses, partners, significant others, children and friends, law professors and deans.

I applaud your teachers. 

I’m sure you do, too.

As you look forward to becoming a lawyer, don’t forget to look back on those who helped you arrive at this pinnacle of accomplishment.

Be sure to thank all of them.

Presiding over the bar admissions ceremony is one of my favorite roles as Chief Justice.

Therefore, on behalf of the entire Supreme Court of Ohio I say ….

Congratulations!

Well done!

During this ceremony, you will become attorneys.

We expect you to maintain and even raise the levels of respect and courtesy that is a hallmark of our profession. 

A solid reputation in the legal field is your foundation.

Remember to show professional behavior and respect to everyone you encounter.

Whether it’s opposing counsel, clients, judges, or court staff, show respect to everyone.

Be courteous and you will go far in establishing a good reputation in the legal community.

Never lose sight of this responsibility.

Remember, you are an advocate for your client.

Your advocacy skills often extend to negotiating skills.  Remember, A trial is not the solution for every case.

There are other options such as ADR, mediation, and it’s your responsibility to recognize all options to help the parties reach a solution.

Be supportive and patient.

In these highly charged political times, it can be easy for people to forget what the rule of law means.

But not you.

You understand that the law and our legal system is the backbone of our free society

We depend on the rule of law to preserve order – and fairness – in America.

Lawyers protect the rights of the powerful and the powerless.

Among all the professions, lawyers are unmatched in the time and resources they devote to civic and professional activities.

And, yes, no profession disciplines its members as aggressively as the legal profession.

That’s as it should be.

Never lose sight of the human element of the law.

In your quest to win an argument, remember your actions have a real impact on the people involved.

If you remember that and focus on the art of civility, you are sure to succeed in this profession.

You will become part of the greatest legal system in the world. It is not perfect but it is the greatest.

What’s most important about the American legal system is the commitment to equal access to our legal system. A system that prides itself in a fair and impartial judiciary.

At a time when our legal system and our judiciary has come under attack, it is your duty to stand up for the judiciary and the justice system that you will make your life’s work.

So, I challenge you.

Endeavor every day to work with dignity and civility.

Strive to improve our system of justice.

You will find that you don’t know everything…That’s to be expected. But the Supreme Court has created a mentoring program to assist you as a new attorney.

The program pairs you with an experienced attorney mentor.  Someone you can rely on to help you as you navigate your first year post law school.

There is information in the packet you will receive from the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court of Ohio’s mentoring program will help you in ways you can’t even imagine.   Please Sign up. Take advantage of it.

Take the time to observe lawyers in action who are civil, courteous, and prepared.  You will soon notice how effective they are for their clients.

As for your practice as a lawyer, I offer you words of wisdom that I’ve embraced through my career.

Be honest and upfront with your clients.

Be efficient, ethical, and intelligent when working with them.

Advise them truthfully.

Return their calls. Explain your fees and costs up front. Put everything in writing.

I have several other important items to caution you about:

Be familiar with the Code of Professional Conduct and follow it.

If you find yourself in a situation where you suspect you’re facing an ethical challenge…stop, consult your mentor, get advice from a lawyer who has been in the business much longer than you…and follow the advice.

Know the rules of court for each jurisdiction in which you practice.

That’s just plain smart and you can avoid a problem by just getting online to read them.

And one thing I always make sure to include: Never show up for court on time … be at least fifteen minutes early.   

Along the way, don’t forget to set aside time for yourself, your family, your community and your spiritual growth.

This is true, especially now, in this isolating time.

Reach out to your colleagues, your family, your friends.

You’ll be a better lawyer – and a better human being.

As we move forward with the program, it is tradition to have a law school dean speak on behalf of all of the deans of Ohio law schools.

So, I would like to introduce our first speaker – Dean Andrew Strauss of the University of Dayton School of Law.

Dean Strauss …..

(Video of Dean Strauss)

Thank you, Dean Strauss.

Our next speaker is the president of the Ohio State Bar Association, Summit County Juvenile Judge Linda Teodosio.

(Video of President Teodosio)

Thank you, President Teodosio.

It is now my honor to introduce Judge Mark Wiest of the Common Pleas Court in Wayne County.

Judge Wiest is chair of the Board of Bar Examiners.

This will be the beginning of our virtual swearing-in.

Judge Wiest do you have a motion?

Judge Wiest ….

(Judge Wiest submits the motion to admit.)

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 ‘swear/affirm’ button on the polling feature.

(A polling question on applicants’ screens appeared asking if they “swear/affirm.”)

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 Melody Stewart.

(Justice Stewart speaks)

Thank you, Justice Stewart.

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 with 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.  

Be safe.  And God bless.

Marshall will you adjourn Court?

(Marshal Bill Crawford closes Court: “Hear ye – Hear ye – Hear ye. This open session of the Honorable Supreme Court of Ohio, now stands adjourned.”)