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Justice Speeches

Bar Admissions Ceremony
Retired Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
November 14, 2022

Good morning/Good Afternoon. 

Welcome to the November 2022 Ohio Bar Admissions Ceremony.

I am Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. It is an honor for me, as Chief Justice, to preside today and to welcome you as colleagues at the Bar.  

Seated on the stage are the other members of the Supreme Court of Ohio:

Chief Justice-elect Sharon Kennedy. Justice Patrick Fischer. Justice Pat DeWine. Justice Michael Donnelly. Justice Melody Stewart. And Justice Jennifer Brunner.

I and the other members of the Court offer congratulations to you on passing the bar exam...

This is the culmination of 20 years or more of education.  You learned to think like a lawyer. You learned to work through issues and problems, toward resolution, by thinking logically all the while applying the law.

Today is the culmination of the training, the hard work and the sacrifice – by you – but also by your parents, grandparents, spouses, partners, friends, and in some cases, children.

Today, we celebrate you and we celebrate with you.

A total of 970 law school graduates sat for the Ohio Bar Examination in July. And 72% passed.  Among the 847 first-time test takers, 80% earned passing scores. Well done.

You are among the first to experience the electronic process of being admitted to take the exam, from a previous paper-only system.

You were able to submit documents as well as receive your results through a private portal, without having to wait for the mail.

You will register, report your CLE, and more online. 

And you will be able to do much of your practice online. The pandemic taught us that.

You are the modern lawyer.

And now, you are poised to use your success in a variety of ways.

Today the next stage of your education begins, as you transform from law students to lawyers. Managing the career you are creating is a process that is ongoing.

Some will “practice law” in the traditional sense; that is representing clients, individuals, and businesses. Others will use their law degree and admittance to the bar to teach, or to work in-house for businesses or for non-profits, to become entrepreneurs or to work as a public servant.  The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

You are at a beginning. For some of you it has been a straight educational path from elementary school to now. For others, you have taken a more circuitous route and found your way to the law.

But you are here. 

Your achievements thus far will give way to new opportunities and new responsibilities.

You will hold a place of distinction in your community.  You will be a person your friends, neighbors, family members – and people you are yet to meet – will turn to for advice.

And from here, some of you will find the way you want to practice, right away. Others will try different ways to use their law degree before finding their passion.  There is no right or wrong way.

It would be a wonderful thing if your master plan works out, but there is nothing wrong with reinventing yourself as many times as necessary.

This is a time of evolution.

Your career, like mine, could involve some very interesting twists and turns.  Do not miss them. The best part of life happens in those twists and turns. The adversity we are bound to encounter experiencing life can ultimately bring fulfillment, and wisdom. 

I will grant you that adversity will not always feel like it's leading you in the right direction but trust me it is.  So, don’t be afraid. 

We are better, stronger, smarter for the failures, if we look at them from a different angle.

There are lessons from every situation, whether positive or negative.  This is how we keep learning.

It is tradition for a law school dean speak on behalf of the deans of all the Ohio law schools. Today, I am pleased to introduce Michael Scharf, Co-Dean, Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Dean Scharf…

[Dean Scharf Speaks]

Thank you, Dean Scharf.

And now, please welcome the Honorable Dean Wilson, President of the Ohio State Bar Association.

[Dean Wilson speaks]

Thank you, President Wilson.

Now I would like to introduce the Honorable Mark K. Wiest, Chair of the Board of Bar Examiners.

[Judge Wiest makes motion to admit applicants to the bar.]

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

Hearing none, the motion is approved.

I now have the distinct honor of administering the oath. Would all applicants please stand and raise your right hands.


Your statement of the following oath indicates that you either swear or affirm to be bound by the oath.

I, ___state your name___, hereby (swear or affirm) 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.)

Congratulations, attorneys!

You have passed the bar; you have taken your oath and now you are a lawyer. 

It is always my honor to preside over bar admissions, but today is special. You are among the final cadre of new colleagues that I have the honor of welcoming to the bar as Chief Justice. I will be retiring in 47 days…I know, who’s counting?

I want to take a minute to talk to you about how you will be a lawyer – how you will serve the profession. I want you to leave here today on a path to becoming a hero.

Bob Dylan said, “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” And I’d like to add the word blessings to that phrase.

It is said, to whom much is given, much is expected

So, hero is a big word, with big implications, but it most often unfolds in small ways. Over time… And a hero emerges.  And the hero could be you.

No matter how you use your law degree, remember to:

Strive to be professional. Work hard no matter your role. Avoid arrogance – be humble.

Be kind.

Practice those attributes and you will elevate yourself and our profession.

By choosing law as a career, you have chosen wisely. Your countless hours of study are about to open a whole new world for you. And if you haven’t experienced it already, sometimes the world is loud. 

Do not add to the noise. 

Be the quiet voice in the room.  Be the listener.  When the world is loud, it’s by being quiet, that you can see the big picture. 

You are able to think, evaluate, and find solutions. Calmness is a good thing in a lawyer…really in anybody but especially in a lawyer.

Whatever way you came to the law – whatever way you hope to use it – a very important part of the commitment you made is to be of service. 

What does that look like?

First of all, Make yourself valuable. My parents told me I could be whatever I wanted to be.  But not because the world would automatically love me as much as they did.

Implicit in that statement was that I would work hard. That I would think well.

That I would gather smart people around me, appreciate the teamwork and give credit to others who deserve it.  In these ways, you can make yourself a valued colleague that the leader wants to hire and colleagues want to work with.

The more valuable you become, the more opportunity to greater responsibility, to do bigger and better things.

As a new attorney, you have pledged fairness, integrity, and civility. Be an example of that every day. I urge you to build the very best reputation you possibly can.

Whatever you do, maintain your integrity.

How do you build your reputation? Start your journey with humility and respect – for your clients, opposing counsel, judges, and court staff and fellow employees. To build respect, you must show respect.

Then the listening can take place. In any situation, it’s pretty hard to be upset with someone who is showing respect. Showing respect can often diffuse the most tense conversation.

And avoid arrogance.  Being humble can be tough when you make yourself valuable, work hard, achieve, receive recognition.  But the most successful people I know are also the ones who have remained humble. They are the happiest and most pleasant to have in your life.

Nobody knows everything. And the law – in whatever form you practice – is complex. 

Solicit the input of those smart people you have around you – particularly on the tough questions. Listen to them and give credit when its due. 

Others will follow the behavior you model and give it back to you when you have earned it. 

Teamwork makes a great work environment. It also yields a great work product – whether you’re dealing with policy development or drafting opinions or representing a client.

In the law, our product is service. 

I’ve chosen to use my law degree all these many years as a public servant, and I have never regretted it. I have gotten the level of satisfaction in my work because I look at the judiciary and how I have used my talents to help others in times when they can’t help themselves.

People can find themselves in a legal situation and they don’t want to be there. That’s probably why the phrase dragged into court, has become universal.  Maybe it’s a civil action, or they’re arrested in a criminal action. You know, they’ve got problems and the solution has to come from the justice system.

I have taken the obligation to make the justice system as responsive at problem solving as I can.  I like doing that. I like helping people solve problems.  Lawyers, like judges, are in the helping business.  The level of satisfaction you get solving problems for others and making systems work for people can be the motivator for public service. Think about it.  Is public service in your future?

It seems like the words “be kind” are everywhere….slogans, t-shirt, self-help information etc. Well, there’s room for kindness as you use your law degree.  Be kind.  And be thankful. 

You’ve worked hard to get here. Your parents, grandparents, spouses, partners, significant others, children and friends, law professors, deans, and teachers – all of them are proud of you. They have watched your remarkable diligence during these difficult months. Today, they applaud your success. Be sure to thank all of them – and pay back their support by working to become the best attorney you can be.

As a lawyer, strive to improve your community.  Strive to improve our system of justice. The unanticipated part of that advice is to surround ourselves with people who are different from us.   

Diversity is an underappreciated quality in our world. Embracing the diversity of people is life changing. When you gain a whole new field of vision, that really opens up your possibilities. 

Smart, interesting, enriching people come in all shapes and sizes, colors, and backgrounds. 

When you see more options in the world, you can serve better, and you can lead well.

You have the power to lead your community– whether it’s small towns or big cities. In this room are some great leaders of our future. 

Don’t be overwhelmed by my expectations for you to be great leaders in great service to your communities.

When I was sworn in as an attorney many years ago, I didn’t dream of being the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio.  I am only the tenth.  Who could have imagined. 

Not me.  When I first hung out my shingle, I didn’t know where it would lead. But it did lead to a career that I look back on and reflect on how I made it to this position.

My law degree opened many opportunities for public service work as a magistrate, common pleas court judge, county prosecutor, lieutenant governor, and member of the Supreme Court of Ohio and then chief justice for the past 12 years.

While I've served in all those roles, one job didn't necessarily lead to another.

However, each step along the way prepared me for another.  And I prepared myself by working hard. I also paid attention and learned from my mentors and colleagues.

To this day, I find it so important to listen to a variety of opinions. There is always something new to learn, a different perspective we may not see because of our inherent bias.  So, it is critical to listen -- to weigh the input from others who may see something we miss.

In every leadership position I have made it a practice to hire people smarter than me and to listen to them when we discuss whatever it is that needs my attention.

So far that M.O. has worked out pretty well.

Another bit of advice: don’t worry if you haven’t secured that dream job yet. That’s OK. Don’t be discouraged. Use this time as a gift. This could be an opportunity for you to provide public service and sharpen your skills at the same time. Countless fellow Ohioans and fellow Americans are disadvantaged and need legal advice.

Think about how you can use your growing wisdom and expertise to help them.

Of course, I’m talking about Pro bono service, it’s an excellent way for you to help yourself as well as needy clients.

Think about it this way: Helping others will build your confidence in applying the law and advocating for clients. Just contact your local Legal Aid to determine how to get involved.

Pro bono work goes hand in hand with the privilege of practicing law – because it can change lives.  Every member of the bar is charged with the duty to deliver pro bono services, as often as possible.

As a member of the Ohio bar, you have obligations to your clients, your peers, and the public. Always remember that you are not alone in your efforts to meet those obligations. The state bar as well as your local bar association are great resources. Get involved and you will see the doors that are opened.

As the former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo so aptly put it, “the heroic hours of life do not announce their presence by drum and trumpet.”

For a lawyer, the heroic hours come daily… when you do good work.

I charge you to be those heroes who do the work well, who serve others, who value and protect your reputation and the reputation of the justice system. 

I agree with Maya Angelou when she said, “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”

You need only understand the responsibility that comes with your education and your freedom to be the heroes the justice system needs for Ohio’s best tomorrow.

God bless you!

We are now coming to the moment you’ve been waiting for. You will hear your name called as you approach the stage and will receive your certificate.

But before we begin, a couple of quick tips to keep things running smoothly

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, you will be greeted by a justice who will shake your hand, then please return to your seat using the center stage stairs... Word of advice…Use the handrails when descending the stairs.

Picture takers, please be mindful not to insert yourself into the flow of new attorneys.

[Roll call of names happens now. Gina White Palmer and Lori Robison-Embry present certificates.]

Congratulations again to our new attorneys. On behalf of the Court. We congratulate you for your achievement.

The ceremony is nearly concluded.  From here, we invite you to make your way over to the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center that houses the Supreme Court.

In your packet and on signs in the Judicial Center, you will find a QR code that will unlock your future and connect you to the legal community. You must register as an attorney with the Office of Attorney Services at the Supreme Court. The preference is that you scan the code and keep the process paperless. Scan that code to register and become licensed.

To Connect with a mentor.

To Get information about New Lawyers Training.

To Connect with Public Service Opportunities.

Even use it to watch the recording of this ceremony.

The Ohio State Bar Association will be there with information about how to help you get a start on your career and to get your picture at the bench. Some of you will get the opportunity to practice there one day. 

The staff from Attorney services will also be available. Introduce yourself. These are the people who will be available throughout your career to point you to resources when you have questions. 

Thank you to all the friends and relatives who took part in this special day

I’d like to recognize those who made this ceremony a success:

The Office of Bar Admissions

Supreme Court Staff Volunteers

The Columbus Police Department 

Supreme Court Security

Our sign language interpreter, Linda Ross

The ushers from CAPA and the stage crew

And our Marshall, Bill Crawford.

This concludes today’s ceremony.

Marshall, will you adjourn Court?

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