Remarks by

CHIEF JUSTICE BURLEY B. MITCHELL, JR.

at the

NORMA ADRIAN WIGGINS SCHOOL OF LAW

CAMPBELL UNIVERSITY

HOODING CEREMONY

Sunday, May 10, 1998

 

I AM VERY HONORED AND HAPPY TO BE A PART OF THIS MEMORABLE DAY IN YOUR LIVES AND IN THE LIFE OF THE NORMAN ADRIAN WIGGINS SCHOOL OF LAW AND CAMPBELL UNIVERSITY.

IT IS TRADITIONAL FOR COMMENCEMENT SPEAKERS FOCUS ON THE HARD WORK AND SACRIFICES OF THE GRADUATES AND THEIR FAMILIES AND TO BASK IN THE REFLECTED GLORY OF THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS. CERTAINLY YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES HAVE SACRIFICED AND SURELY YOU HAVE ACHIEVED, AND I COMMEND YOU FOR THAT. BUT YOU GRADUATES AND I HAVE TOO MUCH WORK TO DO FOR ME TO SPEND THESE PRECIOUS FEW MOMENTS REFLECTING ON PAST ACHIEVEMENTS. WE HAVE A PROFESSION -- AND ULTIMATELY A NATION -- TO TURN AWAY FROM THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE BASE AND VILE AND TO TURN TOWARD THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE NOBLE AND RIGHT AND GOOD.

THE LEGAL PROFESSION IS UNIQUE, EVEN AMONG THE TRUE PROFESSIONS. AS OFFICERS OF THE COURT, LAWYERS AUTOMATICALLY BECOME A PART OF THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT AND ARE DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN THE EXERCISE OF ITS TREMENDOUS POWERS OVER THE PEOPLE. UNLIKE OTHER PROFESSIONALS, YOU WILL HAVE AN AFFIRMATIVE DUTY TO SEE THAT OUR FREEDOMS ARE PRESERVED AND THAT JUSTICE IS DONE IN SOCIETY.

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, AN EARLY OBSERVER OF NEW WORLD POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS, NOTED IN THE VERY EARLY 1800'S: "THERE IS HARDLY A POLITICAL QUESTION IN THE UNITED STATES WHICH DOES NOT SOONER OR LATER TURN INTO A JUDICIAL ONE." HIS STATEMENT IS EVEN MORE TRUE TODAY THAN IN HIS OWN TIME.

THE FACT THAT THE GREAT POLITICAL CONTROVERSIES FACING EVERY GENERATION OF AMERICANS HAVE EVENTUALLY INVOLVED LAWYERS AND THE COURTS HAS MEANT THAT THE LEGAL PROFESSION HAS ENJOYED PERIODS OF HIGH PRESTIGE AND RESPECT. HOWEVER, LIKE ANY OTHER GROUP INVOLVED DIRECTLY IN GOVERNING, LAWYERS AT TIMES HAVE BEEN REVILED.

TODAY, SYMPTOMS OF THE DECLINE OF THE PUBLICíS OPINION OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION ARE EVERYWHERE. SO CALLED "LAWYER-BASHING" REPRESENTS THE MOST RECOGNIZABLE SYMPTOM OF THIS DECLINE. JAY LENO AND OTHER COMEDIANS SHOW US EVERY NIGHT THAT IT IS FUN TO BELITTLE LAWYERS.

MOVIES AND POPULAR LITERATURE ALSO HELP TO FORM OUR SOCIETAL BELIEFS. WHEN MY GENERATION BEGAN TO CONSIDER CAREERS IN THE LAW, WE WERE EXPOSED TO INSPIRATIONAL BOOKS AND MOVIES SUCH AS "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD." IT PORTRAYS A SOUTHERN, SMALL TOWN LAWYER WHOSE UNPOPULAR DEFENSE OF AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN IS A PARAGON OF COURAGE AND DECENCY.

TODAY, YOUNG PEOPLE ARE TREATED INSTEAD TO MOVIES SUCH AS "THE FIRM," BASED ON A CYNICAL NOVEL BY LAWYER JOHN GRISHAM. IN THAT MOVIE AN OLDER LAWYER TELLS A NEW ASSOCIATE THAT THE LEGAL PROFESSION IS "SUPPOSED TO BE AN HONORABLE PROFESSION, BUT YOU'LL MEET SO MANY CROOKED LAWYERS THAT YOU'LL WANT TO QUIT AND FIND AN HONEST JOB." SUCH ANECDOTES ARE FICTITIOUS, BUT WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT AS A PROFESSION, WE HAVE ALLOWED THE PUBLICíS CONFIDENCE IN US TO DECLINE. TOO OFTEN WE HAVE HAD A "TIN EAR" FOR THE VOICE OF PUBLIC OPINION AND HAVE FAILED TO RESPOND TO LEGITIMATE CONCERNS OF THE PUBLIC WE SERVE.

THE CURRENT PROBLEMS OF NEGATIVE PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND THE COURTS CANNOT BE LEGISLATED AWAY OR RESOLVED BY COURT RULE. ONLY YOU AND I CAN SOLVE THEM. ULTIMATELY, I BELIEVE THE ANSWER TO OUR PROBLEMS WILL BE FOUND IN A RETURN TO BASIC PRINCIPLES BY LAWYERS SUCH AS YOU WHO WE HONOR TODAY. THE FIRST STEP IS TO RECOGNIZE THAT AS LAWYERS YOU ARE PROFESSIONALS WHOSE RESPONSIBILITIES GO BEYOND MAKING MONEY. OUR PROFESSION WILL ENJOY HIGH PUBLIC ESTEEM IF YOU AND YOUR GENERATION OF LAWYERS UNDERSTAND AND IMPLEMENT THE TRUE MEANING OF THE TERM "PROFESSIONALISM."

THE CONCEPT OF PROFESSIONALISM HAS BECOME QUITE FUZZY IN MODERN AMERICA. UNFORTUNATELY, ITS MOST COMMON MEANING TODAY IS DRAWN FROM THE WORLD OF SPORTS, WHERE "PROFESSIONALISM" IS MEASURED BY THE AMOUNT OF THE MONEY ONE IS PAID FOR APPLYING HIS OR HER SKILLS. A CASH-ON-DELIVERY DEFINITION OF A "PROFESSIONAL" IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR A GROUP THAT WEARS SHORT PANTS AND PLAYS CHILDRENíS GAMES AS A PUBLIC DIVERSION FROM THE PROBLEMS OF SOCIETY. BUT THE TREND IN RECENT YEARS TO APPLY THIS DEFINITION OF "PROFESSIONALISM" TO LAWYERS AND, THEREBY, TO DRAW THEIR ATTENTION AWAY FROM PUBLIC SERVICE AND TOWARD MONEYMAKING SHOULD BE OF GREAT CONCERN TO US ALL. INTANGIBLES SUCH AS HONESTY, INTEGRITY, LOYALTY AND CARING FOR OTHERS LESS FORTUNATE THAN OURSELVES ARE DEEMED IRRELEVANT IN SUCH A WORLD OF CASH ON DELIVERY PROFESSIONALISM. WE SIMPLY MUST NOT LET ANY SUCH SELF-SERVING NOTION OF PROFESSIONALISM SURVIVE IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION.

THE TRUTH IS THAT SINCE A GROUP OF YOUNG LAWYERS ABOUT YOUR AGE WROTE OUR CONSTITUTION AND FOUNDED THE NATION, LAWYERS OF EVERY GENERATION HAVE GIVEN GENEROUSLY OF THEIR TIME AND TALENTS WITHOUT PAY AND FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC WELFARE -- PRO BONO PUBLICO. LAWYERS HAVE AN HONORABLE TRADITION OF REPRESENTING INDIVIDUALS AND CAUSES WHEN THEY HAVE HAD NO HOPE OF PERSONAL GAIN, SIMPLY BECAUSE IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. WITHOUT SUCH VOLUNTEERED SERVICES BY LAWYERS THROUGHOUT THE CENTURIES, OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE AND, ULTIMATELY, THE NATION WOULD HAVE FAILED TO DELIVER ON ITS PROMISE OF EQUAL JUSTICE AND FREEDOM FOR ALL.

MY PURPOSE TODAY IS TO URGE YOU TO LIVE OUT A DEFINITION OF PROFESSIONALISM WHICH INCORPORATES THE REASON THAT MOST OF US ENTERED THE LEGAL PROFESSION. THE LATE ROSCOE POUND, FORMER DEAN OF THE HARVARD LAW SCHOOL, SUMMED IT UP THIS WAY:

THERE IS MUCH MORE IN A PROFESSION THAN A TRADITIONALLY DIGNIFIED CALLING. THE TERM REFERS TO A GROUP . . . PURSUING A LEARNED ART AS A COMMON CALLING IN THE SPIRIT OF PUBLIC SERVICE -- NO LESS A PUBLIC SERVICE BECAUSE IT MAY INCIDENTALLY BE A MEANS OF LIVELIHOOD.

I URGE YOU TO ACCEPT DEAN POUND'S DEFINITION AND TREAT OUR PROFESSION AS FIRST AND FOREMOST A CALLING TO PUBLIC SERVICE. IT SHOULD BE A CALLING, JUST LIKE A RELIGIOUS MINISTRY, BY WHICH YOU SERVE HUMANITY AND ONLY COINCIDENTALLY MAKE A VERY GOOD LIVING. IF YOU DO THIS, I BELIEVE THAT ALL WILL COME RIGHT FOR YOU, FOR OUR PROFESSION AND FOR THE CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM OF JUSTICE WE SWEAR A HOLY OATH TO SERVE. ALL OF US MUST MAKE A LIVING, AND MONEY-MAKING CERTAINLY IS NOT EVIL; BUT MONEY IS NOT AND NEVER WILL BE WHAT MOTIVATES THE TRUE PROFESSIONAL. IN FACT, THE MOST UNHAPPY AND DISSATISFIED LAWYERS I KNOW ARE THOSE WHO HAVE BECOME RICH BUT HAVE NEVER HAD THE DEEP PERSONAL SATISFACTION OF HELPING OTHERS IN DISTRESS.

TAKE HEART. THE PICTURE IS NOT BLEAK. TODAY, THOUSANDS OF LAWYERS WORK IN PUBLIC SERVICE AS PROSECUTORS, PUBLIC DEFENDERS AND LEGAL AID ATTORNEYS PROVIDING LEGAL ASSISTANCE TO THE NEEDY. THEY ARE NOT RICH BUT THEY MAKE A VERY DECENT LIVING. MORE IMPORTANTLY, THEY FIND FULFILLMENT, SELF WORTH AND TRUE HAPPINESS IN CONTRIBUTING TO THEIR SOCIETY AND IMPROVING THE HUMAN CONDITION. ALSO, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF OTHER LAWYERS NOT WORKING DIRECTLY FOR GOVERNMENT WILL VOLUNTARILY CONTRIBUTE MILLIONS OF HOURS TO THE PUBLIC WELFARE THIS YEAR WITHOUT PAYMENT. I COMMEND THEM FOR THAT. IT WILL BE YOUR DUTY TO DO THE SAME.

THE LATE JUSTICE BRANDEIS SAID:

"SOME MEN BUY DIAMONDS AND RARE WORKS OF ART, OTHERS DELIGHT IN AUTOMOBILES OR IN YACHTS. MY LUXURY IS TO INVEST MY SURPLUS EFFORT . . . TO THE PLEASURE OF TAKING UP A PROBLEM AND SOLVING . . . IT FOR THE PEOPLE WITHOUT RECEIVING ANY COMPENSATION. . . . I HAVE ONLY ONE LIFE, AND IT IS SHORT ENOUGH. WHY WASTE IT ON THE THINGS I DON'T WANT MOST? I DON'T WANT MONEY OR PROPERTY MOST. I WANT TO BE FREE."

THESE ARE WORDS TO LIVE BY. EACH OF YOU MUST MAKE SUBSTANTIAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO SOCIETY AS LAWYERS WITHOUT HOPE OF FINANCIAL COMPENSATION. AS YOU TAKE THE OATH OF AN ATTORNEY, IT WILL BECOME YOUR SWORN DUTY TO DO SO. I TRULY HOPE THAT EACH OF YOU TO DO VERY WELL, BUT I REMIND YOU AGAIN THAT YOUR FIRST DUTY IS TO DO GOOD.

IT IS MY FERVENT PRAYER FOR THE PROFESSION AND THE NATION THAT, AS WE ENTER THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, LAWYERS SUCH AS YOU WILL RETURN OUR PROFESSION TO ITS NOBLE AND ANCIENT TRADITION OF MAKING SERVICE TO HUMANITY OUR FIRST AND HIGHEST GOAL. IF YOU DO, YOU WILL MAKE MORE THAN ADEQUATE LIVINGS. FAR MORE IMPORTANTLY, YOU WILL FIND TRUE FULFILLMENT AS YOU IMPROVE YOUR PROFESSION, YOUR COUNTRY AND HUMANITY IN GENERAL.

LET ME CLOSE BY SAYING THAT I PLEDGE TO YOU THAT I WILL DEVOTE MY ENERGIES FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE TO MAKING THIS PROFESSION AND OUR COURTS TRULY SERVE THE PUBLIC. I CALL ON YOU TO DO NO LESS. WORKING TOGETHER YOU AND I WILL MAKE OUR GREAT AND NOBLE PROFESSION LIVE ON TO SERVE ANOTHER GENERATION.

IT IS MY PRIVILEGE AND HONOR TO BE WITH EACH OF YOU AS YOU BEGIN THIS EXCITING CHALLENGE. I RECOGNIZE THAT, LIKE MOSES WITH THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, I PROBABLY WILL NOT SURVIVE TO FINISH THE JOURNEY WITH EACH OF YOU YOUNG PEOPLE. BUT AS YOU STRIVE TOWARD YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL OF MAKING THIS A BETTER AND MORE JUST SOCIETY, PLEASE KNOW THAT MY BLESSINGS WILL GO WITH YOU EACH STEP OF YOUR EXCITING AND REWARDING JOURNEY.

I WISH GOD'S BLESSINGS ON EACH OF YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES NOW, AS YOU GO FORWARD FROM THIS PLACE AND TIME TO CHANGE THE WORLD TO THE BETTERMENT OF HUMANITY.