The Paradox of Life and the Law

delivered by

Judge K. Edward Greene
North Carolina Court of Appeals

9 May 1999

to the Graduating Class of the Adrian Wiggins School of Law Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina

Dean McLaughlin, fellow faculty, members of the graduating class and your spouses, mothers, fathers, relatives, and friends. Thank you and I am delighted to be here to share this special day of celebration with you. And to all our mothers, including mine who is here today, a special greeting to each of you. To those mothers who have a graduate in this class, we acknowledge the many sacrifices you have made to make this day come true for your son or daughter. Happy Mother's Day. As I was preparing my remarks for today, I had the occasion to see your Dean of Admissions, Tom Lanier, at the law school. I asked him if he had any advice for this speech, anything I should or should not say. He told me to say something good about the law school, something good about the faculty, and something good about the graduates and that should do it. I got the general idea. Say something nice and keep it short.

For those of you in the audience who do not know how great this law school really is, let me share some statistics with you. There are five law schools in North Carolina, and the graduates of each one are required to pass the North Carolina bar exam in order to practice law in this state. For seven straight years (1991-1997), the graduates of The Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell have had the highest rate of passage on the North Carolina Bar Exam. Last year, Campbell was a close second. As another indication of the success of this school, Campbell law students regularly participate with great success in national competitions with students from other law schools. In the 1990's, in nine different moot court competitions, our Campbell teams placed in the top five in the nation. In seven other competitions during that same period, our Campbell teams placed within the top ten nationally.

Of course the success of Campbell students is directly related to the work of the law school faculty. They are to be given much of the credit for the success of the students. In addition to working with the students and lecturing in the classrooms, this faculty has written, and continues to write, legal treatises on contracts, wills, property, law office management, and church-state relations, to name but a few which are regularly relied upon by lawyers and judges, not only in North Carolina, but across the nation. As a result of their hard work and genuine concern for their students, the faculty of Campbell has earned a reputation for excellence.

A few words about the hood: The hood symbolizes a heavy burden and identifies the level of the degree, the field of learning, and the institution that awards it. The color of the trimming declares the major field of learning; and purple is for law. The colors that line the hood identify the university awarding the degree. Only those graduates earning the master's degree or doctor's degree wear hoods. Most law schools, including the Adrian Wiggins School here at Campbell, award the J.D., or Juris Doctor, degree. This degree indicates graduation from a law school with three years of post-baccalaureate study, or the equivalent of seven years of formal higher education. Now, to those who are to be hooded, the not yet graduates, as that happens tomorrow in all likelihood. In other words, do not count your chickens yet, as I understand Professor Lord is taking another look at some of those marginal UCC exam papers. It has never happened, I understand, but I suppose it could. Hooded, but not graduated. Nonetheless, assuming all goes well, you are about to embark on a noble and sacred venture. Noble because being a good lawyer requires courage, generosity, and high moral character. Sacred because a good lawyer is worthy of respect and must conduct themselves accordingly. This will be a venture, because being a lawyer is a risk. There is the risk of failure, the risk of criticism, the risk of censure, the risk of not knowing how to handle great success, the risk of dealing with routine, the risk of great temptation.

My advice as you enter this sacred and noble venture: (1) Continue to increase your knowledge and appreciation of the law, as these will be your constant friends. Be especially knowledgeable in some particular area of the law. Work hard as a lawyer and be good, honest, and dependable. Appreciate the commitment to both law and justice: a system that uses rules to decide all cases and yet decides cases one at a time, each on their own merit.

(2) Regularly let go of the law and do something different. Be good and passionate about something other than the law. For example, perhaps you could follow the Dean Jim McLaughlin model and choose golf as your "something different." But I said be "good" at this "something different"; therefore the McLaughlin example is not necessarily a good one, although he is passionate about his golf game and does have his good days! Your "something different" could be art, music, sailing, fishing, teaching, gardening - anything you are passionate about.

(3) Occasionally follow your intuition in decision making. Do not get locked into using your mind to make every choice. In other words, on occasion go "mindless." As noted by Satchel Paige, that great black baseball pitcher and philosopher: "The key to a long life is 'mind over matter.' If you don't mind, things don't matter." This can set you free and allow creativity to work in your life. There is danger in this, of course, as some I know have gotten stuck in the "mindless" approach and wing it all the time. That will not work, at least not in the legal world.

(4) Put money in its place in your life. Many of you will have an opportunity to make a lot of money. Once you have reached a reasonable level of material comfort, however, be very careful should you choose to accumulate more and more material things. You may have been taught, and many of you will soon discover, that joy does not come from things. Joy comes from serving the genuine needs of others. Let this be your motivation for being a lawyer: serving the genuine needs of others. With that motivation you can still prosper financially and, hopefully, then you will feel a responsibility is to share your prosperity so as to make a difference in the lives of others. It is the old biblical paradox at work: to have something you must give it away.

(5) Be a part of your community. Join the Rotary Club, the Jaycees, the church, the chamber of commerce, the scouts. You have much to contribute and you have an obligation to contribute. Much is required of those to whom much is given. You have been given much and by giving of your time, you will receive much in return. Plus it is good for business, especially for a young lawyer.

(6) Do not let being a lawyer interfere with your family life. Your first priority has to be to your husband, your wife, your children. It is not enough to say that you are providing for the financial needs of your family. They each need your time, your attention, your love. Keep this balance in your life. Lose that balance, that priority, and you will lose your ability to be a good lawyer. It is that old paradox at work again. One might think at first, the more hours worked at the office, the more time spent in the courtroom, the more advance sheets that are read, the better lawyer one will be. All of these matter (especially reading the advance sheets) but remember that it takes good people to make good lawyers, and it takes more than practicing law to be a good person. Taking out the trash, washing the dishes, making the bed, going fishing with your children, taking your wife out to dinner and to the movies, going to church with your family, all contribute to and are necessary parts of the making of a good lawyer.

(7) Take care of your body. Exercise regularly, eat a good, balanced diet, get your rest. Sounds like something your mother would tell you? Too fundamental to be included in a law school graduation speech? Perhaps, but because this has been so important to me and any of the successes that I have enjoyed, I feel compelled to include it. This is especially important for lawyers who are very often placed in stressful situations. Develop and implement your own methods of stress management and do it early on in your practice. This will make you a better lawyer, a better person.

(8) Attend to your spirit. Know that your purpose in life is not to be a lawyer. Your purpose in life is to know God. Being a lawyer is one way you can serve God. Know that God is present everywhere and in every person. Understand this "oneness" and you will treat everyone as special and every happening as a unique opportunity to learn. Every day attune your mind and body to the spirit. Call it prayer, call it meditation. In this process you will find your true self, peace will come to your life, and you will be a better lawyer. I share with you the "Prayer of Saint Francis," which I often use:
Lord make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled as to console, To be understood as to understand, To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

(9) Be alert for that "defining moment" in your life. Every person has at least one "defining moment." It is that opportunity which comes your way, that special time when you are called upon to do something that is important to the universe. You must be ready. But how do you remain alert for that special opportunity? If we are not very careful, we get caught up in the "routine" of living and miss it. It slips right by. In order to grasp that opportunity to define our life, we must be constantly aware and know that there is no sameness about the practice of law or life in general. Each day, each case, although similar, is quite different. In the little book by Herman Hesse, Siddhartha, who had been searching for enlightenment his entire life, found himself at a river's edge.

He looked into the flowing water, into the transparent green, into the crystal lines of its wonderful design. The river looked at him with a thousand eyes--green, white, crystal, sky blue. How he loved this river, how it enchanted him, how grateful he was to it. Yes, he wanted to learn from it, he wanted to listen to it. It seemed to him that whoever understood this river and its secrets, would understand much more, all secrets. He saw that the water continually flowed and flowed and yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new. Who could understand, conceive this? He did not understand, he was only aware of it.

Siddhartha remained by that river and searched no more, becoming a ferryman taking passengers from one side of the river to the other and seeing the newness in the river every day. Our lesson: Cases, events, happenings, just like the river, may appear to be the same, yet they are each different and require, deserve our constant awareness, our attention. In that awareness you will not miss that "defining moment."

As I conclude, allow me to again congratulate you. This is indeed your day and you deserve this special recognition. You have worked very hard. I know you will soon have to start your summer studies for the Bar exam, which most of you will take in July. After that you will start your venture of being a lawyer. There is very little time to sit back and congratulate yourselves and just feel good about what you have accomplished. So, now is that time. Be in this moment. Life will never get any better than this. This is as good as it gets. Look around you, see who is seated near you. Look at this building, feel the air, smell the air. Be aware, be alive to this moment. Remember this time forever. Right now, there is no place you need to go, no place you need to stay. There is no race you need to win. Just dream some and be aware of your dreams, listen some and be aware of the sounds. Think some and be aware of the thoughts.

When you leave this building look into the sky, see the clouds, feel the breezes, smell the blossoms. Thank your teachers, your spouse, your children, your parents, your God. Feel good about yourself and what you have done.

Best wishes.