Today you, your families and loved ones should
feel great pride as you complete the formal aspect of your
legal education. You are now an attorney at law. The title
of "attorney" will become part of your identity. You will
be respected because of this title. New, exciting and
intellectually challenging experiences will be available to
you. You will, I hope, have the opportunity to enjoy a
satisfying life in the practice of law.
But the title of attorney and the practice of
law to which you are being admitted come with responsibility
(or "obligations"). Just as you gain respect from this
title, you must respect the profession you are joining. The
profession allows you great opportunities and privileges,
but also places upon you awesome responsibilities. People
will seek you out to help them resolve some of the most
difficult decisions of their lives. They will entrust to
you matters involving their homes, their fortunes, and their
family relationships. At times, you may be called upon to
protect their constitutional freedoms and perhaps even their
When you -- as an officer of the court -- are so
called upon, you have a firm duty to insure that the rights
of your clients are protected and that justice is not only
done, but seen to be done. As lawyers, you must exemplify
the highest standards of the legal profession - moral
courage, principal devotion to the law and equal justice.
Your road must be the high road … and there are no
Part of that responsibility is the obligation to
help others less fortunate. As Muhammad Ali once said,
“Service to others is the payment you make for your space
here on Earth.”
In the practice of law, service to people in
need is the payment you make for the honor of being an
As you know, Connecticut’s Rules of Professional
Conduct clearly recognize this responsibility. To quote Rule
“A lawyer should render public interest
legal service. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by
providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee
to persons of limited means or to public service or
charitable groups or organizations, by service in activities
for improving the law, the legal system or the legal
profession and by financial support for organizations that
provide legal services to persons of limited means.”
Note the words that are used in this section. In
addressing the various ways to do pro bono work, it’s you
may do this or you may do that. But in addressing
the question of whether or not to do it, the word
used is “should.” In other words, there is no ambiguity.
The National Pro Bono Celebration was held last
October 24 through the 30th. It’s the second such
celebration, sponsored by the American Bar Association, and
follows the tremendous success of last year’s celebration.
Lawyers’ service to those in need is a superb
reflection of how seriously you take your oath. Always
remember that only a fraction of your time and talent may
make the difference for someone experiencing a difficult
time in his or her life.
Let us look for a moment to the entire oath of
This oath was originally adopted in colonial
Connecticut in 1708. The principles upon which it is based
remain the essential principles of the legal profession.
These principles require a level of morality and ethics
that must guide your behavior throughout your life as a
lawyer. The essence of this remarkable oath is honesty,
integrity, and fair dealing to all with whom you come in
contact. It includes the duty of loyalty to your clients,
the court and to yourself.
Remember that the art of being a lawyer is not
only that of working at a trade for an income, it is the
practice of a noble profession that has had incomparable
impact on our history.
It is worth recalling that, in the late
eighteenth century, while doctors were still healing with
leeches, lawyers were writing the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Among those early American patriots was John
Adams who first made his name as a lawyer. He successfully
defended British soldiers who were accused of murder in
In May 2011, the Law Day celebration will
highlight the service of all those lawyers who have made a
difference by public service, with Adams as a model. We, in
Connecticut do not have to look beyond our state to find
Oliver Ellsworth, the 3rd Chief Justice of the
United States, and signer of the Declaration of Independence
was a Connecticut native. Roger Sherman, of Connecticut was
one of only 3 peoples signing both the Declaration of
Independence and Constitution. Tapping Reeves, of
Litchfield established the first American law school. You
can still visit it in Litchfield if you wish.
Mary Hall refused to take NO for an answer and
litigated her right to become the first woman lawyer
admitted to the bar in 1882. She had to take her case to
this court to gain admission.
In the 20th century, Connecticut had its own
legal heroes as well.
A little county lawyer named Catherine Roraback
litigated Griswold v. Connecticut in the
Supreme Court of the United States and established the right
of privacy as a constitutional right.
A young African-American girl growing-up in New
Haven in the 1930's so impressed a wealthy resident that he
promised to pay for her higher education if she studied to
earn it. She did and he did: That woman, Constantine
Baker, later Constance Baker Motley, became a lawyer with
the NAACP legal defense fund. She argued 11 cases in the
United States Supreme Court and won 10 of them. The Court
saw the error of its ways in the 11th case and reversed
itself only a few years later. She was nominated and served
as the 1st African-American female district court judge in
1964. She continued as a district court judge until her
death a few years ago here in Connecticut.
The men and women I spoke of were all heroes of
their times and ours. Who will be the legal heroes of the
21st century in Connecticut? And what will be their cause?
We are waiting for you to tell us.
The common denominator that links the lawyers I
have mentioned -- each, as a lawyer, exemplifies the ideals
and promise of our profession.
It is important to remember that you are not
just an attorney; you are also an advisor and counselor.
The fact that you know the law and where to find it and how
to read it does not require that you put aside your common
sense. In other words, our primary objective is to solve
problems, not create new ones.
I would urge you also to become involved in
professional activities, to join the local and state bar
associations, and involve yourselves in the communities in
which you live and work. As new lawyers, you will have many
opportunities to assist your fellow citizens in their
educational, charitable, civic and political organizations.
Simply put, take advantage of these opportunities and make
Finally, I would ask that you remember these
words from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said: "I think
that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man
that he should share the passion and action of his time at
peril of being judged not to have lived.
Today and every day, remember to exemplify the
spirit of those words and the ideals of those lawyers who
have preceded you. Thank you for the honor of addressing
you today, and I wish you the best of luck for the future.