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Remarks of Justice Peter T. Zarella
Bar Admission Ceremony
June 16, 2006
 

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address you today. Every attorney recalls his or her admission to the bar, although occasionally, as the years go by, with decreasing clarity.

Many of you have had a difficult journey to reach this place. I urge all the candidates, if you have not already done so, to thank those who have helped you through the years of study...without their support the path would have been even more arduous.
 

Biography of Justice Peter T. Zarella

Judges' Corner

During your time in school, you have learned the law well. Now after years of study, months of cramming, and successful bar results, here you are – minutes away from going forth as an attorney. But I must tell you that you have really only just begun the process of being an attorney. All of us who are members of the bar remain, throughout the length of our careers, part of this process – the process of the communal pursuit of justice.

We have come a long way since 1730 when judges rode the circuit with the court clerk, and the number of attorneys in the Connecticut colony was limited by law to eleven. Those were the days when members of the bar certainly knew each other well and shared the same view of collegial civility and professional conduct. More than one hundred and fifty years later, at a time when, I am sure, it must have seemed that the number of lawyers had soared, Chief Justice Andrews described the qualities that were needed in an attorney. In part he said:

"It is not enough for an attorney that he be honest. He must be that, and more. He must be believed to be honest. It is absolutely essential to the usefulness of an attorney that he be entitled to the confidence of the community wherein he practices...a lawyer needs, indeed, to be learned...and he must have prudence, and tact to use his learning, and foresight, and industry, and courage. But all these may exist in a moderate degree and yet he may be a creditable and useful member of the profession, so long as the practice is to him a clean and honest function. But...if once the practice becomes to him a mere ‘brawl for hire’, or a system of legalized plunder where craft and not conscience is the rule, and where falsehood and not truth is the means by which to gain his end, then he has forfeited all right to be an officer in any court of justice or to be numbered among the member of an honorable profession."

You are entering a legal atmosphere very different from the 1730 world of eleven attorneys, or the 1891 world of Chief Justice Andrews. In some ways, this is the best of times. The attorneys of today have more education and greater technological skills than ever before. We bring to the table the extraordinary strength and capability that comes from our diversity. The opportunity to become an attorney is no longer limited by economic privilege, gender, or color. Our individual differences, intellect and insight are well matched to the issues of the new age.

But I must be honest. It is also the worst of times for the legal profession. In 1730, or 1891, or even in the 1970s when I became a lawyer, there was an expansive sense of legal community. When one became a member of the bar, one joined an association of those who not only understood what it had taken to reach that place, but who were also intent on showing the way to professionalism through their unswerving example.

In those days when we joined the bar, we instantly had more mentors than we could possibly need. Those men and women, whether part of the formal structure of a large firm, or an informal presence at short calendar, demonstrated by their conduct the respect for other lawyers that was expected of us as new members of the bar. The process of argument was no different then. To the justice system, the nature of an argument is a debate, a productive vehicle to explore all sides of an issue. It has been such forever. At the heart of our profession is the belief that excellent advocacy on all sides of a question, coupled with excellency on the bench, leads to justice and fairness.

But, increasingly, those of us with considerable years in the practice have become concerned about the evaporating sense of legal community and the gradual disappearance of civility. Whether in argument, negotiation, or simple interaction, we have been overtaken by an increase in antagonism that all members of the bar recognize. For you, the newest of our attorneys, one of the most disappointing aspects of the erosion of civility is that you will not have known a difference. You may believe that this is the way that the practice of law should be. It is not.

Civility is not a study in manners, nor does its absence necessarily implicate unethical conduct. It is instead the atmosphere of courtesy that comes from a mutual respect for the position of attorney that each of us holds.

I do not mean to suggest that the issue of legal civility is a problem peculiar to Connecticut. It has been the subject of a nationwide plethora of articles with titles such as "professional attitude", "civil reaction", "fostering civility", and "the uncivil lawyer". One such article documented a law journal survey disclosing that 50 percent of the attorneys questioned used the word "obnoxious" to describe their colleagues.

The escalating lack of civility everywhere has also spilled over, to an upsetting extent, to include disrespect between the bar and bench. When that has happened, when disappointment in a legal ruling has overtaken good judgment, and unfortunate public statements against the ability of the court, or worse, have been made, all of us in the legal system lose.

One result of the escalating incivility is the unfortunate effect that it has had on public perception of the lawyer in particular and the justice system in general. The slick bumper sticker "my lawyer can beat up your lawyer" seems to capture the essence of what many members of the public have come to expect in an attorney – a personal gladiator. What does that say about the public perception of what the courtroom itself should be?

Commentators offer many reasons for the decrease in civility among lawyers - there are too many of us to develop the necessary personal relationships that engender respect...society's language is more direct and abrasive and its tolerance for inappropriate behavior has increased...the escalating pressure of deadlines has robbed us of the time needed to approach each other politely...the list goes on and on.

At this point it almost does not matter why we are where we are. We must fix it, and you, as the bar's newest members, are the key to doing so. With the entrance of each new class of Connecticut attorneys, we all have an opportunity to start anew. We need to take a step back to a less antagonistic time. As you begin your career in the law, I ask you to remember, always, why you were initially drawn to the profession – the desire to make a difference in society, to be one of the guardians of justice.

I ask you to take pride, not only in the profession, but in all its members. I ask you, no matter how volatile the issue, not to succumb to pressure from your clients, the public, or the media when they would encourage you to denigrate the bench or your colleagues. As a member of the bar, you have a responsibility to respect the court and the office of the judge, regardless of how incorrect you may feel was his or her judgment. You also have a duty to approach your fellow lawyers with respect. Remember that an increase in the volume or sharpening of the tone of an argument does not increase its persuasive reasoning or its legal significance.

United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens observed that "[a] polite rejection of a settlement proposal can be just as firm as a show of indignation, and a succinct objection as telling as an unnecessary harangue."

The courtesy described by Justice Stevens is an essential element of effective advocacy. Civility must flow from a respect for that in which we are all actively engaged – the quest for justice.

To foster an atmosphere of civility, it is necessary for all members of the bar to gain a deeper appreciation of each other. Developing immediate relationships among recently acquired colleagues is often difficult for a new attorney. One of the most rewarding ways to do so is to offer your intellect, energy and time to one of the considerable volunteer efforts sponsored by the state or local bar associations.

Despite the frantic pace of today's practice, lawyers have always considered educating the public about the justice system to be one of the most important obligations of the profession. The Connecticut bar association, either through its young lawyers section or its public service efforts, actively participates in extensive initiatives to encourage the public to understand their legal rights and obligations. Whether you take part as a volunteer coach or judge in mock trials, or engage middle and high school students in debates about their constitutional rights and responsibilities, or lead superior court tours, your contact with other participating attorneys will inevitably enhance your relationships in the statewide bar, while you are also undertaking important public responsibilities.

On both the state and the local levels, bar associations are heavily committed to providing pro bono services. At the Connecticut bar association, the Connecticut pro bono network, providing services to low income persons with urgent legal problems, and the walk-in clinics, located in four Connecticut cities, and providing "legal first aid" to pro se litigants…..all deserve your consideration.

I also encourage you to join the purely social activities of the bar associations. The social interaction inevitably leads to an increase in collegiality among attorneys and judges.

You are about to enter a noble profession. To uphold its honor and dignity with honesty, tact, foresight, industry and courage is today, as it was in the time of Chief Justice Andrews, the worthiest of pursuits. I extend to you, on behalf of the men and women of the judicial branch, our sincerest congratulations and best wishes.

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