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Remarks By Supreme Court Justice
Peter T. Zarella
Attorney Swearing In Ceremony
June 15, 2009

Thank you, Chief Justice Rogers.

I first want to tell you what a pleasure it is to address you, the new admittees to the bar, and your families today. You have worked hard and sacrificed a great deal to reach this milestone in your life, and I hope that it will be a day to look back upon with fond memories and pride.

For those of you who have had the good fortune to secure a position as a practicing attorney, I congratulate you and wish you well. Today, however, I want to particularly address those of you who have not been as fortunate.
 

Biography of Justice Peter T. Zarella

Judges' Corner

Years from now, when you do look back, you might only vaguely recall the sense of uncertainty that you likely feel right now. Given the precarious state of the economy, I am sure a great number of you are concerned about your futures and how you will cope with such a daunting time in which to begin a legal career. Every day, it seems that we are reading stories about layoffs at law firms, where a few years ago, the idea of lawyers actually losing their jobs was preposterous. This, however, is today's reality.

But I would urge you not to feel devalued by this economy, nor should you feel that all of your struggles and sacrifices to become a lawyer have been for naught. If there ever was a time not to lose hope or faith in your future, today is that day. Remember that today is just a snapshot in time – capturing a moment that will pass. The promise of this great country that rewards those who strive to achieve has not disappeared but has only been untracked for a short time relative to the rest of your lives. Do not let these momentary conditions upset your long term goals and aspirations. While you may need to adjust your path in the short term, remember that the reasons that you strove over the last few years to attain the position as a member of the law profession has not changed. Will Rogers once said: “If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple: Know what you’re doing. Love what you’re doing. And believe in what you’re doing.”

Ladies and gentlemen, each and every one of you already has written two chapters of your success story. You have graduated from law school and have passed the bar exam. You don’t accomplish that without knowing what you’re doing. The drive and passion for the law is within each and every one of you. Why else would you have endured law school and the bar exam? The very fact that you are here today to take the attorney’s oath is evidence that you believe in what you’re doing.

Of course, I can’t say for sure whether you will or will not have a difficult time finding a position and, if you have found one whether it will be there tomorrow. It is difficult not to feel nervous these days. As you may already know, there are no guarantees of anything over the course of one’s lifetime. I can also tell you that my own experiences have provided me with an insight that I hope will have some meaning for you.

In 1977, after practicing for two years in Massachusetts, I married and moved to Connecticut. I set out looking for a job. But, much as now, there were few jobs to be had, and I managed to schedule just a few interviews. Even those few interviews held out little possibility of employment as most law firms were unsure as to the depth and scope of the economic problems. I had no choice but to take a job that required me to work from ten at night to six in the morning counting inventory in large retail outlets. Not exactly my idea of an invigorating start to a legal career. But taking that job allowed me to continue searching during normal business hours for a job in my chosen profession.

Meanwhile, my father-in-law suggested that I meet with a friend of his who was a patent attorney just to get his advice. I was neither qualified, nor desired, to be a patent lawyer.

Well on the appointed day, I walked into Attorney Donald Hayes' office, he shook my hand and immediately noted, “My God, you’re depressed and you’re telegraphing it.” I hadn't recognized it but he was right.

He told me I couldn’t give up. That yes, times are tough, but they get better. That what you do is survive and be resilient. That you need to be creative and direct your energy toward reaching your goal rather than letting outside forces take over what control you do have over your own life and direction.

I didn’t walk out of Attorney Hayes’ office that day with a job. I did, however, walk out with a renewed sense of purpose. You might wonder if I landed a law job shortly afterward. Well, I can tell you that I did not. It took some time but I did land on my feet.

You have that same power over your own lives as you sit here today. No matter what hurdles you face today, or that you will encounter in the future, you have the ability to move ahead and excel – provided you have the spirit and the energy to believe in yourself.

I can also promise you that these experiences will serve you well as you begin representing the many different people who will come to you for help.

You should know, if you don’t already, that many of these people are desperate, angry, fearful and distrustful. They may be losing their home, their business, their partner, their children or their freedom. Some may be mentally ill or living in poverty that defies explanation. And, amid all of this baggage, more than a few of them will expect you to produce miracles rather than real-life solutions. The tough times that you experience and the struggles that you endured to get to this point in your life may allow you in some small way to at least begin to understand the enormous sense of frustration, fear, or even anger that they feel.

Moreover, you will be able to handle those mercurial and emotion-driven moments because of your experiences learning how to survive during adverse times. Your frustrations will be tempered by the creativity you developed when you forced yourself to think outside of the box because you had no choice. And you will be a better lawyer because of the patience and empathy that you will learn while facing your own obstacles.

In other words, all of your life’s experiences, good and bad, will make you a better lawyer. These lessons are not learned in law books. Today, I urge you to seize the substance of your experiences and to use it to enrich the wisdom that you undoubtedly will discover and cultivate over the years. In the meantime, do something worthwhile to enhance this proud and noble profession: for example, call your local Legal Aid office or local bar association and ask if you can volunteer to help clients pro bono. Nothing says you have to wait until you have a job to make a difference in someone’s life – especially in the lives of those who are desperate or disenfranchised. Nor can I think of a better way to network with colleagues your age and to benefit from colleagues who have more experience.

This year, we celebrated the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in February 1809. As we all know, his career prior to the presidency was “attorney at law.” We also know that this man’s life was anything but a cake walk; that he faced adversity almost from the start of his all too short time on Earth. I would suggest to you that we can learn from his determination, despite the odds, and go on to accomplish deeds and actions bigger and more significant than we ever imagined.

I don’t want to keep you any longer. Many of you undoubtedly have plans today, and listening to a long speech probably is not high on your “to-do” list. So I will leave you lastly with this thought from George Bernard Shaw: “The people that get on in this world are the people that get up and look for the circumstances that they want and if they can’t find them, they make them.”

Congratulations again to you and your families, and thank you for the honor of addressing you as you craft the circumstances you want and write the next chapter of your life.

On behalf of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Branch, I welcome you as members of the bar of the State of Connecticut.

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