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Remarks Of Justice Peter T. Zarella
Attorney Swearing In
June 27, 2011

Thank you, Chief Justice Rogers.

This is a joyful day, not only for you, the lawyers who we will be swearing in today, but also for those who supported you along the way. It is an honor and a pleasure to speak to you on this happy and important occasion.

George Bernard Shaw said that "Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." Our ceremony today signifies the beginning of a new career in the practice of law for each of you, and with this new beginning comes the opportunity for you to give some thought to those attributes you would want to have ascribed to you in the years ahead as you build your professional reputation.

Judges' Corner

For the next few minutes, I would like to focus your thinking in this regard by identifying certain qualities that set apart those attorneys of distinction who are admired by their colleagues.

As you have just completed the rigorous demands of your legal education, the first qualities I will mention are ones that should now be second nature to you. Both diligence and the willingness to work hard are, as you know, essential requirements for doing well in law school and in the successful practice of law as well. Thomas Jefferson said, "I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

It is also common wisdom that the successful practice of law requires the continual exercise of good judgment and a willingness to make a conscious commitment to fairness and integrity in all that you do. In that regard, you should strive always to be a person of your word, and if you succeed in this endeavor, your opponents and the judges you appear before will trust what you say as being truthful. 

We lawyers and judges are taught from day one that an attorney's duty to represent his or her client's interest vigorously is one of the sacrosanct tenets in practicing law, and no one on this dais will tell you anything to the contrary. Over the past few years, however, some lawyers have apparently lost the ability to balance this duty along with fulfilling their responsibilities as an arm of the court in a civil and professional manner.  This imbalance has resulted in a decline in civility and professionalism that directly affects all lawyers, as our profession is no longer esteemed in the same way it was in the early days of this country when over half of the participants in the 1787 Constitutional Convention were lawyers.

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 an impartial and conscientious bench, leads to justice and fairness. But, increasingly, there is reason for concern 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 upswing 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 has always been. 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 am certain that my colleagues on this court would agree with me that one way in which you can begin immediately to build an outstanding reputation is through professional behavior and being respectful of all with whom you associate during the course of your workday, whether it be opposing and fellow counsel, court staff, judges or clients.

The Connecticut Bar recently lost an excellent role model who demonstrated great skill in vigorously representing his clients, but with impeccable civility and courteous manners.  Attorney John S. Murtha died on May 26th at the age of 98. He received his law degree in 1938 from Yale Law School, joined the Hartford law firm of Hewes, Prettyman & Await until the outbreak of World War II. He then served in the U.S. Naval Reserve– first as the Commanding Officer of an Infantry Landing Craft in the Mediterranean and then of a landing Ship Tank in the Pacific.

After the war, John Murtha returned to Hartford as an assistant state’s attorney and later to Hewes, Prettyman & Await. In 1968 the firm became Murtha, Cullina, Richter & Pinney and John Murtha, the senior partner, practiced corporate and labor law representing the interests of management. I read from his Hartford Courant obituary:

Known in the office as “Chief,” Murtha expected hard work, integrity and an old-fashioned sense of decorum from the lawyers in his firm. Men could wear only suits, though a sports coat and tie were acceptable on Saturdays. He once spied a young lawyer sockless in his wingtips. Without additional comment, Murtha said, “go buy the socks.” The same lawyer was later in a discussion with a lawyer from another firm. The exchange became heated, and the Murtha lawyer raised his voice. John Murtha later called the young man out. Murtha lawyers, the Chief said, do not yell, no matter how outrageous the provocation.

To my mind, John Murtha was a resourceful and successful lawyer, as well as a leader in his community where he served on numerous boards including the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the United Way, the Red Cross, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford. The list goes on and on. He retired from the practice of law in 1989 at the age of 76, but his influence on and contribution to the legal profession and community continue to inspire us all. The respect and esteem in which he was held came not only from what he did but also the way in which he did it.

In order to foster an atmosphere of civility, it is essential for all members of the bar to gain a deeper appreciation of each other and to build collegiality. One of the most rewarding ways to do so is to offer your intellect, energy and time to one of the numerous 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 its most important obligations. The Connecticut Bar Association, both through its young lawyers section and its public service outreach program, and the local bar associations many of which are here today, actively participate 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 high school students in debates about their constitutional rights and responsibilities, your participation and contact with other attorneys will inevitably help you to establish your reputation as a contributor, while you are, at the same time, undertaking important public and professional responsibilities.

Finally, if you retain your thirst for learning and show a willingness to share the knowledge and expertise that you develop with those attorneys who are new to the profession, you will very likely find satisfaction and happiness in this noble career you have chosen. As Albert Schweitzer said, "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."

Whether you choose to emulate the example of John Murtha, or another lawyer who has given you reason to be proud of joining this profession, I hope that you will make it a practice to identify the qualities present in those attorneys you admire, and follow their lead. I also hope that your efforts in this regard will one day cause those who follow to point to you as one who has built a career on sound principles of professionalism and integrity.

On behalf of my colleagues on the Supreme Court, I welcome you to the legal profession and wish you much success in your career in the practice of law. Congratulations.


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