The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee recently released the names of the applicants who passed the February 2013 Bar Examination. This year, there also will be graduates from the state’s three law schools — University of Connecticut, Quinnipiac and Yale — seeking to join the ranks of the legal profession in Connecticut. For those of us who have been practicing for a while and those who will be practicing soon, this is an opportune moment to remind ourselves why the practice of law matters and how we must remain committed to practicing it well every day.
Over a century ago, in an 1897 Harvard Law Review article, entitled, "The Path of the Law," Oliver Wendell Holmes described the purpose behind the study of law this way:
When we study law we are not studying a mystery but a well-known profession. We are studying what we shall want in order to appear before judges, or to advise people in such a way as to keep them out of court. The reason why it is a profession, why people will pay lawyers to argue for them or to advise them, is that in societies like ours the command of the public force is intrusted to the judges in certain cases, and the whole power of the state will be put forth, if necessary, to carry out their judgments and decrees. People want to know under what circumstances and how far they will run the risk of coming against what is so much stronger than themselves, and hence it becomes a business to find out when this danger is to be feared. The object of our study, then, is prediction, the prediction of the incidence of the public force through the instrumentality of the courts.
For those who will be new to the profession, Justice Holmes’ words ring as true today as they did when first written. Even though many soon-to-be and recent law graduates are worried about their economic futures and the immense challenge of establishing a career, while paying off tremendous debt loads, lawyers today still must be dedicated to the service of their clients.
As they did in Holmes’ time and as they likely will in all times, people need lawyers to guide them through life’s many challenges. They may have marriages that are irretrievably broken, wills that need to be drawn, personal injury lawsuits that must be brought or criminal charges requiring a defense. When people hire lawyers, whether they have means or no means, their lawyers must be committed to understanding how to navigate their clients through these challenges every time.
Woody Allen’s amusing maxim, that "eighty percent of success is showing up," does not apply to lawyers. It is not enough for lawyers to just show up. We have to show up and be prepared to represent our clients zealously on the case or matter before us. Far too many death row inmates around the country – and, in this situation, one is far too many – have found themselves there because a lawyer just "showed up," but did not put on a meaningful defense. However daunting this challenge may be, clients, ethical obligations and the legal profession as a whole expect nothing less of every lawyer.
So, during this time of celebration for those who passed the bar and those who will be graduating from law school, let us take time to remember that lawyers are not just part of a profession, but have a calling: a calling to serve others and not just enrich themselves.•