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Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you tonight. Judges are by design excluded from most public events. It is therefore a rare pleasure for me to have this opportunity to be with you and share in this evening’s festivities. The notion of passion has been the object of great debate and reflection in literature. The word itself connotes great depth of feeling, an intense enthusiasm for the task at hand. We usually associate passion with the desire of another. Tonight, I want to talk about passion in the context of your chosen profession. I submit that passion is the single most important attribute of a lawyer. In fact, I submit that no person can truly be called a lawyer without feeling passionate about the law. Allow me to elaborate. There is an unfortunate, but I suspect growing trend to regard a legal education as a default choice. For some, it is an attempt to prolong adolescence. For others, it represents the least offensive alternative among a field of undesirable choices. Still others view it as means to an end, be that end money, power, status or simply fulfilling someone else’s dream. There are still others who wander about from class to class, from year to year, as if trapped in a Skinner box, unaware of the manipulation and unable to break free of the maze. To all these unfortunate souls: to the perpetual child, to the risk manager, to the ambitious social climber, to the mindless would-be robo-lawyer, I have but one [piece of] advice: GET OUT! Get out now while you can still leave with your soul intact. Do not allow life to catch you from behind, one day when you least expected and are least capable of resisting. If you don’t leave now, something tragic will happen. You will find yourself one day in an office or a courtroom or a boardroom or a conference room, and look around and find nothing familiar about your surroundings, as if some unknown force had taken you to a strange place where time simply goes on and on and on. Your role in this place is simply to do the things that you do. … No amount of compensation will be enough to fill the void. No office will seem big enough, luxurious enough. No apparent prestige will be sufficient. All of these seemly desirable things will seem strange and unappealing because there is no passion in your work. Oh, they’ll talk about how important the merger was and how brilliantly you handled the complex negotiations that led to its successful completion. Or you will settle a lucrative personal injury case that will give you two years worth of compensation with a single stroke of the pen. … You’ll feel good for a while, but just a while. Then the feeling of emptiness will creep back in and you will again look around and find nothing familiar about the place you have been in for most of your life. Get out now and rediscover yourself. Ask the hard questions that you avoided asking when your parents told everyone that their child was going to be a lawyer. Ask, who am I? Not what am I going to do? [At] no other time in your life are you ever going to be as free as you are right now to make these hard choices and then act upon them. … For those of you who are here because you have thought about nothing else for as long as you can remember, I say welcome. You have begun the training that will allow you to explore, develop and refine the lawyer who has been inside you from the day you were born. Being a lawyer is a great deal more than simply mastering certain analytical skills. It is not what you do. It is who you are. A lawyer does not simply perform a task for the client; she represents the client. … This relationship is not created with the exchange of money or by the signing of a contract. It is a relationship based on trust, created by trust and ultimately dependent on trust. This bond permits the client to be completely free with his counsel, disclosing to her both his strengths and vulnerabilities, assured by the knowledge that they will be revealed only with his consent, and for the sole purpose of advancing his interests. … BEHIND-THE-SCENES WORK Passion is indispensable to all of the lawyer’s endeavors. It is not solely relegated to litigators. The courtroom is indeed the stage where the drama is performed. However, though the actors may command our attention and deserve our admiration, their performance is only possible by the passion and artistry of the playwright, the vision and passion of the director, the creative and passionate work of the stage designer. In other words, the trial advocate’s success is dependent upon the thoroughness of the discovery, the extent to which the issues have been narrowed and focused through pretrial motion practice and the ability to organize and present the evidence in a jury-friendly manner. Without passion, however, trial advocacy becomes either a dull mechanical exercise or a melodramatic contest of egos. In either case, both the client’s and society’s interests are not well served. A lawyer’s passion must find an outlet in scholarship as well as advocacy. The law is an attempt to achieve justice and fairness in human interactions. In order to accomplish this, the law must be guided by the noblest aspects of the human spirit — the search for truth, the appreciation of beauty, the ability to love, the capacity for compassion, the need for freedom. In this context, a lawyer’s role in our society must be to ensure that these fundamental principles are not compromised by or subordinated to the perceived exigencies of any given time in history. We are … living through a moment in history when the desire to be protected from physical harm, be it actual or perceived, dominates the public debate. In this environment, the voices advocating tolerance and moderation do not compete equally with those urging security. Lawyers are and will continue to be called upon to help restore a sense of balance to the discussion, by insisting that those voices adopting an unpopular position are permitted to occupy their rightful place in the choir. … The history of our country is replete with examples of lawyers taking on this call to duty. There is no greater example of a lawyer assuming this responsibility than John Adams. At great risk to his life, professional reputation and political aspirations, Adams successfully defended Thomas Preston, the captain of the British troops who fired upon the rebelling colonists on a cold day in March 1770, in what history and the popular sentiment of the time dubbed “the Boston massacre.” Adams realized that justice can never become just the right of the popular or even the blameless. Representation by competent counsel is the hallmark of justice and the ultimate safeguard against the oppressive character of vigilantism. SHOWING UP IS NOT ENOUGH As an association of minority students pursuing a legal education, you are well aware of this school’s rich tradition of progressive activism. You need no reminders that the struggle continues from one generation to the next, constituting an unbroken chain of commitment to social justice. … However, don’t be fooled into believing that your mere presence here is, in and of itself, a testament to your willingness to assume that responsibility when your turn comes. It’s not. Education is about choices and a legal education is about the power to make those choices a reality. Don’t feel typecast into playing a predetermined role simply because of your name or your skin color or your gender or your sexual orientation, or your religious convictions. The choices you make will be dictated by a myriad of factors, some of which you can just imagine. I’m also not here to preach an ideological sermon. In an academic community, ideas are accepted or rejected based only on their intellectual value and arguments are not made stronger by the volume of the speaker’s voice. Whether you view yourself as a compassionate conservative, a dyed in the wool libertarian or a radical feminist, you must be ready and willing to reconsider your position when confronted by a stronger argument which challenges or even destroys your previously held beliefs. … Twenty-two years ago, I graduated from this law school without a clue as to what I was going to do but completely aware of who I was. I was a lawyer. More importantly from my own personal perspective, I was a Spanish-speaking lawyer. Through me, Mrs. Garcia stood before a judge and gave a semi-cogent argument on the preclusive effect of the entire controversy doctrine. Through me, Mr. Perez successfully argued a motion to quash an indictment that had wrongfully implicated him in a multi-state cocaine smuggling conspiracy, merely because one of the conspirators was named “Papo.” Through me, Mr. Alvarez was able to explain to an Irish-American judge the difference between the words “gorra” and “gorro,” thereby clearing up a mistake in translation that could have wrongfully implicated him in an armed robbery. Practicing law is not always glamorous or lucrative or even intellectually stimulating. But being a lawyer is the most fulfilling experience any critically thinking person can have. I’ll close with the words of John Adams, written as part of a letter to a college friend at a time when he was a struggling young attorney: “Now what higher object, to what greater character, can any mortal aspire than to be possessed of all this knowledge, well digested and ready at command, to assist the feeble and friendless, to discountenance the haughty and lawless, to procure redress to wrongs, the advancement of right, to assert and maintain liberty and virtue, to discourage and abolish tyranny and vice?” Thank you. Fuentes, an Appellate Division judge, gave this address to the Association of Latin American Law Students at Rutgers Law School-Newark on Jan. 29.

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