From Pardons to Portraits: Gerald R. Ford Leadership Program Participants Wear Shoes of a Leader

Sixteen Michigan residents, including residents of Lansing, Grand Rapids, Portage, Baroda and Sidney, completed the Leadership in Times of Crisis program at the DeVos Learning Center in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in March.  The program is a joint initiative of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and The Western Michigan University Center for the Study of Ethics in Society.

"New York, New York, USA - November 3, 2012: A close up of the front page of the The New York Times newspaper dated August 9, 1974. The New York Times reporting President Richard Nixon resigns after the Watergate scandal, Vice President Gerald Ford taking office."

The unique leadership program is not only open to enrolled law students, but to the public. Participants in one class get to take on the role of advisor to President Ford (played by Professor Devin Schindler), including arguing for and against the pardon of Richard Nixon while seated around the cabinet table in the Ford Museum.

In another session led by Professor Paul Sorenson, participants negotiated a contentious issue using procedures learned earlier that morning, experiencing in the process of how President Ford’s renowned reputation as a deal maker was due to many years of arduous, patient work.

A fascinating exploration of the relationship between healthy cities and state funding policies was led by Kalamazoo County Commissioner Kevin Wordelman.

The last class session explores the war in  Vietnam and the fall of Saigon. Participants viewed artifacts during a tour of the Museum’s collection. Artifacts included the portrait of President Ford the American ambassador removed from the wall of the embassy while fleeing Saigon and service medals thrown over the White House fence by veterans angry with President Ford’s amnesty program for men who did not honor the draft.

Guest speaker Tiennga Cao recounted the harrowing story of how she and fellow Vietnamese refugees felt at that time, adrift at sea for over two weeks before being rescued by an American naval ship. At the time of her rescue she was so weak that she could not stand on her own. She was brought to Grand Rapids, President Ford’s home town, and, in her own words, has made it her mission ever since her rescue to help people in return for God saving her life.

Leaders Program guest speaker Tiennga Cao

Leaders Program guest speaker Tiennga Cao

The Museum’s Education Director, Barbara McGregor, led a tour of Museum pieces relevant to the fall of Saigon, including the actual staircase from atop the American Embassy where many Vietnamese people began the transition from their homeland into new lives in other countries.

The program received high marks from all participants. Reservations are being accepted for the Fall 2017 session starting in September.  The program consists of four sessions, one session per month on a Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The fee is $150. Participants receive a Certification of Completion bearing the name and logo of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum & Library.  For more information contact Professor Victoria Vuletich by email or by phone at (616) 301-6800, ext. 6960.

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Love Your Job. Live Your Life. Say Lawyers and Law Students

“It was very inspiring for our students to learn from a diverse panel group that perceived impediments to a well-balanced life can be overcome despite the demands we all face in the legal profession.” – WMU-Cooley Law School Associate Dean Joan P. Vestrand

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“Love Your Job, Live Your Life” was the theme of a panel discussion held at WMU-Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus. Law student members of the the Women Lawyer’s Association discussed how they manage successful careers, find meaningful time with their families, remain active in social activities, and succeed in practicing law, while maintaining a happy healthy outlook on life.

The panel included Hon. Julie A. Nicholson, Oakland County District Court judge; April McKie, WMU-Cooley Law School graduate; Erin Bonahoom, Canvas Legal PLC founder; Michelle Easter, Easter Law PLC founder; and WMU-Cooley Law School professors Erika Breitfeld and Monica Nuckolls.  

“Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage and push you to keep moving forward to reach your goals,” said Easter. “They will provide the supporting block you need when you feel like you’re failing. Those cheerleaders will help you succeed.”

The program was sponsored by the WMU-Cooley Law School-Auburn Hills chapter of the Women Lawyer’s Association as well as WMU-Cooley Law School’s Career and Professional Development Department.

“It was very inspiring for our students to learn from a diverse group of panelists that perceived impediments to a well-balanced life can be overcome despite the demands we all face in the legal profession,” said Joan Verstrand, WMU-Cooley Law School associate dean.

Law students Love Jobs Live Lives event

(Left to right) Professor Linda Kisabeth, co-adviser Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter); Professor Erika Breitfeld, panelist; Danielle Stone, Executive Board Member Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter); Professor Monica Nuckolls, panelist; Hon. Julie A. Nicholson, 52-3 District Court, panelist; April McKie, J.D., panelist; Michelle Easter, Easter Law PLLC, panelist; Janae Stack, president Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter); Chanavia Smith, Executive Board Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter); Shari F. Lesnick, Co-Adviser Women Lawyers Association Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter).

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Larry Nolan: It is through your faith and your faith tests that you grow

WMU-Cooley 1976 graduate, Board Chair, and State Bar of Michigan President Lawrence P. Nolan was the keynote speaker for the WMU-Cooley law student Christian Legal Society this month. He shared with the law students and guests how when tested in your career, by a client or in a case, you can use your faith to get through it. Watch the video or read the highlights below.

When I talk to different groups, including your group, I let them know that the need and demand for lawyers is great. We really need to know we have good lawyers out there, and judges.

When I first got sworn in I spoke in my inaugural address about standing up for lawyers, but I also stated that I would stand up for judges. People ask me why judges should be exempt from criticism. They say the President gets criticized, Senators get criticized, members of the House of Representatives get criticized, so why shouldn’t judges get criticized?  I said, the one difference is that judges can’t respond. They can’t follow up and have a press conference. If a case is pending, they can’t defend themselves. Simply, it’s about being fair and just.

There is a lot of good things happening within the profession. I am proud to be a lawyer. I’ve been practicing 42 years now at the same location, same small office on Main Street in a little town called Eaton Rapids, just about 20 miles south of here (Lansing). I love the law, and believe if you have a passion for the law, it will serve you well and you can make a difference. I wrote an article in the Michigan Bar Journal this month. It was called the USS Iowa explosion April 19, 1989. Forty seven sailors were killed on board a ship called the Iowa and there were four major ships that were 900 feet long. Think of that, think of (University of) Michigan’s stadium. That would fit a third of Iowa into Michigan stadium. It was three times the size.

I got involved with the case, not because I knew the family from Eaton Rapids who lost their son, but because I went to church and sat in the first pew and their family sat behind us. In our church, during the celebration, you turn at a point in the mass and say peace be with you with people you are sitting near. I only knew the family because they always sat behind us. I only knew them because I saw them on Sundays. I never had any social discussion with them, until this tragedy happened. They came to me because they knew that I was a Christian lawyer, I was in their hometown, and they wanted some meaning to come out of this event. It was a six-year year journey, from filing suit in the Eastern District of Virginia and Norfolk, to Richmond in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, then to the Supreme Court. It all arose because I was living in the community, going to the same church, and the family felt comfortable coming to me in handling the case where their son was tragically taken from them. We as lawyers, and we as Christian lawyers, you can look at the 10 commandments and just about take anything off the 10 commandments and use them as the common law and develop from that all the other laws that exist.

I still enjoy what I am doing 42 years later. I want to share a story with you all. I once went to funeral where there was a Rabbi who gave the eulogy and said the deceased person was mensch. When he described what mensch was he said it was a person who does the right thing knowing he could to the wrong thing, but does the right thing even knowing no one is watching. In your future endeavors, always remember one thing; Do the right thing when you know no one is watching.

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During my career, whether it’s during a case or with clients, I have been tested daily. It is my faith that gets me through it. Both my parents were immigrants. My father from Ireland. My mother from Canada. They came to America for a better life, and for that I’m thankful. I think that many of you would feel that same way – a spiritual feeling you have that you have been blessed by your parents, your background, and where you are today.

Sometimes in adversity there are no explanations.  I am like anyone. I have the same shortcomings. We are all human. I find myself often asking the question why when confronted with adversity. Why would someone do something like that? I’d like to know the answer. There was a French poet who once said that adversity tempers the human heart in which it finds its true meaning. If you think about it, we’ve all gone through tough times. Nobody likes to hear about your tough times. Yet if you think you have gone through tough times, you may want to stop by a hospital. Go to the children’s care unit or the cancer unit. Or volunteer at a soup kitchen, or visit those who have suffered addiction and have not been able to beat it.

You might see how fortunate you have been, and that you are receiving a legal education where you can help people in a very real way.  It is through your faith and your faith tests that you grow. I know we have all suffered loss, but if you can fall back on your faith, I think you’re ahead of the game in life.

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Judge Donald L. Allen: Years to Develop your Reputation, Seconds to Destroy it

“We talk a lot about integrity. I think there is one thing people need to understand. It takes years, maybe even decades, to develop a reputation for your integrity, for your professionalism. It takes years and years of doing the right thing, but it only takes seconds for that to be destroyed. Think about that for just a second. Years to develop a reputation that you would be proud of, seconds to destroy.” – Judge Donald L. Allen on integrity during WMU-Cooley Law School’s Integrity in Our Community award ceremony.

Judge Allen spoke to WMU-Cooley law students, faculty and staff about the importance of values, integrity and preserving one’s reputation at the Integrity award ceremony. He went on to say, “The ability to help others challenge injustice and to make sure what is wrong is made right is one of the privileges of a law degree. Law students are learning how to be in a position to earn a living basically helping other people. That is a tremendous privilege. I want to leave you with a quote, and this quote comes from John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He says, ‘With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.'”

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Judge Allen is the presiding judge of the 55th District Court Sobriety Court, which focuses on the rehabilitation of repeat offense substance abusers in Ingham County. He has spent most of his professional career as an assistant attorney general at the state’s attorney general office. In 2005, Allen was appointed deputy legal counsel to Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The following year, Granholm appointed him to serve as director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, which he served until his 55th District Court appointment in 2008. Judge Allen was appointed chief judge of the court by the Michigan Supreme Court on Jan. 1, 2016. Watch Judge Allen’s speech (25:31)

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Law Student from Germany Learns What Real Freedom Means While Helping the Wrongfully Convicted

I’m a 22 years old law student from Germany. As part of an international exchange program, I spent my last term doing a study abroad experience here at WMU-Cooley Law School. Coming to Michigan, and working with the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, was an experience I will never forget – Anna-Lisa Benkhoff, Muenster University law student and WMU-Cooley Innocence Project intern

When I decided to come to America and attend WMU-Cooley Law School, I had no idea what kind of experiences it would bring. Growing up, I always sought out new opportunities and to challenge myself. I heard about the WMU-Innocence Project when I was looking into study abroad opportunities in the United States. I was excited about the idea that students got to work on actual criminal cases with real people who have been wronged. I especially like that I would learn practical knowledge and skills in the law.

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project fights against wrongful convictions in post-conviction cases, using DNA-testing to prove innocence.

I spent much of my time in the law clinic working on one case. Our client was convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, involving two perpetrators. It was the first case I ever worked on and it was an unbelievable experience. I actually was able to meet our client in prison.

Once I got to meet him in person, I knew I was working for the right reasons. It means a lot to be able to help someone who has been wronged get out of prison.

Based on our work, the client was granted an evidentiary hearing on the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project’s motion under MCR 6.500. During the hearing, the judge heard our newly discovered evidence. From that evidence, the judge must decide whether to grant our client a new trial.

In addition to doing research to support the case, I wrote legal memos and assisted in preparing the case for litigation. I feel so proud that I helped to prepare the paperwork needed for our client’s evidentiary hearing. I helped to prepare a witness list and questions for direct and cross examinations.

 During the hearing, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project interns questioned witnessed on the stand – just like a real lawyer.

The evidentiary hearing took four days, and is now submitted to the court for a decision.

Even though I’m leaving the United States and the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, I will continue to follow its important work. I had a such a great time and got to meet so many nice and very cool people. I now realize the hard work it takes to improve the criminal justice system. I would recommend this experience to anyone. Not only do you gain practical legal skills and experience, you have the privilege of doing something very important – saving someone from life imprisonment when they have been wrongfully convicted. It was unforgettable.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and German International Exchange Program law student Anna-Lisa Benkhoff.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and German International Exchange Program law student Anna-Lisa Benkhoff.

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When One Special Legislative-Staff Career Ends, Another Begins

WMU-Cooley Law School graduate Bob DeVries recently received a rare, special, and entirely fitting tribute to the end of a decade-long legislative-staff career.  In politics, timing is everything, and Bob had the benefit of impeccable timing.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich give speeches in tribute to Meekhof's departing Chief of Staff, Bob DeVries.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich give speeches in tribute to Meekhof’s departing Chief of Staff, Bob DeVries.

Ten years ago, Bob was a senior at Grand Valley State University, looking for an internship. His father connected him with Arlan Meekhof, who was preparing to run for state representative. Meekhof won the campaign with Bob’s tireless support, just as Bob was graduating. Representative Meekhof then hired Bob for his legislative staff.

Four years in the State House led to six years in the State Senate. During the last two years, Senator Meekhof was Senate Majority Leader, making Bob his Chief of Staff. The role gave Bob staff responsibility for the Senate budget and staff, not to mention a central role in advancing legislation through a Senate and House under the same party’s control, with a same-party governor.

Bob matriculated at the law school in the middle of his 10 years working in the legislature, and persevered over the next several years to earn his law degree. Bob also married Jackie with whom he had three beautiful daughters, with a fourth child on the way.

The law degree strengthened Bob’s research, drafting, reasoning, and advocacy skills, along with improving his understanding of the legislative process, law subjects, and legal issues. Bob’s chief-of-staff role for a state senate majority leader also gave him the opportunity to travel to a national conference, expanding his network.

While deeply appreciative for Bob’s legal skills and acumen, Senator Meekhof, in his tribute to Bob on the Senate floor, emphasized Bob’s outstanding character.  The tribute also included a rare and glowing acknowledgment by an appreciative representative from the opposing party.

Bob’s next career step is with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., where he will represent corporate, community, and professional-association clients advocating their public interests in Michigan and beyond. In politics and in life, timing indeed means a lot, but character is everything.

nelson millerBlog author Nelson Miller is the Associate Dean and Professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus. He practiced civil litigation for 16 years before joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and filed amicus and party briefs in the United States Supreme Court. He has has many published books, casebooks, book chapters, book reviews, and articles on legal education, law practice, torts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, bioethics, and law history and philosophy. 

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Aaron V. Burrell: Rising to your Calling

Attorney Aaron Burrell of the Dickinson Wright law firm presented the keynote during WMU-Cooley Law School’s “Integrity in Our Communities” speaker series. Following his March 15 presentation, the law school honored him with the Integrity Award. The award is presented to legal professionals who demonstrate the highest integrity in their profession. LISTEN to or read below his talk entitled “Rising to your Calling.”

It was at Cooley that I first learned that the practice of law is more than just a job or a career.  When I decided to go to law school, I was uncertain of what kind of lawyer I wanted to be, the responsibilities of the lawyer, or what being a lawyer actually entailed.  I knew only a few things: that I wanted to seek an excellent legal education, that I wanted to provide for a future family, and that I wanted to make my family and my community proud.

When I arrived at Cooley 10 years ago, it became clear that what I was signing up for was not the chance for a good job, although that was part of it.  I realized almost immediately that becoming a lawyer is an all-encompassing transformation – the pursuit of a vocation that will intertwine itself into all aspects and areas of life.  It became quickly evident to me that the practice of law, in my estimation, is most appropriately considered a Calling – defined as a strong urge toward a particular way of life – as opposed to a career. It is almost as if becoming new person, one less interested in personal pursuits and more concerned with advancing the interests of others.

So the moment we are sworn in we assume the weight and responsibility exhaustively outlined in the lawyer’s oath; we begin a new journey, wherein our calling manifests itself in every aspect of our lives, including as a calling towards (1) the rule of law, (2) our clients, (3) our profession, and finally towards our community.

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So our first calling as lawyers is to the rule of law – which is why, not surprisingly, the first sentence of our oath mandates that we support the Constitution of the United States and the State of Michigan, and that we maintain respect to the courts of justice and judicial officers.

Our devotion to the rule of law must, therefore, take preeminent placement over and above every personal or individual interest.  I see our role as gatekeepers – ensuring both that the laws themselves are just – drafted to benefit the community upon which they govern and don’t arbitrarily identify a few selected beneficiaries; and that we also ensure that those laws are equally enforced, that no favorites are selected, and that every individual receives an equal chance in our courts.  Henry Ward Beecher said that a “law is valuable not because it is law, but because there is right in it.”  It is the lawyer’s job to ensure that every law ultimately has that “right in it.”

In everyday practice, this devotion manifests itself in a commitment to diligent research, ensuring fair and accurate interpretation of statutory and common law, and to ensuring that the parties and tribunal are appropriately apprised of the law.  In addition, I work to maintain candor with the Court – ensuring that I report honestly to the Court in all instances.

One of the most terrifying situations of my young career came at a moment when a client had failed to disclose all of the facts of a particular issue – and I in turn failed to report the full story to the Court.  If you were to describe the speed at which I worked to correct this situation as “lightning speed,” that would be an understatement.  Ultimately, the Court thoroughly appreciated my efforts to remedy the situation, and my client and I were able to achieve a good result through open and candid communication.

The rule of law is, quite honestly, paramount.  Jonathan Sacks declared that “true freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.” And Justice Sonia Sotomayor echoed that sentiment, observing that the rule of law is the “foundation for all of our basic rights.”

We as lawyers must constantly remind ourselves that we must rise first to our calling to protect the rule of law with every occasion, to build upon its footing with every statement of candor to the tribunal, to secure its foundations with every fair and impartial ruling, and to solidify its underpinnings by ensuring that all citizens who enter our courts experience genuine equality under the law.

Our second calling is our calling to our clients.  Since I began practicing, I have made it my goal to continually and routinely ensure that the interests of my clients enjoyed a paramount priority in my life.  Many lawyers I know are often exasperated by client demands and feel that meeting those demands can often become a hindrance – an inconvenience on personal obligations.  Although I have sometimes had to rearrange things in my personal life – I constantly remind myself that I signed up for this!  That becoming a lawyer wasn’t accepting a 9-5 position – that if I were to truly embrace the calling, I would ensure that I provided clients with excellent client service, and that I worked diligently to ensure that their needs were met.

One of the most renowned lawyers in our nation’s history, Abraham Lincoln, observed in his Notes for a Law Lecture, that the “leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence.  Leave nothing for tomorrow that which can be done today.”  I try to live each day under that mantra.

The lawyer must be responsive to client needs, attentive to client concerns, and must ensure that in everything he or she does, the lawyer is acting in the client’s best interest.

In my practice, I have seen the unfortunate warring that occurs between the lawyer’s personal concerns and the lawyer’s concerns for their clients – their individual interests, competing with the interests of the client.

Indeed, when I first received my business cards at Dickinson Wright, I did not have a full appreciation for what the term “attorney and counselor” meant on the card.  The “attorney” part I understood.  “Counselor” was then unknown to me.  But as time progressed, I began to see how important we are as “counselors” to clients.  And becoming that counselor often requires us to diminish our personal concerns so that we can increase the concerns of our client.

As a younger associate, I never really knew why we would settle a case or why we would proceed to a trial. I always assumed that the lawyers on both sides were doing what was best for their respective clients.  I later realized that on occasion principle would override reason, and, sometimes even worse, greed or personal interests may override virtue and true justice.  Where the parties should have settled a case, the case continued – not for any good reason – but for the purpose of either increasing fees or settling unreasonable vendettas.

Now that I am in the position to advise clients directly, I make a conscious, unequivocal effort to place the client’s concerns above my own – to advise them that settling a case is the most appropriate course of action, will most effectively advance their interests, and most expeditiously resolve the dispute, irrespective of any competing concern.  I also attempt to serve as their counselor, helping clients to understand that the anger and resentment that informed their decision-making early in the litigation must sometimes subside to achieve the best possible outcome for all involved.

That great lawyer Abraham Lincoln said that we as attorneys should “discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man.” He promised, and I know this to be true, that “There will still be business enough” with you serving in the role as peacemaker.

It is my goal to follow this position, and, in doing so, I hope to rise ever so slightly more toward our calling to our clients.

Our third calling is our calling to our profession.  It is often said that the practice of law is a “noble profession.”  But its nobility is only maintained through the daily efforts of those who work consistently to carry that mantle.

Our calling to our profession must begin with civility to one another.  In my limited years of practice, I have too often seen lawyers who, almost as a badge of honor, enjoy belittling and ridiculing opposing counsel.  I have seen lawyers who seemingly take pride in writing the most uncaring and spiteful communications to one another, as if to do so would garner some degree of strength or competitive advantage.

I have news for lawyers who believe that the more unkind and harsh you are the better you are performing – you are not.  In contrast, you are damaging yourself personally, your client’s position, and your profession as a whole.  These are the lawyers that make all the lawyer jokes true.  One of my favorite lawyer jokes, of course, is how many lawyer jokes are there?  The answer: only three.  The rest are true stories.

But by comparison, I admire those lawyers who go to great lengths to extend professional courtesy to one another: who will grant an extension when appropriate, who will offer the services of their office to another lawyer in need, who will embrace the bar’s call for collegiality.

These are the lawyers who will lead the bar, be examples to future generations of lawyers, and leave a strong legacy.  These lawyers aspire to our true “calling” to become peacemakers, mediators; calming the fires of disputes and not enraging them with our own malevolence.

Recently, I had an opportunity to represent a neurosurgeon in a matter.  The neurosurgeon was considering leaving his present practice for another practice.  He discussed the matter with his friend, another physician, who directed him to his brother in law – an attorney.  So the neurosurgeon called the attorney, showed him what was going on, and asked him a couple of questions.  The total interaction between the two individuals was approximately 10 minutes, the neurosurgeon thanked the lawyer for his time, they briefly discussed the brother-in-law’s family, and the neurosurgeon went on about his business, thought nothing of the conversation, and never acted on the substance of the discussion.

About a month later, the neurosurgeon received a bill from the attorney for nearly $600.  The neurosurgeon was puzzled, and inquired with the lawyer regarding why he received a bill. Keep in mind, the neurosurgeon never received an engagement letter, never received any correspondence from the lawyer, and never even knew what the lawyer’s hourly rate was.

Instead of the lawyer gently addressing the neurosurgeon’s concerns and attempting to work with him about the alleged attorney client relationship, the lawyer, the individual charged with the responsibility of absolving disputes and acting in the best interests of his apparent client and the public, began a nearly year-long campaign of harassing the neurosurgeon to recover the alleged $600 he was owed.  He then proceeded to file a lawsuit to recover these alleged fees.

Thankfully, I was able to tap into their collective cooler heads and bring this matter to a resolution.  Though as I sat in the courtroom, the court was hearing arraignments on the court’s television screen.  The first arraignment was for a young woman who remained incarcerated for contempt, primarily as a result of the inability to pay fees.  Most people paid little concern to these proceedings, but as I looked at my client, the neurosurgeon, I could see that he was quite moved by this young woman’s story.

After we put the settlement on the record, I shook the other lawyer’s hand and began to walk out of the court.  But as we approached the door, the neurosurgeon asked me, “Aaron, how do I pay for that young woman’s fees?”  I was understandably puzzled by this question – this neurosurgeon had to undergo nearly a year of torment from a lawyer who constantly hassled him regarding a $600 fee that many lawyers would have quickly written off.  Yet, not only did he no longer harbor any further ill will toward the lawyer – the neurosurgeon sought to pay a complete stranger’s fees, totaling an amount over the settlement we agreed to, to assist her in being released from incarceration.

I thought to myself: “what a remarkable instance of generosity.”  But I also thought more deeply: “which of these two individuals, the attorney or the neurosurgeon, most aptly exemplified the calling of the profession – to advance the cause of justice, to be a beacon of reconciliation and forgiveness?  It certainly was not the lawyer here; it was the neurosurgeon.

Lawyers should remain cognizant of their obligations to the profession.  Our actions in all regards can have an incredible impact on not only ourselves, but also how we are perceived by the public.  It is that obligation that will build the public’s trust in our profession and endear the public to us as a body.  We should routinely remind ourselves that the way we conduct ourselves, the way we approach situations, the way we delicately navigate often thorny circumstances reflects both on us, as well as our profession.

Finally, lawyers have a calling to our community, state, and nation.  Community, in my opinion, begins with ourselves.  We have an obligation to be our best selves, to be confident in our capabilities, and to become the best individuals we can be.  Your success as a lawyer is irrevocably tied to your own efforts, your own dedication to achieving higher heights, and your own commitment to becoming the best lawyer you can be.

Lawyers must then fulfill their calling to their families, knowing that all of the success in the world as a lawyer means nothing if you are regularly failing those who are most close to you.

Lawyers must lastly fulfill their calling to the society as a whole.  We are, by our very offices, leaders.  Without our prompting, people will look to us for direction, guidance, and counsel. It is incumbent upon us to rise to that calling and be the true embodiment of what it means to be a lawyer.

Drawing back on Abraham Lincoln, he once noted that harboring individual drive and desires is okay, but it may be a good idea to have aspirations beyond that.  He said that “every man is said to have his own peculiar ambition.”  But as for him, “he had none other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”  (emphasis added).

We must, in all our actions, remember that we are working toward the lofty calling and vocation inherent in the law.  Are we perfect?  By no means. And we should accept the human fault present in all of us.  But as lawyers we are held to a higher standard, and we should work diligently to reach that standard.

Every morning as I sit at my desk, I say an affirmation from the lawyer, St. Thomas More, wherein he asked every day to be “trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, [and] ever attentive to conscious.”

He then asks that people around him find “friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duty, counsel in adversity, [and] patience in pain.”

That is the hallmark of the calling.  Working one day at a time towards the goal; seeking every day to rise just a little bit higher to the calling of the practice of law.

Thank you very much again for your time and for this wonderful honor.  I certainly appreciate it.

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