The Texas Supreme Court and State Bar of Texas welcomed newly licensed attorneys at the New Lawyer Induction ceremony November 19 at the Frank Irwin Center in Austin.
Members of the Texas’ highest courts, deans from the state’s law schools, State Bar and Texas Board of Law Examiners officials, and friends and family watched as hundreds of law school graduates took the Lawyer’s Oath Monday morning.
State Bar of Texas President Joe K. Longley congratulated the freshman lawyers, telling them they are now part of an institution dedicated to providing leadership and pro bono opportunities and advancing the rule of law through equal access to justice. The power granted to them by their law license, he said, is a vast one that should not be abused.
As an example of that power, Longley told a story involving well-known atheist and activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who was arrested and jailed in San Antonio. She relied on help from American Civil Liberties Union attorney and former Texas Representative Maury Maverick Jr.
“Upon Maury Maverick Jr. making his appearance, Madalyn Murray O’Hair quickly exclaimed, ‘Maury, thank God you’re here,’ and as a result, you have a demonstration of what this piece of paper—the power that it gives to you,” he said.
Longley left the new attorneys with two pieces of advice: The oath they took goes beyond business hours and sticks with them for the rest of their lives, and reputations—which can easily be lost because of negligence or recklessness—must be protected.
Sally Pretorius, president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, echoed Longley’s remarks, reminding graduates that their reputations precede them. She also gave them advice on taking advantage of misconceptions about new lawyers:
“I think that being underestimated is one of our biggest strengths as young attorneys,” Pretorius said. “Nobody expects us to show up and know what we’re doing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up for a hearing and won against a 30-year board-certified attorney because I was more prepared. I’d taken the time to search Facebook for that one piece of evidence that was going to win a family law case. Or taken the time to get to know my client’s story because I am a young attorney and I have a little bit more time.”
She also gave practical advice on taking care of health and temperament, encouraging new lawyers to do simple things like go outside for lunch or go for a walk to Starbucks for coffee. On handling stress and anger at work:
“Type that angry email, then hit delete, and re-type again a couple minutes later, Pretorius said. “That angry email—it’s going to exist for a long time.”
The Bar Exam’s high scorer, Baylor Law School graduate Stephen Burbank, gave a light-hearted and humble speech, acknowledging the only separation between him and the rest of the graduates was “just a couple points on a test.”
He told the new lawyers how he prepared for his speech, looking back at those by previous high scorers. The format, Burbank said, seemed to be a joke on being nervous in front of crowds, thanking people who helped along the way, and words of wisdom. He then told a joke of his own.
“What is the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer? A bad lawyer can let a case drag on for several years. A good lawyer can make it last even longer.”
Burbank then thanked his wife, parents, in-laws, relatives, friends from Baylor, Judge Alan Albright (for whom he clerked), and his co-clerks before congratulating everyone who passed the Bar Exam.
“Let’s go out and show everyone how awesome Texas lawyers can be,” he said.
Before Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht administered the oath, he told the graduates that in raising their hands, they swear to support the U.S. and Texas constitutions, to honestly demean themselves in practice, to discharge their duties to clients to the best of their abilities, and to conduct themselves with integrity and civility.
“From this day forward, you are the voice and the instrument for the rule of law,” he said. “You therefore have a special responsibility not only to whom you represent but to our profession and our great experiment in democracy.”