This morning I had the privilege of speaking to the mass swearing in of new lawyers in Atlanta. Here’s a link to the video and, slightly different, what I had planned to say:
Bar Admission Ceremony
Fulton County Courthouse
December 3, 2010
Good morning. I’m Ken Shigley, president-elect of the State Bar of Georgia.
On behalf of 42,000 members of the Georgia Bar, welcome to the profession you have invested so much time, effort, student loans and parents’ money to enter during this Great Recession.
All Georgia lawyers are members of the State Bar, through which our profession governs itself. I urge you to take advantage of the networking and growth opportunities in the Younger Lawyers Division and 43 practice area sections.
Of immediate interest, you get free computerized legal research as a member benefit, now Casemaker, switching to Fastcase next month.
I want to make 3 points.
1. See your profession as a high calling.
2. View admission to the bar as the beginning of a lifetime of learning.
3. Keep balance in your life.
Few careers offer as much potential for meaningful service as law. Most of us started law school with a spark of idealism and optimism. That is tempered by experience, but rather than sinking into cynicism, cultivate a mature sense of high calling. That may lead you in amazing paths you cannot now imagine.
The Rules of Professional Conduct and professionalism standards are necessary guides, but no substitute for character. Build upon the moral lessons from your families, scoutmasters and clergy.
Remember that our biggest mistakes are mathematical. We miscalculate the brevity of life and the length of eternity. Explore how your own faith tradition relates to your role as a lawyer.
Embrace your opportunities to work with hurting people, and to be a problem solver rather than just a gladiator.
Explore the classic virtues: prudence, fortitude, justice, temperance, faith, hope & love.
Second, lifelong learning.
Law schools teach law as an academic discipline but don’t teach you how to practice law.
Admission to the bar is just a starting point for that.
You will make mistakes. We all do. Don’t be afraid to recognize your daily mistakes and learn from them.
Many of the best minds in the profession are at your disposal, so seek out good mentors and be aggressive about continuing education. The Bar’s Transition to Practice mentoring program and mandatory CLE are minimums for licensing. You must go far beyond that to excel.
You are entering the legal profession at an extraordinary time. Technology, economic stress, and global market forces will produce more change in our profession in the next decade than in the past century. You will see new business models for law practice, international outsourcing of legal work, and billing structures that create incentives for efficiency. The billable hour will cease to be the norm for law firms.
You need core competencies that law schools do not teach – in communication, strategy, quantitative skills, cross-cultural work, project management and leadership.
You must continually master new knowledge – including science and technology –in the subject matter of your legal work.
If you are able to surf the wave of change, you can do very well, developing innovations I can’t foresee. If you do not continue learning, you will be toast.
In a study of clinical depression in 104 occupational groups, lawyers were #1. 13% of lawyers consume 6 or more alcoholic drinks per day. Mental health and substance abuse issues are present in most lawyer discipline cases.
The State Bar has a Lawyers Assistance Program for lawyers who get on that slippery slope, but prevention is better than treatment.
Be your brother’s and sister’s keeper. If you have a colleague who has a substance abuse problem, contact the Lawyers Assistance Program to arrange an intervention. I wish I had done that for one of my buddies from high school days, whose drinking impaired his judgment. He plead guilty to a felony and was disbarred.
So put the daily grind of work and the economic distress in a larger context, cultivate that sense of calling.
At the risk of sounding like your mom, eat right and get enough sleep and exercise to maintain physical and mental health. If you neglect that over time, the long hours and stress of law practice can be deadly.
Maintain healthy interests outside the law. A weekend camping in wilderness lowers my blood pressure about 20 points.
Keep room in your life for the people you love. No success at work is worth failure at home. At the end of this earthly sojourn, you won’t regret time spent with your family rather than at the office.
So, view law as a calling, keep learning, and keep a healthy balance in your life.
And if you know someone who is run over by a tractor trailer, call me. With two kids in college, I need to make a living too. We can both do well.
God bless you all.
Ken Shigley, author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice , is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. He practices law at the Atlanta law firm of Chambers, Aholt & Rickard, and has broad experience in catastrophic personal injury, spinal cord injury, wrongful death, products liability, brain injury and burn injury cases. He is also president-elect of the State Bar of Georgia. Ken and Sally Shigley have been married 27 years and are proud parents of Anne Shigley and Ken Shigley, Jr. This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.