A federal judge urged future lawyers to build reputations that will bring honor to themselves and to the bar during Samford University's Cumberland School of Law graduation Saturday, May 16.
"Everything that you do has the potential to be a defining part of the reputation that you will build," cautioned Susan Webber Wright, U.S. District Judge, Little Rock, Ark., adding that being a lawyer has duties and privileges like no other profession.
"You want to have the reputation of the honest, diligent lawyer, the advocate who plays an indispensable role in the administration of justice and the business of our institutions, both public and private," she said. "You want to avoid the attributes that make lawyer jokes funny."
Cumberland's juris doctor degree candidates included 158 men and women from 11 states. The received their degrees during an afternoon ceremony in Wright Center Concert Hall.
Carin Brown of Niceville, Fla., and Larry Young of Buford, Ga., were named co-winners of this year's Daniel Austin Brewer Professionalism Award. The honor recognizes a member of the senior class who best exemplifies attributes of professionalism that lawyers are expected to exhibit in practice.
In offering tips for developing honorable reputations, Webber suggested: demonstrate trustworthiness and do what you say you will do, keep clients informed, respect the Court, try to handle problems with other lawyers with tact, be prepared and competent, consider the long-term consequences of decisions, and be a part of professional groups as well as non-legal activities.
Volunteering with a school, church, or an arts or sports organization, she said, will not only offer relief from work stress, "but will allow others to get to know you as an individual instead of as the lawyer they might read about.
"After all, your law practice might require you to take on unpopular persons or causes," said Webber, whose judicial service has involved such high profile cases as the Whitewater scandal and Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton.
Wright said that a person's reputation, whether good or bad, develops over time and is based on many occurrences.
Underscoring that all actions contribute to a person's reputation, she described a feather pillow which may unexpectedly break, causing the feathers to spread about with the wind. "Try as you may, you can never retrieve all of t hose feathers; they will remain in circulation for the rest of your life and beyond."
Cumberland Class of 2009 president Alan Scott Kirk of Birmingham spoke a farewell to classmates, calling their graduation day a new beginning. "Commencement is the initial stage of a developmental process," he said.