By Jenny WhalenAug. 30, 2014
Starting one's legal education with a public pledge to uphold the principles of honor and integrity is a significant act, but it is the actions that follow that truly define an individual's character in the legal profession, Michigan State Supreme Court Justice Bridget Mary McCormack told first-year students Aug. 29.
"The commitment you make here today will be your first professional pledge," said McCormack, who led students in the integrity ceremony that has been a part of Michigan Law's orientation program since 2009. "It serves two purposes. We will publicly promise to be honorable professionals and our public confirmation will raise the stakes. The second purpose in today's commitment is deeply personal. We are committing ourselves to abide by the terms of our promises."
In part using the words of Michigan Law benefactor William W. Cook, whose bequest built the Law Quad, the pledge reminds students that the future of the country is, in many ways, tied to the integrity of the legal profession.
To reinforce the point, each student at the ceremony receives a hardback copy of the U.S. Constitution, thanks to the generosity of 1959 graduate John Butler Schwemm.
McCormack, who is also a lecturer at Michigan Law and former associate dean for clinical affairs, compared the commitment to integrity to the pledge practicing lawyers take before beginning their professional careers.
"The oath you take three years from now will seem familiar and will mark the start of your legal career," she said. "You will promise to act honorably and with integrity toward each other and everyone else. And, like the pledge you made three years ago, these promises are self-enforcing."
While some aspects of the oath are more susceptible to measurement, McCormack said many are subjective, and conformity with them is more difficult to discern.
"Only you know that you abide by them and abide by them fully," she reminded. "Certainly failure to try your hardest is not something that carries professional sanctions, but fully living up to the principles of honesty, integrity, and other tenants of the oath are self important."
And so starting one's legal education with a version of these promises is wise, McCormack said. "These promises are wholly in your control, as is your measure of them," she added. "Return from time-to-time to the commitment you make here today."
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