Lawyers Journal

On the stump

The young people who may be the future of our profession

As reported in the last issue of Lawyers Journal, I was privileged to welcome the participants, families and guests at the state finals of the MBA high school Mock Trial Competition at Faneuil Hall on March 23. Given the grand history of Faneuil Hall and the luminaries who argued and orated in the Hall's early days, John Adams in particular, it was fitting that the high school state finalists competed in that venue.

Kudos to Josh McGuire and all the members of his Mock Trial Committee for superb work developing the case the students argued and working with the teachers and coaches of the more than 100 high school teams who competed. Josh McGuire is, as he told all assembled, a proud product of the Mock Trial Program, participating as a teenager, ultimately becoming a lawyer, and now serving as chair of the MBA's Mock Trial Committee.

The two finalist teams, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School and Marshfield High School, were well-coached and well-prepared. As merely an observer, I had no say in the scoring, but I did keep track in my own way. I confess it would have been very difficult for me to decide between the two teams. The quality of the witness examination and cross-examination, as well as opening statements and closing arguments, was at a very high level.
Presiding Judge Barbara Savitt-Pearson (judge at the Lowell District Court) observed after the case concluded that many practicing attorneys could learn from the high school students' performances. I would take her comments a step further: All attorneys could learn from these students' fine performances. The students' presentations were uniformly on point, succinct, polite and persuasive -- in short, the hallmarks of effective advocacy. Notably, the students also demonstrated a good sense of when not to say anything, another hallmark of effective advocacy.

Reflecting on this uplifting experience while driving back to my North Shore office, I wondered about the opportunities for these young people were they to choose our profession, as Josh McGuire did. I have long believed, as I was told when I was contemplating law school, that our profession always has room for more good lawyers. I now wonder -- as I suggest we all should -- whether that still is so, given the large number of talented recent graduates without legal employment. We owe it to these young people and our profession to make sure there are opportunities for more good lawyers.

And I would pose the following question: Why are not all lawyers as well-prepared as these high school students were? If we are honest about our profession, we know that too often, some in our profession are not as prepared as they should be.

These young people from Pioneer Valley and Marshfield, and others like them, are the future of our profession. What kind of profession will they join? In large part, that is up to us. One of the things we can ensure is that we promote professionalism in all respects, as a given. That means civil, effective communication among lawyers. That means more experienced lawyers being generous with their time and mentoring less experienced lawyers. That means judges and lawyers demanding of themselves and each other a high level of professionalism and preparation.

I recall the admonition of now-retired Superior Court Justice John Ronan, when he was regional administrative justice for Essex Superior Court, at the inception of the conciliation program developed shortly after time standards were enacted in 1988. Justice Ronan was concerned that lawyers treat the conciliation process seriously. Therefore, he demanded that the conciliation notice contain a statement in substance that a high level of preparation for conciliation was expected and required by the court. Perhaps, like that conciliation notice, we have to be a bit more direct in our insistence on preparation and professionalism.

When we appear in court, regardless of the matter, we are on display for all who are there to see, hear and comment on. We owe it to our clients, ourselves, our colleagues in the profession, the court and the society we serve, to be the best we can be, each and every time we appear.

At Faneuil Hall, I saw a bright future in the energized, competent performances of the students from Pioneer Valley and Marshfield. Our profession would do well to emulate those performances, each and every day, regardless of our practice areas. What I witnessed on that March day is cause for celebration and optimism for the future of our profession and society. By any measure, that is a pretty good day.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association