Upon My Honor

On August 20th, Albany Law School 1L’s filtered into our largest moot courtroom, the nervous excitement of the first week still lingering.  Standing before them was Northern District of New York Magistrate Judge, the Honorable Randolph Treece. With Dean Thomas Guernsey at his side, Judge Treece spoke about values like “honesty” and “integrity.”  The student’s listened as the weight of each word brought “professionalism” into balance with the privilege of studying law. 

 Two hundred fifty-five students then stood in unison and made the following pledge:

“…I promise to do my utmost to live up to the high ideals of the legal profession and to uphold the highest standards of academic honesty and ethical practice throughout my legal training and the remainder of my professional life. I will conduct myself with dignity and civility and will treat all of my colleagues; students, staff, and faculty with courtesy and respect. I commit to conduct my academic, professional and personal life to honor the values and standards that are expressed in the Albany Law School Student Handbook and shared by the legal profession.

This pledge I take freely and upon my honor.”

 This pledge was part of Albany Law School’s Professionalism Day conducted during orientation.  It was our way of reminding eager minds that the cultivation of their professional identity starts immediately, and from now on, they must think confidently yet carefully about there every action.  The values of the legal profession are not mere thoughts that can be exercised as needed; they are principles that must be practiced and conformed to.

Judith Wegner has made the observation that students are often told to think “like lawyers” and to assume the role of “lawyers,” but are traditionally given very little guidance as to what responsibilities and values are associated with these actions. Learning to act like a lawyer should not wait until a 2nd or 3rd year ethics class, it should start at orientation. Hopefully, this experience provided Albany Law’s newest students with a context and incentive to begin developing their professional identities.

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2 Responses

  1. I think it admirable that the students are asked to voice the oath at the inception of their law school education. However, the message must be reiterated throughout the law school curriculum and be reflected in the way students are taught the lawyers role in acheiving just results. The real issue for legal education is how to inculcate the values expressed during law school and to work with the practicing bar to assure the continued reinforcement in practice.

  2. AGREED! Students will watch not only what we do at the beginning and end of their three years but what we do every day in the classroom. Every time we gloss over ethical issues that arise in cases or laugh along with a student’ attempt to be more “brilliant” than professional, we undermine any orientation or oaths or ceremonies.
    Similarly how we handle student discipline, honor codes etc prepares the way for the students’ understanding of professional codes.

    I will say in Albany Law’s case, we are working on streamlining this commitment made at first year orientation. For example, the beginning of each semester, the clinic has a professionalism orientation which also results in a swearing into the limited supervised practice of law. Hopefully, as we continue to work each day on professionalism issues with our students we confirm and affirm the daily commitment to flesh out those issues and live up to those standards.

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