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A lawyer’s meaningful work can bring “great joy” to the practice of law, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis told the graduates of The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
Theis delivered her comments as the speaker at the 195th commencement ceremonies May 19, 2013, in which the law school awarded 295 JD degrees, 27 LLM degrees and seven MS degrees. Theis was awarded an honorary degree during the ceremony.
“As you cite-check and proofread, it’s very tough to see what those tasks have to do with doing justice,” Theis said. “But I urge you to seek meaning in your work. If you do that you will find great joy in our wonderful profession.”
Theis reminded graduates the lessons learned and skills acquired as law students will transfer to their professional work as lawyers, and they will understand the gravity of maintaining integrity in the profession, as well as what it means to be a John Marshall graduate.
“Today, you become part of the larger John Marshall Law School community, and for that you are very fortunate, because (John Marshall) has a very important tradition in our legal community.”
Theis encouraged the graduates to remember what inspired them to pursue a career in the legal profession. “I suspect that some of you wanted to work for justice. You knew you wanted to take your talent and skills and make this world a better place.”
She offered three tenets for graduates to follow: competency, civility and service.
The law is a scholarly profession. “Graduating law school is not the end of your studies,” she said. “You will need to continue to learn for the rest of your life in the law.”
Civility is essential to one’s professional role: “Rudeness and personal attacks don’t win cases. Incivility is not just bad manners, it’s bad lawyering. Civility is based on respect for the court, for your opponent, for your client, for yourself and for the rule of law.”
Theis advised graduates to provide optimum service to clients. “It’s not about us, it’s about them. Always, always, the client’s interests come first.”
A lawyer’s work is much more than providing a product for a client. Theis likened lawyering to a helping profession, because “we take the lives of our clients in our hands, as surely as any doctor does,” she said.
Theis noted her father, the late Kenneth Wendt (JD ’45), learned the value of public service while a student at John Marshall. He went on to be a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County. She applauded the law school which she said has stood for excellence in legal education and a genuine commitment to diversity.
“Now it is your turn to take your place in the John Marshall Law School tradition,” Theis said.