Expectations for the Next Generation of Our Profession

This month, I will enjoy one of the greatest privileges that I have in serving as president of your association, which is to move the admittance of new lawyers to practice before the Tennessee Supreme Court. During the same ceremony, I am also given the opportunity to impart some words of wisdom to the newest members of our profession, which I take very seriously as I remember the words that were spoken to me during such important events in my life.

As I contemplated what was important for these new lawyers to know, I kept coming back to one central theme. I want to inspire these new lawyers to conduct themselves in such a way that they will bring honor to and enhance the reputation of the profession. Too often these days, we treat our services as lawyers as just another product to hawk through cheesy advertisements instead of as a key component of an effective justice system for our communities, state and nation.

In thinking about how I could motivate this next generation of lawyers to strive for this type of professionalism, I looked around me for inspiration. That inspiration ultimately did not come from a lawyer but rather from my son’s fourth grade teacher, Mr. Cox. Although I did not know Mr. Cox prior to this school year, I knew that he enjoyed an excellent reputation as a teacher. What I did not know, but would soon come to realize, is that this reputation resulted not only from his ability to impart knowledge to his students but also from something far greater: It came also from an uncanny ability to motivate his students to take pride in themselves and their work. I have come to believe that Mr. Cox so successfully motivates his students by having great expectations of them. From the moment students enter his classroom, Mr. Cox begins to tell them how exceptional they are in both ability to learn and conduct, and he informs them that they will be leaders in the school. The students’ collective response is to go to work trying to be excellent students and leaders. In fact, this technique is so effective that he is able to make many of the projects that would be mandatory in other classes optional, while still enjoying high levels of participation. The benefit to this technique is that students are participating out of a love of learning and a desire to excel, instead of out of obligation where they are doing just enough to “get the grade.”

The lesson that I have learned from Mr. Cox’s example is that the key to instilling professionalism in the next generation of lawyers is to set high expectations for them and instill in them a respect for our profession and the privilege of practicing law.

It will certainly be no stretch for me to tell these newest members of our profession that they are some of the best and brightest in our state, given that they have successfully completed seven years of post-secondary education and passed a grueling bar exam. Many have been leaders in their law schools and their communities. Most are entering the profession with a desire to make the world a better place through their practices. They expect to be part of an honorable and respected profession. The question is how to encourage them to retain those dreams and ideals when facing the realities of day-to-day law practice.

As those of us who are seasoned attorneys know, opposing counsel do not always conduct themselves professionally. They may be personally difficult and fail to play by the rules. We know that the results in our cases are not always just, despite our diligent representation of our clients. In fact, sometimes there is simply no legal remedy available to right a serious wrong. Frankly, there are days when we have all wondered why we chose this profession.

On those days, the key is to remember that there would have been difficult days and difficult people in any job or profession that we chose, and we would have certainly encountered some type of injustice; however, in few of those other jobs or professions could we have had the opportunity to provide services that have a positive, life-altering impact on those around us as we do in the legal profession. Of course, with such a privilege also comes a serious responsibility.

As lawyers, we have the ability to change the world and likewise the responsibility to do so; thus, these are my expectations for our newest lawyers. Above all, I expect these new lawyers to bring honor to our profession through their conduct. Regardless of how opposing counsel may behave or whether they agree with a particular ruling of the court, they are to be courteous and respectful. I also expect them to be leaders in their communities, state and nation by serving as mayors, school board members, members of charitable boards, judges, state and federal legislators, and the like. I expect them to perform pro bono work, so that our citizens have confidence that the legal system is open to all. Additionally, I expect them to be active in bar association activities so that their talents may be combined with those of other attorneys across the state. We must always remember that “Together, We Make a Difference!”


Cindy Wyrick TBA President CINDY WYRICK practices law with Ogle, Gass & Richardson PC in Sevierville.