Eric Gerard 2014-07-01 01:35:33
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE AND MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME COURT; MADAME PRESIDING JUDGE AND MEMBERS OF THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS; the Board of Law Examiners; and the countless other distinguished guests here with us: Please accept our sincerest thanks for sharing in this ceremony, which marks, for many here this morning, the transformation from layperson to lawyer. While our place here is largely a product of years of hard work and determination, it is not all our own doing. Many others have sacrificed to get us to this point, and, second only to taking the oath of office at the end of this ceremony, the most important thing we can do today is thank them for all they’ve done to help us reach this defining moment. For my part, I’d first like to thank that nameless software developer at Barbri who made it possible to watch those excruciating lectures online at one-and-a-half times their natural speed. Whoever you are, wherever you may be, without your foresight and skill, I would never have been able to get through two of those things a day during my time off in February and thus surely would not be here this morning. Second, and more seriously, I’d like to thank Bruce Oakley, who made the trip to Austin this morning with his lovely wife, Jennifer. Bruce is a former judge, a fine lawyer, and an even finer human being. Bruce also happens to be the managing partner of the Houston office of Hogan Lovells, which I joined last summer, so I have to tread carefully here or I may end up with an “urgent” doc review project this coming weekend. It’s safe to say, however, that Bruce has become a mentor both in the law and in life since my wife and I moved to Texas, for which I am deeply grateful. Thank you, Bruce, for your guidance, your wisdom, and your friendship. Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to thank my beautiful wife, Vanessa, the inspiration of both all my success and my joy. While meeting you was the greatest gift I could ever receive, marrying you was the greatest achievement to which I could ever aspire, and the only one that really matters at the end of the day. Those are the people who put me behind this podium. Think about the folks who saved your seat here today. And don’t go to sleep tonight until you’ve thanked them for all they did to help get you here. Let me suggest you think about something else as well: Find a few moments in the days ahead to reflect on what it really means to become a member of the bar. In Britain, from which our common law tradition derives, they describe the process by which a barrister is admitted to practice as being “called to the bar”—the bar being the physical barrier between the gallery, where the spectators sit, and the business end of the court where the real action occurs. I like this phrase, being “called to the bar,” because it suggests a communal ritual, a summoning of sorts. I can imagine a group of elders gathered in the well of a courtroom, whispering amongst themselves, luminaries of the bar both living and long passed, stretching back across the centuries. Suddenly, they spot a group of newcomers arriving, stepping warily through the courthouse doors. They size these newcomers up, looking them up and down. They beckon them over, weighing their character, their skill. They confer, considering each prospect’s fitness and potential. Then, and only then, when these new arrivals are deemed worthy, they are invited over the threshold, into that exclusive fraternity on the other side of the bar. When that happens, it is a transformative moment. This new generation becomes the next link in a chain that began with the first inklings of our democracy and continues to the present. They join a lineage extending from ancient Rome through the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights to Brown v. Board, up until today. They take up the flag for the one profession charged with doing what is just, with organizing our entire society and economy to honor our social contract while at the same time preserving the individual rights upon which our freedoms depend. That, in my mind, is what it means to become a member of the bar. That is what it means to take the oath of office and enter the practice of law. I was first called to the bar a few years ago in New York, where I started as a prosecutor right after law school. Some nights, as I was leaving my office in downtown Manhattan and walking across Foley Square to the subway, I would stop at the steps of that magnificent courthouse that has served as the backdrop of so many movies and Law & Order episodes. I would stare at the words etched in granite across the front of its famous portico, words drawn in substance from a letter from newly inaugurated President George Washington to our nation’s first attorney general: “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” And I realized that that short declaration captures perfectly what brought me to the bar to begin with, and what has only been reinforced in my few years of practice since. Those words tell me this: Being called to the bar is an immense privilege. It is a privilege not because of the power it conveys, the prestige it bestows, or the prosperity it may bring. Being called to the bar is a privilege because it roots us in a historical tradition dating back generations, spanning presidents and statesmen, legislators and business leaders, jurists and advocates, who represent the best of our country’s past. Today, we have all been deemed worthy. We have all passed that threshold and joined the ranks of those illustrious forebears before us. We become part of that pillar that President Washington considered the most critical support for our government, part of a history that is nothing less than the history of our democracy. And while the next page in that history has yet to be written, I am thrilled by its promise and honored to be among you today to mark its beginning. Congratulations to you all—and I’ll see you at the bar.
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