With a soft spring rain falling on the historic front campus of Washington and Lee University on Saturday, May 5, W&L's School of Law celebrated the completion of its 163rd year by awarding juris doctor degrees to 129 graduates.
If any of those graduates were having second thoughts about their career choice, then Linda Klein, a practicing attorney and chair of the American Bar Association's House of Delegates, assured them that they had chosen well.
"One of the best choices you ever made is why you are sitting here today. You chose to become a lawyer," said Klein, a 1983 graduate of W&L's School of Law. "I promise you that's true, even if you find yourself doubting it some days. The law is vital. Everyone needs access to the law. Indeed, knowing the law is how we make the right choices."
Klein is managing shareholder of the Georgia offices of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz P.C. In her role as chair of the A.B.A.'s House of Delegates, she presides over the policy-making body of the largest voluntary-membership professional organization in the world.
Klein encouraged the graduates to work as hard for their clients as they had during their law studies.
"You know what hard work is because you survived this law school. Don't stop now," she said. "Choose to do your best on every assignment — pro bono, small cases, your clients, clients of your colleagues — just always do your best. The problem you're solving is the most important thing to your client. Your reputation, our profession's reputation, the community's reputation, could be at stake. Once your reputation is lost, it's nearly impossible to find it again."
Klein warned them not to yield to the temptation to make bad choices. When times are tough, she said, there are legions of people eager to take advantage.
"They will tempt you with easy wins, easy promotions and easy money, perhaps when you need it most. What they ask of you will seem so simple, yet so lucrative. How many times have you heard, 'If it's too good to be true, it's probably not true?' Every day in your law practice, you will have the opportunity to make a bad choice," she said. "Making the good choice is often harder at first, but in the long run it's easier. When you make a good choice, you will not have the stress associated with regret and guilt that's going to follow you."
She encouraged the graduates to exhibit the professionalism that has always been a hallmark of law graduates from Washington and Lee. "You act on behalf of all of us," she said. "Our culture is too precious to sacrifice."
Klein also exhorted the graduates to use their roles to make a difference, not just to make money.
"While our profession is a pretty good one for making a dollar, it's also the best profession I know for making a difference, which is a lot harder and worth every effort," she said. "So dream big as you usher in the generation that follows you here, and come back to tell about your big moment of choice and tell them how proud you are to have had an education here, how much it means to you. I know how much it means to me."
In his remarks to the graduates, Mark Grunewald, interim dean of the School of Law, noted that they represented the first class in which every member had completed W&L's innovative third-year curriculum, which has gained national recognition.
"Each of you had the opportunity to take important steps in law school that put you much closer to the professional world that you are about to enter," said Grunewald. "Each of you gained a real understanding of the complex professional roles lawyers played; gained confidence not from having mastered the roles that take years of practice to perfect, but from having experienced the process; and gained, perhaps most important, a beginning sense of what it means to exercise professional judgment."
The John W. Davis Prize for Law, awarded to the graduating student with the highest cumulative grade point average, went to Avalon Johan Frey, of Charlottesville, Va.
School of Law Director of Communications
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs