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Life as a Lawyer: The Swearing In Ceremony

Life as a Lawyer: The Swearing In Ceremony

Friday I was sworn in to the Massachusetts Bar as a real attorney. This was the final step in a very long journey, and by far the most fun.

Surprisingly, it turns out that not all swearing in ceremonies are created equal. Of the ceremonies I have heard about or attended, there is an air of solemn formality punctured with a few quips about being over the death hurdle known as the bar exam. Since the swearing in is an official function of the court, it is usually in a courthouse and presided over by one or a panel of judges. I attended a swearing in ceremony in DC last year and it was impressive. We were in the largest courtroom in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and we all rose as the full panel of 9 justices came sweeping into the courtroom to preside over the administration of oaths for the new attorneys being sworn in that day.

The Massachusetts ceremony was not like that.

Rather than being sworn in at the courthouse, my swearing in ceremony took place in the upper assembly room of historic Faneuil Hall. The bar candidates had to wait outside in bitter cold while all of the guests were seated first, and then we entered through the main doors of the building where Revolutionary patriots like Sam and John Adams held meetings to discuss the Stamp Act, the Boston Massacre, and the “tea crisis”, which discussion ultimately led to the Boston Tea Party.

In other words, I became an attorney in the place known as the “Cradle of Liberty”.

One of my fellow first year colleagues told me that I would understand why Massachusetts thinks it’s the greatest state in the country once I attended the ceremony. She was right. It’s hard not to be overwhelmingly impressed when I’m sitting there staring at paintings of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, John Hancock, and the like, about to take the same oath many of them took to uphold the Constitution of the United States, in the very building where that country was born.

 The view from my seat. The big painting in the middle is of Daniel Webster fighting for states' rights in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The view from my seat. The big painting in the middle is of Daniel Webster fighting for states' rights in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Aside from the historical significance of the venue, the ceremony itself was just fun. The Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was absolutely hilarious – a Bostonian through and through, she could cut to the chase, throw a dig at her neighbors in Maine, and go off on a tangent about how the sunlight reflecting off her ring kept blinding the people in the upper balcony, all without ever saying a real “r” or lessening in any way the importance and significance of the event itself.

For some reason, I didn’t think the swearing in would be that big of a deal, maybe because the email they sent out told us when and where to show up and that we would get more information once we got there. Maybe it was also because there was nothing I really had to do for this step of the process. All the hard stuff (school, graduation, the bar application, the bar exam) was over – the swearing in was nothing more than a mere formality standing between me and an email signature that didn’t have to read “Law Clerk – Bar Application Pending”.

However, it was so much more than that. Just like at graduation, tears started to fill my eyes when the Clerk asked us to stand and take the official oaths of an attorney, and I realized that this was actually a very historic moment for me. I was also so glad that my mother was there to celebrate it with me. I almost didn’t invite any family to come out, but in that hall and at that moment, I was so glad she was there.

The official process of becoming an attorney began by calling the court to order. Since the swearing in is an official court proceeding, and since we weren’t in the courthouse, they had to make the event an official function of the Court. So the deputies came in and did the “All Rise, All Rise” thing, at which point we all rose while Associate Justice Frank Gaziano of the Supreme Judicial Court entered the room to preside over the proceedings. A member of the Board of Bar Examiners then made a motion to the Judge to have us admitted to the Bar, which he approved (followed by a quick “Don’t get used to that.”). At that point the Clerk had the candidates rise to take 3 oaths:

1)    To uphold the Constitution of Massachusetts

2)    To uphold the Constitution of the United States (notice the MA Constitution came first)

3)    The Attorney’s Oath (apparently the oldest in the country, of course)

 

After we took the requisite oaths, we next had to sign the roll. The roll is actually an official ledger of handwritten signatures of all the attorneys in the state of Massachusetts. Although you are officially an attorney once you take the oaths, the signature is the proof that you took them. If an attorney ever gets disbarred, the Clerk pulls that attorney’s signature from the ledger and physically draws a line through it, thereby striking the attorney from the rolls of the Court.

 On my way to go sign the roll.

On my way to go sign the roll.

 Me in line to sign the roll.

Me in line to sign the roll.

Once you sign the roll, the final (although not required) step is to receive your certificate from the Court. You wait patiently in line until you hear “Counselor Rider?”, and then you go up to receive the certificate. In Massachusetts, they will allow a family member to present the certificate to you, so my mom was the one who actually handed me the certificate. It’s fairly informal, and certainly not required, but it just added an extra touch that made the whole thing that much more memorable.

 Me and my mom, just after she presented me with my certificate.

Me and my mom, just after she presented me with my certificate.

While all of this was happening, instrumental versions of Sinatra classics were playing over the speakers and there was a party-like environment as people took pictures and families congratulated one another. Like I said, Massachusetts is fun.

Just before the official proceedings took place, the Clerk of the Court gave us some final pieces of advice as we went off to begin our new legal careers. It was a good reminder to me of what I’m about to go do with my life, so I will leave them here as my final words to this blog post:

  • Always remember from whence you came. Remember that, but for the gifts of intellect, perseverance, and the people supporting you, there is no way you would be joining the oldest bar of continuous existence (her words) in the country.
  • Don’t measure your success by your annual salary, but by who you are.
  • Don’t perceive yourselves as hired guns, but as peacemakers.
  • Remember to lighten up. Lawyers are very serious people. You went through a lot of hoops to get here, and you will make a difference in other people’s lives. But remember – life isn’t just about the front pages; it’s about the comics too.
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