Justice Burke’s Recent Remarks on Professionalism

Justice Anne M. Burke

Justice Anne M. Burke

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that “the only way to have a friend is to be a friend.” This simple, yet powerful guiding principle has shaped my life. As I have realized countless times throughout my own experiences, when we become a friend to someone in need, we change the world.

Becoming a lawyer has also changed my life. And as I look back, I see that Emerson’s wise words – “the only way to have a friend is to be a friend”- have also shaped my legal career in a profound way.

Being a lawyer is a life choice. It cannot be turned on and off, as you might in some other profession or occupation. It is an enduring commitment, a “twenty-four/seven” privilege.

The privilege of practicing law brings us to the front lines of the most critical issues of the day. It allows us to assist others at the most difficult moments of their lives. It is an honor to be a lawyer.

To be a member of the legal profession means sharing in the grand history and remarkable tradition of the American legal system·- joining those who throughout our nation’s history have cradled the virtue of justice and carried the torch of enlightenment that shines on humanity’s most noble principles.

I am reminded of what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said: “All of the greatest things in life are simple, and many can be expressed in one word – trust, honor, peace, truth, justice.”

Professionalism is another of those words that describes a great enterprise. When we speak about professionalism, we speak of:

  • Competence
  • Integrity
  • Respect for the Court
  • Respect for Colleagues and Clients
  • Honesty
  • Dignity
  • Civility
  • Service to the Community
  • Pro Bono Service
  • The Obligation to Continue our Professional Training
  • Involvement in Organized Bar Associations

I recently was at a lecture when the speaker asked those present if they would create a sentence 10 words long, with each word having only two letters. I ask this of you as well because in order to be a professional, it will be up to you. (Answer: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”)

Importantly, professionalism means conducting ourselves in such a way as to bring credit to our profession.

To be a lawyer – a truly professional lawyer – means committing ourselves each day to live and practice as “professionals,” in the broadest sense of that term. It means having the strength of character to live by the ideals and core values that have stood as hallmarks of the American legal system. Simply stated, being a lawyer who practices with professionalism means making a difference by being a friend.