Indiana’s newest attorneys reminded of their duty to serve

In welcoming Indiana’s newest attorneys Friday, Chief Justice Loretta Rush pointed out the class represented a series of firsts for the state’s legal profession — they were the first to be admitted in an in-person ceremony in two years and were the first to take the Uniform Bar Exam.

Remarks from the state appellate and federal court judicial officials reminded the new lawyers they are also starting their legal practices during a time of dynamic change. The judges who spoke emphasized the rule of law and the important role lawyers play in being guardians of justice and guardians of American institutions.

Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Edward Najam Jr. told the admittees that he had been admitted to the Indiana bar 49 years ago almost to the day. Now, as they are beginning their legal careers on the one-yard line, he was 80 yards farther down the field and in the red zone.

However, like the lawyers that have come before, the new attorneys have a duty not only to their future clients, but also to preserve, protect and defend the nation’s Constitution and laws.

“The integrity of the legal process relies heavily upon the integrity of lawyers. And your oath requires a commitment to objective truth,” Najam said. “Truth is not subjective or relative. Courts deal in facts, not fiction. Thus, both our state and federal courts have consistently rejected so called alternative facts and held fast to the bedrock principle that in court, as a matter of law, only objective truth matters. … Respect for the truth is the lodestar and core value of the legal profession and essential to the preservation of a rule of law and our constitutional democracy.”

In another first, the ceremony was occurring on the same day that Judge Derek Molter was beginning his tenure at the Indiana Court of Appeals. The new admittees and all of those attending the ceremony congratulated Molter with a round of applause.

This was the first in-person admission ceremony since October 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the ceremonies for May 2020 and 2021 as well as October 2020 to be held virtually. Still, the coronavirus did impact the celebration, with all those in attendance required to wear masks and no reception being held afterward.

As in the past, the October 2021 admission ceremony was held in the Sagamore Ballroom of the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. The new admittees were seated in the front, with their families and friends filling the chairs behind them.

Indiana Board of Law Examiners Vice President Shelice Tolbert reported that 300 had passed the bar exam given July 27 and 28. The applicants for admission have good moral character and fitness and had met the requirements to practice law in the state of Indiana.

Before making the motion for admission, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita told the admittees that along with their clients, all of society will benefit from their wise legal guidance.

“Our founders created a nation in which the rule of law was meant to apply equally to all people, and you, as attorneys, will be entrusted with the stewardship of this sacred tradition,” Indiana’s top attorney said. “So I ask all of you, please help us preserve American liberty for future generations. Please help us keep focused on achieving true and equal justice for all.”

In keeping with tradition, two sitting judges whose children were among the new lawyers administered the oath for admission to the Indiana Supreme Court. Owen Circuit Judge Lori Thatcher Quillen, mother of Jordan Quillen, and Wells Superior Judge Andrew Antrim, father of Jacob Antrim, jointly led all the admittees through the oath.

From the other tradition of the ceremony opening with each new admittee personally introducing themselves to assembled jurists, Southern Indiana District Court Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt noted the diversity of the new admittees.

“The opportunity to become an attorney is no longer limited by economic privilege, gender, race, sexual orientation or even age,” Walton Pratt said. “… The diversity of our bar makes our profession richer, stronger and more credible. Your individual differences, your intellect and insight are well matched to the issues of these times. And our issues are great.”

Magistrate Judge John Martin of the Northern District of Indiana opened by offering some practical advice to the new attorneys.

Martin recounted an incident when he was a young attorney and the opposing counsel was late for court. Finally arriving, the other lawyer apologized and explained he’d had a flat tire, to which the judge admonished, “Well, why don’t you leave in time to allow for a flat tire?”

He then told the admittees that while their training for the profession up to this point had followed a specific roadmap, their careers as practicing lawyers would have no such map or set of instructions. But, he said, that means the sky is the limit.

“You may make a difference in hundreds of thousands of lives or you may make a difference in one person’s life,” Martin said. “… We can work in a profession where you can earn a living, but you can also make a tremendous difference in people’s lives. Whether it be one life or whether you change the whole world in its entirety, you’re changing a world.”

Justice Steven David gave the final remarks. He reminded the new admittees to never forget where they came from, no matter how many titles or awards they may receive.

“Today you were granted a new title, ‘Indiana lawyer,’” David told the new admittees. “But each of you already has a name. Each of you is already an individual, no more important, no less important than anyone else.

“Remember that going forward. … Don’t let any new title or subsequent title adversely affect you. Behind every name is a story. … Your story matters. Own your own name, and your own story.”

The ceremony concluded with a final nod to tradition as Rush asked the new admittees to stand, turn around and thank the many people who helped them become attorneys.

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