Professionalism in Action: Newest justice addresses Cooley Law students on ethics and civility

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 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News
 
The Michigan Supreme Court’s newest appointee, Justice David Viviano, was the keynote speaker for the Professionalism in Action orientation at Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus on Tuesday, April 30.
 
After delivering his speech on ethics and professionalism, Viviano took questions from the audience, including a tough one from Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Richard Caretti, who was there mentoring law students.
 
Caretti: “I have an ethical question, Justice Viviano. Do you, as a new Supreme Court justice, feel any enhanced ethical obligation to adjust your grossly inflated golf handicap?”
 
Viviano: “Supreme Court rules don’t allow trial judges to question a justice.”
 
Viviano, a University of Michigan Law School graduate, was appointed to the court by Gov. Rick Snyder in February 2013. He served as the chief judge on the Macomb County Circuit Court and worked as an attorney for Dickinson Wright law firm in Detroit.
 
He emphasized two issues in particular in his address to the students.
 
“Ethics and civility matter. They are essential to the practice of law,” he said. 
 
Viviano told the students that they will need to master these issues literally from their very first day as attorneys.
 
“After you pass the bar, you’ll stand up in court, raise your hand and take an oath,” he said. “Your first day as an attorney will be spent thinking about your ethical and professional obligations. Pay attention to the words of the oath. I believe they have real meaning.”
 
And he conceded that the challenge can be particularly daunting in a world where information and events are moving ever faster every day.
 
“Rely on your instincts and tell the truth,” Viviano urged the students. “When so much information is traveling so quickly the challenge is to identify potential issues. Even in my new job at the Supreme Court I know you have to be thinking about your ethical obligations every day. These challenges will come to you in many different forms. They’re not neatly wrapped in a package with a bow on it. There’s no warning label.” 
 
He reassured them that, when uncertainty loomed, their more experienced fellow lawyers can help them navigate thorny questions.
 
“Think before you act. Think before you press the ‘send’ button on your email. Walk down the hall to a trusted and respected colleague and have a conversation,” he said.
 
Former State Bar President Edward Pappas created the Professionalism in Action Orientation in 2009 and it is held for incoming students at the beginning of every term.
 
Over the years group discussion participants have included Justice Brian Zahra, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gerald Rosen, Eastern District of Michigan; Michigan Court of Appeals Judges Kurtis Wilder and Cynthia Stephens; and former presidents of the State Bar of Michigan including W. Anthony Jenkins, Thomas Cranmer, Edward Pappas, Charles Toy, and Julie Fershtman.

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