Judge to students: Practicing law is a privilege Says lawyers must have a reputation for keeping their word

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Law professionals must maintain an honorable character every day, no matter the circumstances, Washtenaw County District Court Judge Cedric Simpson told new law students at Cooley Law School's Ann Arbor campus last week.

Speaking during the school's Professionalism in Action orientation program, Simpson told students that if a strong moral compass does not direct them, they'll make the wrong decisions.

"And I can tell you that in this profession, you'll be called on to make very hard decisions," said Simpson, an adjunct professor at Cooley who teaches pre-trial skills.

Simpson said the practice of law is very different now from what it was years ago when he was just out of law school. It was mostly about the fight, he said, and the courtroom was where the fight was settled.

Today, a case hinges on an attorney's ability to mediate and negotiate.

"It's no longer about the fight as it is about the solution," he said, noting that lawyers must have a reputation for keeping their word, so they can be trusted.

Simpson noted a time when two lawyers actually got in a physical altercation in the courtroom. Another time, he gave two quarreling attorneys $300 citations and said he would waive them if they agreed to take a class in civility.

Simpson said that so far this year, he's issued more than 25 citations totaling more than $75,000 against lawyers for misconduct.

He said an internal moral compass is important when temptation strikes.

"It is critical to your future success that you really take to heart what's being told to you about how you should conduct yourself," he said. "There's nothing better than to have colleagues and others think well of you."

Law is the greatest profession in the world, but not one to be taken for granted, Simpson warned.

"You don't have a right to practice law," he said. "It is a privilege. It is a privilege that some state is going to bestow upon you. And you need to treat it as a privilege. You need to treat it as a blessing that you will be welcomed to the fold."

But that honor requires professional integrity, he said.

Praising Cooley Dean Joan Vestrand, Simpson told the students they should consider themselves blessed that they're under the leadership of "one of the most extraordinary people I know."

"As you go through your journey of law school, you'll see what I mean," said Simpson, who encouraged students to go to Vestrand with any concerns.

In an earlier talk to the students, Vestrand emphasized the importance of honor, and warned that lying, cheating, stealing, plagiarism and serious character issues are not tolerated.

Simpson concluded his address by inviting the students to stand and repeat Cooley's Commitment to Honor.

This year, the Ann Arbor campus welcomed 47 new students hailing from 16 states as well as Canada, Belgium, the United Kingdom and China.

Published: Wed, Sep 19, 2012