William and Mary Law School

Judge Smith Urges Law Graduates to See Role as Lawyer as an Opportunity to Teach

"The role of citizen lawyer that you are about to assume should include being a teacher, " Judge D. Brooks Smith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit told about 200 graduates at the Law School's commencement on Sunday, May 20.

Smith recalled a boyhood visit to Williamsburg and the memory of seeing the house of George Wythe, William & Mary's - and the nation's - first professor of law. Smith remembered his awe during that visit at learning that Wythe had given Thomas Jefferson his education in the law.

"It seemed to me then, as it does even now," said Smith, "that a person who could teach the brilliant Mr. Jefferson anything he did not already know must be one gifted teacher."

As Smith delved into Wythe's biography in preparation for his commencement address at the Law School, it became clear to him "that, with all his many public roles - attorney general of the colony, clerk and member of the House of Burgesses, renowned lawyer, eminent judge - George Wythe remained first and foremost a teacher."

Smith cited numerous examples of how lawyers can be teachers in his remarks to the graduates and the more than 1,000 friends and family members gathered in the Sunken Garden for graduation. They can teach in the traditional sense, he said, passing on their knowledge of the law and professional ethics in the classroom. They can find ways to share their knowledge of our nation's constitutional order, he added, an order that is "at great peril when its citizens either do not understand it, or fail to appreciate its importance in their lives and in the protection of their freedoms." They can teach their clients that lawyers are guardians of the rule of law. The notion of "winning at any cost," Smith said, teaches clients "the wrong lesson" and exacts a toll both on the profession and on the legal system. There are numerous opportunities to teach in the practice of law, he suggested. Those who work in law firms will have the opportunity to mentor less experienced colleagues and to serve as role models for opposing counsel by being advocates "of skill and probity."

Smith spoke about one of his role models, Judge Ed Becker, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, whose memorial service he would be attending the day after commencement. Friend, mentor, and teacher to his many law clerks and colleagues over the years, "he taught through an abiding work ethic, an abiding commitment to public service, and constant interaction with colleagues on a court he loved. He cared deeply about our jurisprudence - about getting it right."

In his own life, Smith noted, he has tried to serve as a lawyer-teacher by traveling to countries throughout the former Soviet Union to participate in judicial training sessions to enhance the rule of law.

Once during his address, and again at its close, Smith conjured up a scene from A Man for All Seasons, the Thomas Bolt play about Sir Thomas More. In it, a young Richard Rich pleads with More, a member of King Henry VIII's Council, to help him obtain a prominent position. Rich, in Smith's words, "is bright and scholarly - but very ambitious and desirous of power."

Twice in the scene, More advises the young Rich to "be a teacher."

In closing, Smith told the graduates, "I can offer each of you no better counsel than that."

Recipients of special awards at the Law School's graduation included:

Christopher J. Honenberger, B.B.A. '74, J.D. '77, received the Law School Association's Citizen-Lawyer Award which honors a graduate or friend of the Law School who stands squarely in the Jeffersonian tradition of outstanding citizenship and leadership.

Haynes Professor of Law Paul Marcus received the Walter L. Williams Jr. Memorial Teaching Award, an award conferred by the graduating class in recognition of outstanding teaching.

Noellyn Kyung Mee Davies '07 received the Lawrence W. I'Anson Award for great professional promise.

Maryann Patricia Nolan '07 and William Yates Durbin '07 were co-recipients of the George Wythe Award, conferred upon a graduating student, or students, for exceptional service to the Law School.

Alexis Ann McLeod '07 received the Law School Association's Thurgood Marshall Award for distinguished pro bono work.

Gloria Todd, Office Manager, received the John Marshall Award, conferred upon a member of the Law School faculty or staff for exceptional service to the Law School.