"Lawyers have always had the talent and skill set to change the world. It's part of why we're here," said Michael Manely (J.D. '89) during the 2013 Law Week keynote speech on Monday.
Manely, a family and international law practitioner based in Marietta, Ga., presented a brief and un-sanitized story of upstarts who strive to empower the people. He showed how Georgia State University College of Law parallels the history of law, illustrating what can be achieved with the right combination of vision and commitment.
He described the establishment of the Oxford and Cambridge law schools in 1201 and 1209, and how shortly thereafter the Magna Carta successfully protected citizens of England and limited the powers of a monarch for the first time.
"Coincidence?" Manely asked. "No. That's what lawyers do."
Prior to Georgia State Law's founding, Manely said, "if you had a passion burning to accomplish something more, you needed to fit yourself into the existing institutions or move on and forget about it." He outlined the significance of what the college did — making a practical legal education accessible to anyone.
Manely took advantage of the college's offer, completing his juris doctor in four years through the part-time program. "This is my foundation. This profession, this university, this school created me, supported me, empowered me to do all that I have had the great privilege to do."
Among the privileges is arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court in Chafin v. Chafin. Manely did not expect for the petition for writ of certiorari to be accepted by the Court, and described the moment after receiving notice as both "wonderful and frightening."
Georgia State Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School and Georgetown Law Center each conducted moot courts to assist Manely in his preparations for the December oral arguments. The Court "cared deeply about the child as well as the state of American hegemony," and the justices ultimately ruled for Manely's client, U.S. Army Sgt. Jeff Chafin.
With a focus on vision and commitment to the people, lawyers can ensure that legal processes contribute to — not hinder — our freedoms, and that responsibility applies to every attorney, Manely said. "Why do we do it? Because we can't help it. That's just who we are."