‘Your Duty is to Do Justice’ LaGrua Tells Class of 2016 at Swearing-In Ceremony

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not something to be waited for, but something to be achieved,” said Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua (J.D. ’87) with the Superior Court of Fulton County, to the class of 2016 before swearing them into practice on Nov. 17.

“Today is the beginning of the destiny in the lives of these new lawyers. What a wonderful accomplishment gained through perseverance and hard work,” LaGrua said. “My hope and prayer for each of you is that in two, or five or 10 years from today, the love of this profession is still in your hearts, because when done right and morally, this is the noblest of professions.”

Friends and family gathered to celebrate 97 alumni sworn in at the 18th annual Georgia State College of Law Swearing-In Ceremonies for the Superior Court of Georgia, the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Georgia.

LaGrua also shared many tips for the new attorneys, including:
• “judges do not think more words mean better arguments … judges love attorneys who get to the point and who do not reread their briefs;
• “own your mistakes, acknowledge and learn from it, don’t try to cover it up with untruths;
• “you can be assertive and tough but still be professional and polite;” “treat everyone with dignity and respect;
• “be trustworthy and accountable to everyone; and
• “always be prepared—no amount of charm, good looks or lack thereof, wit, etc. can outrun being prepared.”

Perhaps most importantly, she said, “be yourself and have a life outside of the law. Get involved in the community and make time for friends and family.”

Her final words of advice were to remember that as lawyers, the goal was not simply to win.

“Your goal, your duty is to do justice,” she said. “If you remember that, even in the toughest of times you can hold your head high.”

Jeffrey R. Davis (J.D. ’91), executive director of the State Bar of Georgia told the class it’s important to keep an open mind and try new things when finding your path as a lawyer. “Get off of the highway, take the exits and explore things you never thought you would because those roads will take you to other places.”

Davis also reminded the alumni that the legal profession is a small community where “reputation means everything.”

Justice Harold D. Melton of the Supreme Court of Georgia said he hoped the newly-minted lawyers were drawn to the profession with hopes of changing the world and making a difference. Sometimes you may get beat down along the way, he said, but it’s important not to lose the idealism you likely began law school with.

“Being idealistic doesn’t mean being naïve,” he said. “It’s being fully aware of the barriers and risks but doing it anyway. Nobody has ever accomplished anything great without being idealistic. Hold on to idealism no matter what.”

Judge William M. Ray III of the Court of Appeals of Georgia administered the oaths for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

“You now enter a profession as not just a lawyer, but as a Georgia State Lawyer,” said Steven J. Kaminshine, dean and professor of law. “Because of those who came before you, being a Georgia State Lawyer is a title of honor, it bespeaks hard work, it bespeaks ethical conduct, it bespeaks a support system and network of colleagues and professors collectively define the Georgia State Law family. Congratulations to you all.”

Christine Lee (J.D. ’16), who works in general and business litigation at Thompson O’Brien Kemp & Nasuti, said the swearing-in ceremony was especially meaningful to her as the first lawyer in her family.

“I am excited to be on this journey,” she said, adding that she took Judge LaGrua’s words that it was the noblest of professions seriously. “I am going to treat practicing as a privilege. This was the greatest decision in my life to come to Georgia State. I love the people that were in my class, the professors were so helpful to me and every time I come back I feel incredibly welcomed by staff. I think Georgia State is really unique in how much they encourage a diversity of talents. All my classmates came from different professions and are pursuing different types of law—it’s a really rich environment.”

Dr. Sheila Salvant Valentine (J.D./M.S.H.A. ’16), who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she was a little worried about being a nontraditional student when she enrolled at Georgia State Law. But her concerns were soon erased. “I felt like I fit in and my experience [being older, married with a child and having years of work under her belt] was valued.”

Harry Rowland III (J.D. ’16), who works at Ogletree Deakins in the labor and employment litigation section, echoed that sentiment. “I came to Georgia State at age 27 and felt right at home,” he said. “I made a lot of good friends. It feels great to be sworn in with the people from law school who helped me get here.”

His mother, Lana Johnson, said she is proud of his hard work. “He did it completely on his own, financially and everything else. It’s been exciting to see him find what he wanted to do and do so well at it. But most of all I’m proud of who he is,” she said.

Luke Donohue (J.D. ’16), an associate at Ogletree Deakins, said enrolling at Georgia State Law was the best decision he ever made.

“Georgia State Law focused so much on practice-based learning and getting experience while you’re here, so I feel ready to go today. To be able to be ready to practice on day one after we are sworn in is a big advantage,” said Donohue.

Pierce Hand (J.D. ’16), an associate in commercial litigation at Bryan Cave, said it felt “amazing” to finally be sworn in.

“It’s the final step of three years of work,” Hand said. He added that being involved in many organizations in law school gave him the opportunity to work alongside many bright people, which enhanced his experience as a student. “The group of people that I had the opportunity to meet at Georgia State are very smart and hardworking, and in turn they made me a better attorney,” he said.

Dixon Revell (J.D. ’16), who works in litigation at Troutman Sanders, said he was excited about starting his career. “We are all ready to start practicing and try to do the best we can for our clients and community.”

Learning alongside students from many different backgrounds is one of the things he appreciated most about Georgia State Law, he said.

“Hearing different perspectives really enriched the learning process and it helps you develop a more robust understanding of issues, different ways to think about those issues, and different ways to think about solving legal problems,” he said.

Revell also said he was grateful that faculty members were readily available to discuss not only what they taught in class, but the things that were important to them and important issues in the city, state and nation.

“As a whole, the faculty are very caring and very hardworking. And outside of their teaching they are solving some of the really big problems in this city. They should be commended not only as educators but as leaders in the community,” he said.

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