Making the Most of the New Attorney Swearing-In Ceremony
Jason T. Vail is an Associate Editor of The Affiliate and a Staff Attorney/Legal Editor at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, Illinois.
Being sworn in as a brand-new attorney is a significant event in the life of every lawyer. And while the swearing-in ceremony experience is momentous and important, some bar associations have found ways to extend the value of the event beyond just the ceremonial. Induction into the bar presents a great opportunity to orient new attorneys to methods of practice in the particular jurisdiction, to provide information about supportive resources, and to make connections with more-experienced colleagues in the bar. The Young Lawyers Division of the Spokane County Bar Association (SCYLD) in Washington State has developed a model program combining the pomp and circumstance of the swearing-in ceremony with a comprehensive educational program for the newest members of the bar.
The SCYLD’s voluntary, day-and-a-half program is held every fall for new inductees, attracting between thirty and fifty participants. For a very nominal fee ($100), those participating in the New Lawyer Orientation not only learn all they need to know to successfully practice in Spokane County, but they also earn up to ten continuing legal education credits applied as soon as they are admitted to the bar, and they additionally receive a free year’s membership in the Spokane County Bar Association.
The SCYLD program begins with a full-day immersed in the local court system. Participants begin in state court, learning from the current superior court’s presiding judge about the role of the presiding court and how cases are docketed. This session is followed by an observation of the court’s docket call. Focus then shifts to the mechanics of working in the court: lessons from the court’s clerk on filing procedures, fees, and access to cases and case archives; information from the court administrator on services, court structure, civil case tracking, scheduling, and court procedures; and presentations by the arbitration coordinator on mandatory arbitration, the jury coordinator, and ex parte bailiff.
Participants are then instructed by several superior court judges on the roles of the felony drug court, family law court, jury selection, and motion practice. The group then moves to state district court, where it tours the court and learns from district court judges about the court, its procedures, and practice tips. This process is then repeated in the state court of appeals. The educational program ends with lessons in practice and civility taught by an experienced local practitioner. Following completion of the day’s events, all participants are invited to a social event at a local pub hosted by the SCYLD.
The next morning, program participants learn about the local federal courts. The soon-to-be attorneys meet with the U.S. magistrate court judge to learn about practice in the magistrate’s court, followed by a presentation by a U.S. district court judge on the federal court and jury selection procedures. Next up are the district court’s clerk, deputy clerk, and staff attorney with lessons on forms, applying for admission, filing procedures and fees, assignment of cases, electronic filing, and other procedural and substantive issues in federal practice. An educational experience similar to that in district court is subsequently given to participants in the nearby U.S. bankruptcy court. The educational portion of the program concludes with a lesson on the oath of admission, including issues of ethics and professionalism, presentations from various representatives from the state and county bar associations and professional organizations, and from the local volunteer attorney pro bono program.
Finally, it’s time for the main event: the swearing-in ceremony. New admittees reconvene in the large moot courtroom at Gonzaga University School of Law. The ceremony is attended by fourteen to twenty local judges and is conducted by the superior court’s presiding judge, who is joined on the bench by the presiding or chief judge of the other four local courts. (A smaller ceremony for spring admittees is held at the superior court.) The Oath of Attorney is given, the program is concluded, and participants and their families are invited to attend a reception hosted by the Spokane County Bar Association and attended by local dignitaries, members of the judiciary, and members of the bar.
By combining the swearing-in ceremony with a thorough orientation program, the Spokane County Young Lawyers Division has created a model experience that both commemorates the importance of the occasion as well as preparing new attorneys to start their careers off on the right foot.