October 2016 • Volume 104 • Number 10 • Page 10
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The Law School Class of 2019
My visits to three law school orientation sessions left me feeling encouraged about the future.
August was an inspiring month for me. Illinois law schools and law students are primary concerns of my year as ISBA president, and it was my privilege to participate in three law school orientations for the graduating class of 2019. I visited the law schools at Northern Illinois University, the University of Illinois, and Southern Illinois University.
I extend many thanks to Dean Eric Dannenmaier of the NIU College of Law, Dean Cynthia Fountaine of the SIU School of Law, and Dean Vikram Amar of the University of Illinois College of Law. I commend them and their faculty and staff for completely reinventing the once somber 1L orientation process. Gone are the days of giving new law students a folder with their class schedules and a diagram of the building, introducing the professors, and inspiring them with words to the effect of "some of you won't be here next year."
To the contrary, while there were cautions about commitment to study, integrity, ethical behavior, and too much alcohol consumption, the atmosphere at each law school was positive, instructional, and encouraging. The students learned about the many resources available to them, the likes of which we couldn't have imagined decades ago. I was particularly moved by presentations about implicit bias, professionalism, and assuming responsibility for one another as classmates and colleagues.
At the NIU College of Law, Justice Ann Jorgensen of the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, administered the oath of professionalism to the 1L class. As they stood before her with their right hands raised, repeating after her, I could not resist the urge to memorialize the moment with my smartphone. Then, on behalf of the Illinois State Bar Association, I congratulated them and welcomed them as new student members of the ISBA.
Even before I began to address the students in the Francis X. Riley Moot Courtroom, it struck me that I had attended my own first-year orientation in that very room, exactly 30 years earlier. It was a special treat to enter that room again as ISBA president. Each visit to the law schools reminded me that the very admission to law school is a significant achievement unto itself.
At each law school, the collective mood of the students was palpably a sense of hope and optimism. I imagine that, for some of them, it was also peppered with a little angst. It's funny how the first week of law school can represent both the arrival at a lofty destination and the descent to the humble beginning of life as a 1L. SIU School of Law Dean Cynthia Fountaine summed it up by using the words of Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times...."
As is the case with every class, people are drawn to law school at different stages in life and for different reasons. I talked to one recent college graduate who decided he wanted to be a lawyer when he was seven years old. Another law student in her thirties made the decision to leave the workforce for law school within the last year.
During my many interactions with students, I met a former helicopter pilot who was once a pilot for Marine 1, flying the president of the United States. I met a nurse and an active duty police officer. I met two students who were already lawyers in their native countries and are now pursuing LLM degrees. There seemed to be no end to the fascinating life stories that led each of them to law school. Although most of the students I met were the first in their families to attend law school, I met at least one aspiring third generation lawyer at each of the three schools.
I consider myself fortunate to get acquainted with my already very accomplished future colleagues. Although I made the visits as an emissary of the ISBA with the intent to encourage the students, I left each visit inspired by them.
I was humbled by the sincere gratitude expressed by students, deans, faculty, and staff that the president of the ISBA would come to address a first-year law student class. Truthfully speaking, I was gratified by the experience. The visits reminded me why I wanted to be a lawyer and a leader of the ISBA. After each orientation session, I drove away feeling encouraged about the future of the ISBA and our profession.