I solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of an attorney and counselor at law to the best of my knowledge and ability.
I do solemnly swear that I will support the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of attorney and counselor-at-law, according to the best of my ability.Today I mailed my transition to inactive status to the California State Bar and began the process of applying to resign as an attorney in New York (neither process technically the same as the other).
I have, as the kids say, all the feels.
I don't plan to be a practicing lawyer ever again, and it isn't very hard to become one after going inactive (CA) or resigning (NY). There isn't anything irrevocable about this decision. Practically speaking, its only effect is to save me the hassle of keeping up my continuing legal education requirements and the cost of those CLE programs and registration. The cost is the main driver; being an attorney in California and New York costs close to $1,000 annually. Still, I can't help but feel an immense sense of loss at this most practical and revocable of actions.
Above are the words of the attorney's oaths as I took them (the California one has been updated a bit since). I thought about them a lot, as well as the "duties of an attorney and counselor at law" (to use the California phrasing) to which they refer, before I took them. There isn't an expiration date on these oaths. They aren't conditional upon my being an attorney and counselor at law. That status does affect some of them ... but not all. It remains my sworn duty, for instance, "never to reject, for any consideration personal to [myself], the cause of the defenseless or the oppressed" (from the California duties). I remain oathbound to support the constitutions of the United States and the States of California and New York - with all their faults, foibles, and injustices.
I was proud to take these oaths. They mean a lot to me.
As I said, I consider myself still bound by them. Yet I still feel like I'm losing something. Or maybe this is just a natural occasion for reflection upon the oaths by which I'm bound. I haven't made a lot of oaths. I can only think of ten, really.
Or maybe what's really going on is I feel a need to understand how I'm going to uphold them when I'm not an attorney. I'm thinking a lot about that, too. One of the duties that weighs most heavily upon me is this excerpt from Paragraph 6 of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education. In addition, a lawyer should further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.The ABA has no actual authority over American attorneys, and the Model Rules are more like ... guidelines than actual Rules. The section quoted above isn't part of the duties of an attorney in California or New York ... but as far as I'm concerned, it's part of my oaths.
I think about this as I try to become a teacher. I have a lot of strong feelings about how government and history ought to be taught, but more than that, I have strong feelings about teaching them. Because I swore an oath to further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system. I need to teach people these things - not just about what our system of governance is, but why I think people ought to believe in it. There are a lot of things about America I'm ashamed of, and many of those things are rooted in our constitutions. I really did consider, before I first swore, whether I could swear to support those constitutions for the rest of my life.
And I realized that I could. That I'm proud of them. That it was worth it to add these oaths to the others on my ledger. I want to teach others to understand and be proud. I have to.
I made a promise.