Ohio's Newest Attorneys Exemplify Social Changes
By Csaba Sukosd | May 21, 2021
With just a few words, nearly 200 people's lives changed forever.
"I will honestly, faithfully, and dutifully discharge the duties of an attorney at law."
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor led the oath of office, and the state's 196 newest lawyers followed virtually at the most recent Bar Admission Ceremony.
"To take the oath, I busted out in tears. It was everything," said Jameela Henderson, a new attorney.
It was the third straight ceremony held remotely due to COVID-19. The circumstances of the event were a reminder of the unique challenges these freshly-minted practitioners faced.
"In order to be here participating in this ceremony today, you have demonstrated tremendous resilience," said Summit County Common Pleas Juvenile Judge and Ohio State Bar Association President Linda Teodosio, who took part from her home.
The struggles mentioned by her and the other speakers - Chief Justice O'Connor, Justice Jennifer Brunner, and Capital University Law School Dean Reynaldo Anaya Valencia - extended beyond the pandemic.
For years, many of these aspiring legal minds have felt social justice's shortcomings.
Henderson, the first in her family to graduate college, has direct experience with the difficulties of navigating the judicial system. She's had multiple family members incarcerated, and remembers the challenges of them getting representation, or even the ability to communicate with them once they were in the criminal justice system, due to their socioeconomic hardships.
The University of Dayton School of Law graduate's pursuit to play a bigger part in criminal justice reform has only grown in the years since with the greater societal awareness about systemic inequities.
Now, she, and many others, have a larger voice to help others be heard.
"There's only 5% of Black attorneys in the US. So, to be added to that percentage made me feel amazing," said Henderson.
Pioneering women with varied public service backgrounds who are now justices reminded the young lawyers that the power and responsibility of advocacy extends to all of them, regardless of their practice.
"You may not have thought of yourself as a protector of human rights, but no matter the setting, that is part of your charge today, and always, as an attorney," said Justice Brunner.
The Court's newest member sees parallels between today's professional and social climate, and what she experienced as a young woman entering the legal profession four decades ago by trying to fit into a "man's world," referencing how women were expected to dress and fights for maternity leave.
The gender shift within the profession, much like graduating law school, came with time and hard work.
Despite all of the obstacles, this set of bar applicants had the highest passing rate for a February bar exam since 2016. As the first group in the state to take the full Uniform Bar Examination, they can also transfer their law license to 37 other states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"You're entering a world where the work is seldom easy, but it's also a world where the work can be so satisfying," said Chief Justice O'Connor.
Transformations are inevitable - in and outside of the legal field. For the Bar Admission Ceremony, it's similar to what nature brings every spring.
"I do feel like I've had that kind of butterfly moment. You know, I was in my cocoon of law school, and now I've emerged," said new attorney Nataliya Merkoulova.