Student Affairs

Commencement Speech

Speech by Patrick M. Kelly, President, State Bar of California

Below is the speech given at the commencement ceremonies at Whittier Law School on Saturday, May 18, 2013.

Dean Bryan
President Herzberger
Graduates
and Distinguished Guests

I want to start by giving two additional and very important acknowledgments:

First, I would like to recognize the parents and loved ones of today’s graduates who have supported the graduates through this rigorous process. Indeed the honor they receive today belongs as much to you as it does the graduates of the class of 2013.

Second, I would like to recognize all of the professors who worked so hard to bestow to the graduating class the learning and benefit of their skill and experience that made today possible.

I ask the graduates to now stand and recognize the members of your family and friends, and professors, who have played such an integral part in their reaching this significant milestone in their careers.

Today is a very exciting and up beat day. You have completed one of the most rigorous courses of instruction of any professional undertaking. You have sacrificed much to get here and may sometimes ask “Why did I do it”. I would like to suggest an answer to that question.

We all come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences. In my case as Dean Bryan indicated, I was a professional musician and played with the Beach Boys and many other musical groups. I am often asked why I gave that career up to go to law school. I know some of you have asked yourself the same question.

I suggest the answer is the same for all of us. – We wanted to help others and make our society a better place. Thus we are all unified in our commitment to help others find a better life. Indeed our main calling as lawyers is to help others – clients, family, friends and our community.

It is this spirit of helping that will be a guide throughout your career. At Whittier you have been given the tools to be one of those who is helping to make our society better. Indeed Whittier will play will play a focal role in your career – not only because of the school’s wonderful reputation and the academic lessons it teaches. But equally as important: the practical lessons it has bestowed upon you in being a lawyer and in serving the community.

You are part of a continuing tradition of excellence in which you can take pride. In keeping with this heritage, it is wonderful to see today so friends, and in some case mentors from the Whittier family, such as my good friend and vigorous advocate for full funding for our courts, Paul Kiesel and my friend Cliff Pierson who are both present today. Paul, Cliff and many other graduates of Whittier exemplify what I will be addressing in my remarks – which is a professional brand you can truly be proud of. A brand that you will start creating today, and that you will carry and develop throughout your career. Is it a brand that reflects your reputation as one with total integrity who helps others in the community? Or Is it a brand you will regret?

What do I mean by a “Brand”?

Let me explain it this way.

We are in a new era. One that is characterized by change at every level. This “change” has an intensity and a velocity that the world has never seen before. In fact it is often said the “new normal” is change. Everywhere speakers talk about how fast technology is evolving and, in turn the significant changes it makes in our every day existence on the planet. Indeed the way we conduct our personal lives and the way we interact with one another, the business community and the world in general, are changing at an alarming pace.

I’m sure you’ve all heard historians talk about how we have advanced technologically as much in the last 10 years as we did in all of recorded history before that time. As a point of reference, I graduated from Law School in 1969. Who would have thought 44 years ago that law libraries would be replaced by computers, social contact would be replaced by Facebook, business relationships would be created on LinkedIn – and even long term personal relationships would be created over the Internet without any personal contact. In fact we can now access all of human knowledge from the iPhone that is sitting in my pocket.

In this frenetic environment it is easy to become unsettled and lose our moral and intellectual compass. But throughout all of this turmoil one thing has and will remain constant – that is the factors that identify your personal reputation. Stated another way your personal “Brand”.

We are all aware of the importance of branding. Indeed that’s what corporate image planning and business internet sites are all about. Companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to persuade the public that their brand is worthy and their product or service is a thing of great value. But what I am talking about is not advertising. It is a direct and succinct expression of how you conduct your personal and professional life. I am talking about what you do as a person and as a professional. It is your personal “brand” and embodies in a few words all that you stand for. It is defined by your name and today I will challenge you to think about what you would like your personal brand to stand for.

How do you define this “Brand”?
I suggest it has two elements. First, the “substantive meaning” of your Brand. For example, Coca Cola which is the world’s number one brand, would like to believe it stands for “good taste”. But all great brands, in addition to a substantive association on a “cerebral level”, evoke an emotional association on a “feeling level”. So, using the same analogy, Coca Cola also evokes a feeling of “being refreshed”. Pepsi evokes a feeling of “being young”. I personally have always strived for people to associate the Pat Kelly Brand with “reliability and high quality” on a cerebral or professional level, but also a feeling of “trust” on a personal level. You get the point.

So what do you want your “Brand” to be?

As you leave commencement today I suggest that you consider with great care what you want your brand to be and how you’re going to achieve it. Once you start on the path you have selected, it is very difficult to change. Particularly in the area of your professional reputation you can spend a career building it and lose it very quickly by unprofessional conduct

As I look back upon my career and the brand I have created, two things I have learned are relevant here. First, you start creating your brand long before your first day of practice. In fact you have been creating your brand all of your life. But, second, as you enter the legal community you have the opportunity to recast your brand in any way you want. However please remember your brand is pretty much established during your first 10 years of practice. So the time to now to evaluate your brand as it is today and to start creating your new brand immediately.

As you think about creating your brand, perhaps the best way to test your conclusions is to visualize that you have gone in to the future and view your brand in hind sight. To pick as a starting point let’s look backward from that point where your brand will ne firmly established – the conclusion of your first 10 years of practice. The year is 2023 and given the changes in the world since I graduated in 1969, we can’t even imagine how different the world will be in 2023. However as I mentioned earlier, there will be one constant – and that is what constitutes a brand you can be proud of. So now as you look back from 2023 are you satisfied with your brand, what you stand for and and the impact you have had on the profession and the lives of others.

To answer to these questions, I have developed some inquiries that will act as guide posts for you to consider. In many cultures and to many people, seven is a lucky number so I have limited these questions to seven in the hope they will be lucky for you as you undertake your career, as they have been for me.

First have I conducted my personal and professional dealings with complete honesty and integrity?

We have all heard the phrase “situational ethics”. Basically that one phrase illustrates the concept that it is “easy to do the right thing when the right thing is easy to do.” Stated another way, Integrity isn’t so much about acting well when someone is watching; it’s about how you act when no one is watching. In short, when your personal interest conflicts with the right thing to do, that’s when your integrity faces its greatest challenge. For example you give your handshake on an extension of time to respond to a complaint but later you wish you hadn’t. Do you keep your deal or do you not. I suggest you would want your Brand to be associated with someone who keeps their deals and whose word is always “golden”.
As I mentioned earlier, your reputation is a fragile thing you can spend a lifetime building and lose in an instant. History is replete with politicians, lawyers, public servants and other people who have failed this test. Often with great notoriety.

Second, have I been a good and supportive husband, father, daughter, son, friend, partner, co worker and advisor?

It is very tempting in our professional life to sacrifice personal relationships and family for career motivation. Indeed, the demands of our practice often conflict with the needs of our personal relationships. I suggest that there are different times in different situations where things have to take priority. But one priority that should always be at the top is your family and your personal relationships. As you look back in future years, the complaint I hear most often from lawyers is “I wish I had devoted more time and attention to my family”.

Third, have I been committed to professional excellence in representing my clients?

Particularly now in this time of extreme competition and explosive change it is important to be consummate professionals that are learned, analytical, and truly do devote themselves to the needs of their clients. Indeed service to our clients is a keystone of our profession that requires your very best. Just like physicians take the Hippocratic oath where they swear to put the needs of their patients first, we as attorneys need to do the same for all we represent. Indeed just like physicians, we are trusted to apply the very highest professional and ethical standards in helping our clients and others in the community in which we exist. We need to be worthy of that trust every day

Fourth, have I conducted my professional dealings with civility?

Given the pace of change and the demands of our practice, attorneys can sometimes forget the need to be civil to one another. Civility is not only important as a part of your reputation; it is part of your duty to your clients. Why do I say that? it’s simple. Not being civil results in contentious situations that not only challenge your psyche, they burn up time and waste your clients assets – and your clients time as well. Therefore I suggest not being civil is not fulfilling your professional responsibility to your clients.
Civility does not require that you communicate weakness or “roll over” to the whim of your opponent. You can stand your ground where necessary in a courteous and professional way. Indeed over the long haul the courts, your clients, other attorneys, other professionals and the community as a whole will respect you much more if civility is a key component of your brand. Moreover if you practice civility you as a much more worthy and serious opponent in any dispute. And as all of us who litigate know, civility is respected highly by judges and makes a lawyer a much more effective advocate.

Fifth. have I served others in the community?

Part of our responsibility as professionals is to serve others in the community. This is sometimes referred to as “giving back”. One particular and important aspect of this service is to recognizing the benefits we have received through our education and position in the community, and to use that position to raise up the lives of those less fortunate and enlist others to aid in this mission.
Serving the community can come in many ways. One is outreach through pipeline projects to help the members of our bar match more closely the wonderful and diverse population in our community. Another is pro bono service – using our professional skills to help others who are less fortunate. The list of needs is endless. But whether working through the organized bar, your local community, your church or synagogue, or any other service organization, being a part of those activities is an integral part of being a true professional.

Sixth, have I learned that I am not defined by failures but by how I react to them?

As a professional we should constantly strive to learn and improve. Indeed in our profession you will always make mistakes and you will always have failures. The true test of a professional is not whether we make these mistakes but how we react to them. They should be utilized as learning experiences and motivate us to greater effort. To do otherwise saps our resolve and makes it much more difficult to perform our professional responsibilities. Perhaps more important, it damages our ability to improve. Particularly with the rapid changes in society, mistakes and failures become more frequent and more pronounced. We owe it to ourselves and those who rely on us to acknowledge these mistakes, learn from them and move on. It is the only way we can adapt to the change that characterizes our world today. Stated otherwise, wallowing in self pity never helped anyone.

Seventh, and perhaps most important, have I followed the golden rule?

Have I truly treated others as I would have them treat me. This rule is so well known that it needs no explanation. But perhaps can use some elaboration. It is the foundation of every guide post I have talked about today. It is closely tied to the concept of civility. It does not mean that you are simply an affable person nor does it mean that you roll over in derogation to your clients rights, to your family’s rights or to the rights of any causes in which you are involved. It can be said however that if you have followed this principle you have probably succeeded in all of the other areas I have mentioned today.

So as you look back at your career from the year 2023, one question you should be asking is “how do I measure up in answering the seven questions we have discussed today?”. The test is not whether you have been perfect every time. The true test is have you set a high standard, done your best to achieve it and learned from your mistakes. And so I suggest to you today that if you have been true to the lessons learned from each of these seven questions, when you look back from the vantage point of a 10 year lawyer, you will view your brand with pride and as something that you can carry forward throughout the remainder your career.

Now let us return to May 18, 2013 at the Whittier Law School Commencement Ceremony.

We often wish we could predict the future. Now with the benefit of hindsight you know one very important aspect of it. And that is what it takes to be a true professional and to create a durable and respected personal Brand.

You have worked very hard to reach this point in your profession. Indeed it was a great achievement to be admitted to Whittier Law School and an even greater achievement to graduate today. The grounding in legal education, practical skills training and community service that you obtained at Whittier is like no other. You should be very proud of what you have accomplished and, thanks to Whittier, you have all of the tools necessary to create a very impressive personal Brand.

My wish for each of you is that these tools and the seven concepts we have discussed today will help to bring you the same wonderful luck they have brought me and help you create a personal Brand you will truly be proud of.

Upcoming Events

Getting a Jump Start on Success in Law School
April 26, 2014 12:00pm-2:00pm

Class of 2014 Commencement
May 17, 2014 10:00am-12:00pm

Admitted Student Mixer - June 3
June 3, 2014 4:00pm-6:00pm