It has been over two decades since I took Florida’s Oath of Attorney, the mandatory rite of passage that every lawyer in Florida is required to undertake in order to go from private citizen to lawyer and Officer of the Court. The words are sacred and rather than spoken just once, should be read and reread frequently by every Florida lawyer.
Last week, I was given the gift of administering the Oath to Domenick Lazzara, my former law clerk and now associate. The ceremony was performed at Miami’s Camillus House – a homeless shelter. The Oath was given to Domenick in front of an audience consisting of members of Miami’s indigent community. Domenick is a towering young man resembling Michelangelo’s David. His marble exterior encases the warmest and kindest heart of any man that I have ever known.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very emotional person. I have written many times about how my heart has guided me in the practice of law; often being both a blessing and curse for my clients, staff and family.
Domenick asking me to give him the Oath felt like a combination of a father being asked to walk his daughter down the aisle, a teacher handing a diploma to his favorite student at graduation, or reading the name of an Academy Award winner who happens to be your brother.
I knew it would be tough to get through this because I remember choking down the words when Judge Phillip HUbbart read them to me on a hot October morning at Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, 22 years ago. I had clerked for Judge Hubbart and his law clerk Trudy Lumpkin Mench during the summer after my first year in law school. He was also the only judge I knew.
The day was a special day for me.
At that time, my grandmother Rose, near the end of her life, living in a nursing home, wanted to attend my swearing in. But I did not have the time to drive to North Miami and load her wheelchair in my car and drive her back and get to work on time. I was clerking for a lawyer who gave me just one hour to get it done and demanded that I be back at his office by noon.
When I arrived at the Courthouse with my parents and the parking lot was empty as it was often on days when there were no scheduled oral arguments. There was one car there. An old and unrecognizable sedan. As we walked passed, I saw a wheel chair sticking out of the backseat. I commented to my father that I felt guilty that my grandmother was not there and that perhaps I made a mistake not picking her up. As we climbed the steps, I heard what I imagined was her voice. It was not then and is still not uncommon now years after she has passed–for me to hear my Grandmother’s voice. I did not turn around, probably because I was too excited by the prospect of finally being a lawyer.
Another deeper voice called my name out. It was a man’s voice who used my name in a way that only my Grandmother would know: “Spenny!” I stopped in my tracks. My father did too. And in utter disbelief, I saw my grandmother emerge from that old sedan with the assistance of, what I later learned, was the husband of one of her nurses at the home. He assisted her up the stairs and rolled her into the Third District Court. It meant that much to my grandmother to see her grandson, me, be sworn in that she would not have missed it for anything.
My grandfather Samuel Aronfeld was a lawyer and his portrait hangs in my law firm’s lobby. Both of my grandmother’s sons, my father and uncle, attended law school. Neither were ever lawyers. “It skipped a generation,” my grandmother said just before Judge Hubbard began and I began reciting the Oath.
I thought these memories were long forgotten. But on a beautiful April evening last week, they returned in high-definition. I looked into the warm eyes of Domenick, his right hand raised, towering above me, we began the sing song of reading the Oath. The room was full of those that we proudly serve at Lawyers to the Rescue, I stumbled though the words. I don’t fight my tears anymore, mostly because the tears always win. At the end, Domenick is now a lawyer who I trust will inspire many, just like he has me.
It is easy enough for a seasoned lawyer to encourage and motivate young lawyers to be successful. When I was a young lawyer, I was galvanized with admiration and vigor by my mentor Gerry Spence. Gerry taught me to feel and dream differently as both a person and attorney. It is however a considerably rarer phenomenon when the elder lawyer is inspired by a young lawyer. For the last three years I have been fortunate to watch Domenick’s slow metamorphosis from law student to lawyer. I am grateful to him for giving me a front row seat to his journey to attempt to affect an actual positive change in our world and in the lives of our clients.
The Oath of Admission to the Florida Bar clearly sets forth the general principles which all Florida lawyers are required to follow. It bears repeating here:
“I do solemnly swear:
“I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida;
“I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers;
“I will not counsel or maintain any suit or proceedings which shall appear to me to be unjust, nor any defense except such as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law of the land;
“I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me such means only as are consistent with truth and honor, and will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement of fact or law;
“I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my clients, and will accept no compensation in connection with their business except from them or with their knowledge and approval;
“To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications;
“I will abstain from all offensive personality and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged;
“I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay anyone’s cause for lucre or malice. So help me God.”