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Justice Timmer tells law graduates to stay humble

January 08, 2013

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer, a 1985 alumna of the College of Law, shared personal experiences and gave career advice to graduates during her commencement address at the Fall 2012 convocation, Dec. 21.

Justice Timmer spoke about life’s unexpected turns, and how they can change peoples’ paths along the way. She also gave the graduates a list of qualities they can develop to be happy and successful, despite life’s various twists.

“Anyone who comes to share this day with you wants to say something really significant, something you’re going to take away,” she said.

So instead of talking to the students about the beginning of lives in the legal field, Justice Timmer spoke about the end their careers, perhaps 50 years in the future.

"When I sat where you did, I thought my career would be a big firm, commercial litigation trial lawyer with a lot of money, that kind of thing," she said. "I never thought about being a judge, and I certainly never thought about being a justice."

“Life has a way of changing your path,” she said.

Justice Timmer talked about what she thought are constants in any career that apply universally to anyone in the field of law.

She encouraged the graduates to retain humility when, too often, “lawyers become well-educated and well-experienced, and they forget what it was like to need help.”

When she was a young attorney, Justice Timmer was in a firm where you learned by doing. She recalled being asked to do depositions one week after being hired.

Justice Timmer said the older attorneys around the table would look at her and she could feel like she was doing something wrong, but she carried on confidently.

One day, an older attorney pulled her aside and told her she was “objecting to everything,” and it occurred to Timmer that he was absolutely right. She said she felt humiliated and that was the first time she realized the importance of asking for help, no matter how intimidating the environment was.

Honor, she said, is one of the core principles that causes attorneys to react and think, and it can be one of the most challenging qualities to retain in law.

“When you deal with clients, they are usually in trouble,” Justice Timmer said. “They don’t care about your dignity or honor, they want to win.”

Justice Timmer talked about a summer in which she held a position as a clerk at a law firm. One day, an older lawyer asked her to pretend to be a striking worker and attend a closed meeting to hear what was being discussed.

Justice Timmer didn’t like the idea, so she refused, and they got another student to do it. At the end of the summer, she didn't get a position at the firm, and it was devastating to her. But she never regretted turning down the assignment.

"Sometimes you have to risk being fired, or risk not getting the job you want at the time."

Justice Timmer discussed objectivity, recalling her favorite children’s book, “The Phantom Tollbooth,” and the part of the story with the Island of Conclusions, an island that can only be reached by “jumping” to it.

She stressed the importance of seeing all sides of an issue before making premature conclusions. She also emphasized the importance of maintaining relationships or “keeping your community” in the field of law.

“Your relationships with people are the most important thing,” Justice Timmer said. “It’s not just what’s in it for your profession, but your personal life as well.”

As a law student, Justice Timmer was a Note and Comment Editor for the Arizona State Law Journal, a member of the National Appellate Advocacy Team and a member of, and regional winner for, the National Moot Court Team. She graduated magna cum laude in 1985.

Timmer was appointed to the Supreme Court in October 2012, replacing Justice Andrew Hurwitz, who resigned in June after his appointment to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.