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Law graduates given contemporary, ancient advice

December 23, 2008

Candidates at the convocation ceremonies for the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on Dec. 19, were given advice from contemporary literature, the ancient Tao Te Ching, and one of their own classmates. The ceremony honored 27 students who finished the requirements for Juris Doctorate degrees, and seven who completed legal graduate degrees.

Their families and friends were greeted by Dean Emeritus Alan Matheson, who humorously acknowledged the changes those loved ones may have seen in the students. 

"As you are aware, the study of law changes people," Matheson said. "For three years, you family members have observed changes in your graduate. They argue about anything. They debate the meaning of words. They use legalese in their communication. You will notice a personality change in these graduates as well. It's not uncommon that when you say, 'Good morning,' he or she says, 'Good, compared to what?' or 'What evidence do you have to support that view,' or 'Is it technically morning.' "

Matheson told the students that he hoped law school had given them an awareness of the difference one lawyer can make in our society.

"Being an attorney in America is a special privilege as well as a daunting responsibility," he said.

Tiffany De'Ann Richardson, chosen by her classmates to speak, urged her fellow candidates to savor and enjoy their accomplishment.

"All of us have achieved a degree not easily obtained, but highly valuable and never obsolete," Richardson said. "We must not wait to celebrate until we reach some other milestone, but we must seize this day."

The graduation address was given by Paul Eckstein, a partner at Perkins, Coie, Brown & Bain, who was described by Matheson as "a quintessential lawyer, a model for all who practice at the highest level and serve the community in meaningful ways.

"For many years, Paul has been a loyal and generous friend of this law school, as a teacher, as a recruiter of deans, as a member and president of Law School Councils and as a generous donor of time and resources to the school."

Eckstein urged the candidates to take time to learn their profession well.

He described a theory in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers: The Story of Success, in which Gladwell states that it takes someone a minimum of 10,000 hours to perfect his or her skills before being in a position to succeed.

"That is between five and seven years of work for an average lawyer," Eckstein said. "That's not a lifetime, but it's not the blink of an eye either.

"I believe it takes five to seven years of reading cases and statutes, writing briefs, interviewing and preparing witnesses, preparing for and taking depositions, preparing for and conducting trials, and preparing legal instruments and myriad other activities before lawyers are ready for success."

But while it takes this long to perfect the craft, technology has increased expectations of speed, Eckstein said.

"Lawyers who send e-mails expect instant responses, clients expect immediate turnaround, and courts expect rapid and accurate replies," he said. "It is in this environment that lawyers are tempted to believe they know more than they do and are prepared to do more than they really can.

"It takes time and repetition to be successful, and even more time and more repetition to be at the top of your profession."

Eckstein said that the law provides all three elements Gladwell lists for job satisfaction: autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward. And he encouraged candidates to remember to find joy in the work itself, leaving them with a passage from the Tao Te Ching.

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

The candidates are:

LL.M. (Master of Laws) in Biotechnology and Genomics
Alexandra Marie Lopez
Katherine Eliza Uhl

M.L.S. (Master of Legal Studies)
Lourde Ramos Bautista
Melissa Rose Brickey
Ellen G. Harrison
Michelle J. Monahan
Rochelle M. Trimble-Smith

J.D. (Juris Doctor)
Pete Arambula
Bryan Wesley Barney
Leila Francesca Semino Barraza
Mary Katherine Bystricky
Franklin Humberto Castillo
Jared Willis Crop
Teresa Della
Joseph E. Giles
William Gulbrandsen
Justin Heap
Elizabeth Anne Higgins
Alice G. Lee
Eric Nathan Matteson
Steve Maynor
Michael Joseph McCarroll
Michelle Winder McDonald
Gregory Day Patterson
Sunil Kumar Ravi
Lydia Nicole Reed
Richard Ronald Reed Jr.
Tiffany De'Ann Richardson
Bradley Edward Schmitt
Eric Meister Templeton
Victoria Claire Trotta
Rebecca Marie Weisenberg
Linley Sarah Wilson

Judith Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law