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Reflections of a Barrister on our Legal Community in Santa Clara County

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014
by Barrister of the Year Guest Author Kate Wilson

On June 27, the SCCBA Barristers' Committee honored Kate Wilson, of Berliner Cohen, as our Barrister of the Year.  The Barrister of the Year Award is presented to an attorney, under 36 years of age and/or in practice less than five years, who has contributed significantly to the legal profession.  The award recognizes not only professional acumen, but also the attorney’s involvement in pro bono and service-based activities in and around the local communities.  As a past chair of the Barristers’ Committee and current member of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee, Kate truly exemplifies the spirit of community and service.  We were honored to recognize her service and professionalism with this award.  Kate addressed the crowd at the Barristers' Annual Judges Luncheon with a speech discussing the importance of community, and I am delighted to report that she has agreed to share some of her remarks with you. ~ Mindy Morton, President

In last month’s President’s Message SCCBA President, Mindy Morton, noted that June is a month for reflection and celebration.  I couldn’t agree more.  This year, I was honored to be selected as the SCCBA’s Barrister of the Year.  As school children finished classes, our recent law school graduates started bar prep and we welcomed the first day of summer, I found myself reflecting on the past 4 ½ years and celebrating the people and experiences that have contributed to my development in the legal profession.

In looking back on my first few years as a practicing attorney, one thing became abundantly clear: nobody becomes a great attorney alone or in a vacuum.  In fact, as I prepared my comments for the Barristers’ Annual Judges Luncheon, I quickly realized that there are far too many people to acknowledge and thank and far too many anecdotes from lessons learned to share in a few short minutes.  As a result, a few key elements or themes that are instrumental in attorney development (for both newly minted attorneys and experienced attorneys alike) emerged: 1)Santa ClaraCountyis a unique legal community that we must continue to foster; 2) it takes a village to raise an attorney; and 3) community involvement is essential.

Santa Clara County Is A Unique Legal Community

When Judge Neal Cabrinha swore me in as an attorney in his Santa Clara Superior Courtroom about 5 years ago, one of the things he said to me was, “I hope to see you practicing in this county some day.”  At the time, I was working in Alameda County and did not understand the meaning of Judge Cabrinha’s statement.  However, after practicing in Santa Clara County over the past few years, I now know exactly what he meant.  We are privileged to work and practice in this county.  While Santa Clara County is a large legal community in terms of the number of attorneys, the community has worked hard over the years to continue to be one that operates and feels more like a small town community.  Attorneys, judicial officers, court staff and other members of our community know one another and civility and competence among our colleagues is the norm, not the exception.  Without a doubt, inSanta ClaraCounty your reputation is by far your most valuable asset.

The quality of the legal community in Santa Clara County is significantly enhanced through the efforts of the Santa Clara County Bar Association.  20 years ago, the SCCBA (under the leadership of Judge Brian Walsh, then the SCCBA President) created the SCCBA Code of Professionalism.  The Santa Clara County Superior Court Bench adopted the Code as a guideline to decorum for all attorneys practicing in the Superior Court of Santa Clara County, encouraging all of us to adhere to the precepts of the Code.  As the Preamble of the Code charges, '[a]s lawyers, we owe duties of professionalism to our clients, opposing parties and their counsel, the courts and other tribunals, and the public as a whole. Those duties include among others: civility, professional integrity, personal dignity, candor, diligence, respect, courtesy, cooperation, and competence."  We have inherited a vibrant legal community and it is our responsibility to preserve that positive atmosphere and pass it along to future members of our legal community.  One simple way to help accomplish this is to sign-on to the Code and ensure that those you interact with in your practice are aware of the Code and the associated expectations while practicing in Santa Clara County.

It Takes A Village To Raise An Attorney

There is an old Nigerian Igbo culture proverb "Ora na azu nwa" which means it takes the community/village to raise a child. The Igbo's also name their children "Nwa ora" which means child of the community.  Like raising children, it takes a community to raise and develop an attorney.  We enter the legal profession as eager law students in our first days of law school where we learn how to learn the law; next we start our legal careers where we learn how to practice the law; and, finally, we begin to master certain areas of the law and our advocacy skills.  However, we never stop being students of the law and we must continually hone our knowledge and skills.  This only happens through the assistance of the collective knowledge of our legal community and those around us.

When I sat down to list the people I needed to thank while accepting the honor of the Barrister of the Year Award, the list quickly grew to an unmanageable size.  Of course, there are my parents who worked tirelessly to ensure that my educational opportunities were abundant and never squandered, and my brother (my original, and to this day, toughest adversary) who taught me the important lesson that someone can be your adversary in one situation and your champion and partner in another situation without any inconsistency.  The list also includes: my large extended family and friends who helped me on the road to and through law school; my Santa Clara University Law School classmates, study partners, professors and mentors; my Berliner Cohen family which has taught me how to practice the law at the highest level; my SCCBA colleagues, friends and mentors; the Santa Clara County judiciary; and my clients and opposing parties and counsel to name just a few.  In short, like any attorney, my thank you list includes all of the people I have met and interacted with along the way because each and every relationship and interaction has helped me to develop my skills and reputation as an attorney.

Community Involvement is Essential

Community involvement is essential to the development of our skills and reputations as attorneys.  This year Mindy Morton’s President’s Project is to encourage volunteerism by our membership.  While your initial reaction may be that you do not have enough time to participate in volunteer activities, ask yourself if you can afford not to do so.

Inevitably, every time I have volunteered my time to a project or organization in which I am interested, I have received far more than I have given.  I consider myself privileged to call many of the people I have met through my community activities friends and mentors and they have proven to be invaluable resources for me.  I am certain that my professional development would not have been as great over the past 4 ½ years had I not gotten involved in my communities.

I challenge each of you to find a cause, activity and/or organization in which you are interested and get involved.  And, if you are a newer attorney, I encourage you to get involved in the SCCBA Barristers’ Committee and consider applying for the SCCBA Barristers’ Leadership Program.  The Barristers’ Committee was a gateway to many opportunities and valuable experiences in my career and the Barristers are always eager to welcome new members.

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