Alaska is a great place to practice law
By Lori M. Bodwell
I recently participated in that twice yearly ritual of swearing in new members of the bar.
Even with only two admittees (twice the number we had at the last ceremony), the courtroom was full of relatives, friends, and colleagues. Judge Steinkruger had the honor administering the state oath and Judge Kleinfeld the federal oath.
The speeches were short, not much longer than the state oath itself, with an admitteeís infant son belching loudly in all the right spots. The intimate size crowd allowed for some comments from the admittees before the requisite picture taking and, in a Fairbanks tradition, a reception compliments of Peter Aschenbrenner.
As the last speaker, I was struggling for words as all the previous folks had already repeated the theme of my comments -- Alaska is a great place to practice law. (There was also a prevalent theme about Fairbanks being a great place to practice law, but I will avoid that one here as I want to convey the spirit of unity that exists in the Bar, not cause dissention and conflict.)
The point that each speaker made was that collegiality still exists in Alaska in a profession portrayed publicly more for its backstabbing than its congeniality. By the time the recent admittees receive their 25-year pins, they will likely know of or be acquainted with most people in their class--an impossible feat in other states where thousands of budding lawyers take the bar exam each year. Unlike their counterparts in other states, the new lawyers just admitted in Alaska have immediate opportunities to become involved in state and local bars and, as our bar ages gracefully, to assume leadership positions.
The new lawyers at the ceremony in Fairbanks were encouraged to reach out to fellow attorneys for advice and guidance as they begin their careers. They were reminded that a phone call and a hand shake can often avoid the costly trip to court. They were reminded that in small towns in a small state, an attorneyís word is a valuable tool that must be guarded. If an attorney is regarded as untrustworthy, or is on the dreaded ìcommunicate with in writing onlyî list, that attorneyís effectiveness is compromised and, ultimately, the client suffers.
Collegiality is not, however, to be confused with the delivery of inferior legal representation, or, as my clients might think, a conspiracy among attorneys. Unlike states with law schools whose bars are often dominated by attorneys from one or a handful of schools, Alaska attracts applicants from all over the country (41 law schools in the recent round of applicants.) The free exchange of ideas through a diverse population in both formal and informal settings keeps the practice of law vibrant in Alaska. The collegiality that remains alive here proves that hard fought courtroom battles need not carry over to bitter personal disputes.
So for all the new admitees, I welcome you to the Alaska Bar and encourage you to take advantage of a good thing. Get involved in the bar, sign up for committees and participate in sections. Come to the annual convention, not just to rack up your CLE credits, but to meet your colleagues and foster that small bar feeling that makes Alaska a great place to practice law.
The opportunities are endless. This is your bar; its future is what you make it.
The author is president of the Alaska Bar Association