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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 6, 2017

By Kate Wilson

Attorney at law

2017 SCCBA President


Happy 4th of July!!!!  I hope this message finds you well and enjoying the summer.  For many of us, summer is a time of celebration and reflection as we attend weddings and graduations and look forward to school breaks and vacations.  This year, after a short break from my President’s Messages to welcome a new baby to our family, I found myself reflecting on the first 6 months of my term as President of the SCCBA as well as the past decade as a practicing attorney.  As I look back on my years of practice and the association events I have had the privilege to attend throughout the first half of our centennial year celebration, I frequently find myself thinking and saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same.  

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to be a guest author for the July 2012 SCCBA President’s Message.  In my reflections on the first half of our centennial year celebration and my own decade in practice, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, although we have continued to develop, grow and evolve, the words I wrote in 2012 continue to apply today and, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Following in italics are excerpts of my 2012 guest column along with updates from some of our recent SCCBA events.  

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 Clara County is 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 someday.”  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, in Santa Clara County 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.

On June 1st, the SCCBA hosted a New Admittee Swearing-In Ceremony and Celebration.  During this celebration, Judge Patricia Lucas and Judge Edward Davila administered the state and federal oaths and welcomed the new attorneys to our legal community.  In addition, both judges addressed our new admittees and encouraged them to be outstanding advocates while placing the utmost value on ethics, integrity and professionalism.  I also had the privilege of addressing our new admittees and I found myself reiterating Judge Cabrinha’s words to me, “I hope to see you practicing in this county someday.”  I also found myself pointing our new attorneys to our SCCBA Code of Professionalism (which was updated and revised in 2016) to help guide them in their interactions with their clients, opposing counsel and our courts.  The more things change, the more things stay the same.  

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 School of Law 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.

On June 16th, the SCCBA Barristers’ Committee hosted the Barristers’ Annual Judges’ Luncheon where the Honorable Theodore C. Zayner presented Golnesa Monazamfar with the 2017 Barrister of the Year award and addressed the attendees.  During his remarks, Judge Zayner reminded the barristers that they have a responsibility to uphold the values and virtues of our profession as well as the local legal community and Judge Zayner charged the Barristers’ with being the guardians of our galaxy.  In accepting her award, Golnesa expressed that her development as an attorney and a professional has hinged on the support of family, colleagues, mentors, the judiciary, clients, classmates, and all of those with whom she has crossed paths.  Clearly, from Golnesa’s impressive resume of pro bono work, commitment to the SCCBA and her advocacy on behalf of her clients, she has accepted Judge Zayner’s charge to be a guardian of our galaxy and she is well on her way to inspiring the future of our profession.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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.

On May 9th, the SCCBA hosted its Annual Reception Honoring Unsung Heroes.  Each year the Diversity Committee of the Santa Clara County Bar Association presents the Unsung Heroes Awards, recognizing individuals and organizations in our community, regardless of ethnicity, who have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to encouraging the advancement of minorities in the legal profession or promoting equal access to the administration of justice for individuals.  This year Eugene Flemate, Ram Fletcher and the Honorable Shawna Schwarz were honored as our 2017 Unsung Heroes for their unwavering commitments to making our communities and profession better.  The time and energy that all of our Unsung Heroes have given is significant and impressive.  However, in listening to all of our Unsung Heroes speak, it is clear that they have each found projects and issues that they are passionate about and that they are happy to find time to support their causes.  And, all of Unsung Heroes encouraged attendees to finds ways in which to get involved and to give back, no matter how big or how small.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  

As we move into the second half of our centennial year, I hope to see many of you at one or more of our many events and programs.  And, please be sure to mark your calendars to join us for our Annual Judges’ Night Dinner.  This Year Judges’ Night will be held on Wednesday, November 1st and it will be the culmination of our centennial celebrations.  More information and early bird registration opportunities for Judges’ Night will be sent to you shortly.  

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