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Judge Greenaway Asks 2006 Graduates to Make Promises

cardozo lifeFor Cardozo’s 28th Commencement in 2006, Judge Joseph A. Greenaway, Jr., United States District Court, District of New Jersey, presented a novel idea to the 364 men and women receiving J.D. degrees and the 66 receiving LL.M. degrees. He proposed, and the graduates took, a unique oath, similar in part to the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors.

Judge Greenaway, who was appointed to the federal bench at the age of 39 by President Clinton in 1996, has a longstanding relationship with the Law School. Cardozo students work in his chambers as Alexander Fellows; he hires many Cardozo graduates as clerks; and in fall 2006, he became a member of the adjunct faculty. Judge Greenaway holds a B.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from Harvard University, where he was an Earl Warren Legal Scholar. We offer here an edited part of Judge Greenaway’s speech.


cardozo lifeDuring the graduation ceremony from medical school, graduating doctors commit themselves to the profession by taking the Hippocratic oath. I chose the Hippocratic oath as a point of comparison today because I believe it takes a more humane and practical approach to the lifelong obligations and responsibilities that doctors have and that we, as members of the bar, should consider and, I believe, embrace. The essence of the Hippocratic Oath’s first covenant is the obligation to remember the past, but, more important, to remember that each doctor is, and shall always remain, a teacher.

Should not each of us, as we progress, make a commitment to each other and the profession to help train, inform, elucidate, warn, if necessary, those who come after us? A vital part of each lawyer’s growth, not solely as a new lawyer, is to be both mentor and mentee. This type of obligation to our fellow attorneys should be part of our vow to the profession, whether spoken or not.

The last two covenants of the Hippocratic oath are in my view worthy of reflection. They are:

“I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those of sound mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter.

May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.”

cardozo lifeIt enunciates a commitment more broad than we envision or employ as our own in the legal profession. When each of you is sworn in as a member of the bar, the crux of the oath is your vow, our vow, to support and defend the constitution of the United States. But should we ask more of ourselves as we make our foray into professional life?

Imagine our own profession if each of us required of ourselves that we remember and act upon “the special obligations we have to all of our fellow human beings,” not just those with whom we share the relationship of attorney/client. We toil in a profession where the best and the brightest work on the most complex problems of those who can afford our talents, rather than those that need us most.

What a revolutionary notion it would be if lawyers as a profession contemplated “enjoy[ing] life and art,” as well as the respect of one’s neighbors.

The last sentence of the oath is the most telling. No one would quarrel with the notion that we should preserve the finest traditions of our calling—truth, justice, fairness. But … [w]hen was the last time you spoke to someone in our profession and the term “joy” was used at all? For me, it’s been quite some time, but who can change that? Only we can.

You may be asking, do I suggest that we, as lawyers, take the Hippocratic oath? Of course not, but let me suggest that, with these principles in mind, each of you, members of the class of 2006, stand and repeat the following oath with me and to each other.

cardozo life“I do solemnly swear that I shall be civil to my colleagues at the bar, conduct myself honorably with clients, the court and all whom I come in contact with, as a member of the bar, and that I shall uphold the great traditions of the bar to act as a teacher and mentor to those who come after me and to never forget that the essence of the practice of law is the pursuit of truth, justice, and fairness.”

As we part today, and you commence your professional lives, keep these words from the Talmud in mind: “In every age, there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.”

Class of 2006. This is your time to lead. Good luck.

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Judge Greenaway asked students to stand and recite an oath he wrote that outlines principles for those
entering the legal profession.