Each fall, the State Bar of Georgia’s Professionalism Committee and the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, host a professionalism orientation for incoming students at all six law schools in Georgia to discuss the personally and professionally challenging nature of professionalism issues, which they may face in school and as practicing attorneys. Nicole G. Iannarone, assistant clinical professor and chair of the Professionalism Committee, helped organize this year’s programs including the one at Georgia State Law.
“We are hoping to foster even greater collaboration between the bar and the law schools, to ensure we underscore the professionalism ideals they hope to foster in their students,” Iannarone said.
For Georgia State Law’s program, professors and deans recruited 17 judges and 36 members of the bar, many of which are Georgia State Law alumni, to facilitate interactive discussions based on hypothetical situations and cases that have occurred in law schools or in the practice of law.
“The professionalism program compliments Georgia State Law’s professional identity and formation project, and it introduced our students to the experiential learning aspect of our curriculum,” Iannarone said. “We had a phenomenal group of lawyers and judges lead group discussions and help students begin to think about the type of lawyer they want to become by deciding what they would do and why in certain situations.”
The eight hypothetical situations included whether a second-year student can or should accept a third-year’s offer to sign up for a limited-space course he doesn’t need, then withdraw, allowing the second-year to register for it; and if a young associate can ask a former law professor for help drafting an answer and counterclaim in a federal civil case because he’s unsure how to do it and the partner who made the request is unavailable. The problems gave students the opportunity to consider ethical ramifications of legal decision-making and rehearse what they may do if faced with a similar issue.
“We have a professional responsibility to decide who we are as lawyers and to implement that decision based on our own values,” Iannarone said. “Students will have a lot of choices to make without a rule governing how they must act. During orientation, we explored questions of appropriate professional behavior, evaluating context and competing values. The discussion leaders helped students understand how crucial professionalism is to legal community and our law school. It’s not just about making good grades or winning cases.”
Before the discussions began, Trishanda L. Treadwell (J.D. ’02), partner at Parker Hudson Ranier & Dobbs LLP, delivered the keynote address on professionalism and the essence of being a lawyer. She explained lawyers are responsible for protecting the quality of justice and have an obligation to give back.
In addition to leading a group discussion, Justice David Nahmias of the Georgia Supreme Court administered the Professionalism and Honor Code Pledge to the students. He shared there was nothing more important to a lawyer’s success and happiness than their reputation and that being a lawyer is a privilege. He then welcomed the students as future colleagues.
“Hearing Justice Nahmias welcome them into the profession was a special moment for the students,” Iannarone said. “In addition to what they learned, they also began forming relationships with legal professionals. Nearly all the participants gave students their contact information and offered any help they could provide throughout law school. While we believe in rigorous academics at Georgia State Law, we also want to help students foster professional relationships early and gain practical experience.”
Iannarone observed that the lawyers and judges participating in the program got as much out of it as the students.
“Participants look forward to this program because of the students’ enthusiasm and their readiness to join the profession,” she said. “They are all interested in opportunities to further engage and interact with Georgia State Law students and share their knowledge. As a professor, it’s incredible to be at a law school that is so connected to the legal community and realizes the importance of connecting our students to it in meaningful ways.”