OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Law recently hosted a number of judges and lawyers from across Mississippi during the annual James O. Dukes Law School Professionalism Program, a half-day program conducted by the Mississippi Bar Association as part of fall orientation.
After the program concluded, incoming law students participated in a ceremony that included an oath of professionalism. They also received a School of Law lapel pin as a symbol of their pledge to maintain the highest standards throughout their careers. This is the first year for the ceremony, which law school administrators plan to make an annual tradition.
The Dukes Professionalism Program, which began in 1999, is named for former bar president James O. “Jimmy” Dukes, who had a vision for mentoring law students on professionalism.
“Jimmy was instrumental in helping the bar and our profession focus on the importance of high standards and civility in our practice,” said W. Briggs Hopson, III, president of the Mississippi Bar Association, addressing the first-year students.
“It’s never too early to start talking about the importance of professionalism. The challenges that we face as attorneys are the same challenges that you will face as a law student.”
Associate Justice Ann Hannaford Lamar, of the Mississippi Supreme Court, delivered the keynote address of the Aug. 18 program.
“I hope you all recognize that this is a calling,” she said. “Those of us who have the privilege to be a part of this profession know that it is an honorable profession with the highest tradition of service to our communities and to our fellow man. Lawyers are confidants, and they are counselors who represent clients during the most difficult times of their lives.”
As part of the Dukes Professionalism Program, students participated in breakout sessions, facilitated by lawyers and judges from across the state. The students were given real-world scenarios and asked how they would handle the situation.
“Take a good look at these distinguished judges and lawyers who have taken the day out of their very busy practice to come to Oxford and to take part in this professionalism program,” Lamar said. “They are here to help you understand that ethics and civility and professionalism are not just buzzwords that we use. They are what we strive for in our profession.”
Following the sessions, students and facilitators enjoyed a luncheon sponsored by the Ole Miss Law Alumni Chapter.
Afterward, first-year students participated in the inaugural pinning ceremony. Macey Edmondson, assistant dean for student affairs, incorporated the oath and pinning with orientation for several reasons.
“It’s important to stress why being professional, courteous, and trustworthy is so important to the legal community,” Edmondson explained. “Attorneys represent clients’ interests; an attorney’s own reputation should not hinder the ability to represent the client effectively.
“Furthermore, we are a self-regulating profession. Attorneys must conduct themselves and hold other attorneys to high standards. Finally, professionalism begins from day one of law school. A student’s legal reputation begins at orientation, and we felt that the professionalism oath put them on notice of what is expected in the legal profession.”