Remarks Upon Receipt of the OCBA 2020 James G. Glazebrook Memorial Bar Service Award: The Superpower of Professionalism in Uncertain Times
The Honorable Karen S. Jennemann
Professionalism Committee // The Briefs // June 2020, Vol. 88 No. 5
As I write this article in April for publication in June, I hope the world looks more familiar. My dream is to meet friends with a hug to enjoy a meal at a restaurant. Right now, though, I do not know how our world will look in June or how to give meaning to professionalism in these uncertain times.
But then I stop. And I realize that now is the perfect time to write about professionalism. In law, professionalism is exceeding the minimal rules of conduct imposed on us. Professionalism is an aspirational goal to do more than expected. And, as lawyers and judges, or simply as a person, if there was ever a time we needed to aspire to better, it is now.
We practice professionalism when we treat others with kindness and courtesy. And, others include opposing litigants, their lawyers, staff, every client, and the person in front of you at the grocery store, perhaps six feet in front of you! You offer help to those who need it before they ask. You grant favors unless it impacts your ability to zealously represent your client. Professionalism is being the best person possible and shining as an example of cooperation and civility.
Today, professionalism is more intensely needed than at any recent time. Many people will have lost family members and friends to COVID-19. Others will have lost jobs and are on the brink of losing their homes or businesses. Life feels topsy-turvy.
My grandson, after watching too many Marvel movies, often asks me, “TuTu, [my “grandmother” name] what is your superpower?” Today, if I could wish for any superpower, it would be to heal the illness that has overwhelmed us.
In truth though, I know we in the legal field already possess a superpower. It is called professionalism that urges each of us to do more to help others with civility and kindness. And, when many lawyers who share this superpower of professionalism get together, it is unstoppable. One inspirational quote from Helen Keller notes, “Alone we can do so little; Together we can do so much.” Lawyers get that. When we work together with a goal to help others, we can achieve so much more than working alone. And, every lawyer, regardless of their practice type, can pitch in to help those in our community, including other lawyers.
And, the opportunities to help are everywhere. As a bankruptcy judge, we could see many more people in financial distress. I know our bankruptcy lawyers will rise to the occasion and volunteer at our Pro Se Assistance Clinic for those who cannot afford an attorney. So will others in their chosen field of practice. We know how the “system” works. We can do things no one else can achieve. And, with an open heart and willing hands, we can help those who hurt solve their legal problems.
We also can help each other in our legal practices. Many firms and solo lawyers will suffer financially during this period. As things recover, which they will, practices will return from their slumber. Newer lawyers will need guidance on re-booting their careers. Established lawyers must rethink their former practices. Everyone will need to deal with their own and their staff’s individual sorrows as we return to the new “normal.” Lawyers, in their resolute and often unemotional way, are uniquely qualified to pull together to help others in similar predicaments. We are trained to solve problems and find solutions. Let’s work with professionalism to do this.
And, returning to my grandson and his movies, I emphasize the power of working with similarly motivated professionals. Harry Potter did not get his power from his wand. Thor is not strong because of his hammer. And, Rey’s force does not come from her light saber. They relied on their friends and supporters, whether it was Hermione and Ron, the entire Marvel universe, or the Jedi Knights. Their strength, like ours, come from aspiring to a higher ethical standard and working together as a team collegially and cooperatively to find solutions to the many problems we and those around use face.
It is so important to work, live, and play with people who share your aspirational values. Choose your spouses, friends, and work partners carefully. It makes all the difference in the world.
I am grateful for sharing my career with many colleagues, mentors, and mentees who taught me the superpower of professionalism and who continue to teach me new lessons every day. I particularly have unending gratitude for the Honorable Arthur B. Briskman, my friend and mentor for 27 years at the Bankruptcy Court, who shows empathy, humor, and deep caring for all of our litigants, our court, and our community. He was and remains my role model. And, without his guidance, I would not have received this distinguished Glazebrook Memorial Bar Service Award for which I thank the Professionalism Committee and will treasure as the capstone of my career.
Professionalism connotes individual civility, integrity, and mutual respect but transcends into a “superpower” when you join with a team of folks who share your values and penchant for professionalism. Working as a team that collectively believes in “doing the right thing” maximizes your effectiveness as a lawyer, increases your collective reputations, and improves your ability to zealously represent your clients because judges trust you.
I know we in the legal field are up to the challenges we face. Our community, our country, and our world depend on it.
The Honorable S. Jennemann, who received her J.D. from the Marshall Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, was appointed to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, in 1993. She has been a member of the OCBA since 1976.