By Michelle Keesling, Marion County Public Defender Agency
Bench Bar. It's a place away from home with cocktail hours, dinners...and what? Oh yes, CLEs. Most often the stories retold highlight the drinks or the people who participate only during pool time. However, after attending Bench Bar for the first time this year, I tell you that it is much more than this.
You check-in and the event staff welcome you even though they've never met you. You think, "OK, no big deal; this is what they should do," but you appreciate it all the same. Then, you go to dinner. You play a game you would normally think you're too old to play, but you realize it's still ok to have fun with ice-breakers. These people aren't just your peers, they are going to be your friends. It is during this ice-breaker you figure out that our legal community is small. It's a niche and each of us has place here if we embrace it. So you say, "Yes! I am a dog-lover!" and then sign your name on a bingo sheet right next to Justice Massa's.
The evening eases you into the next day full of CLEs. The CLEs for the particular tracks were organized to maintain our attention–three, twenty-minute spurts then a break and back at it again. I participated in the criminal law track. Monica Foster reminded us that with all the odds against us we still keep our head raised high. We are taught to advocate in with the most subtle use of language. A gang of bikers becomes a group of motorcycle enthusiasts. Mark Nicholson epitomized the chance we should always give defendants or even people we meet on the street.
Another speaker expressed that a citizen's liberty–our own liberties–above all else should be the most expensive price we pay yet our community gives little value to those attorneys who advocate for those rights. Terry Curry, via Ryan Mears at Bench Bar, tells people to “go out and do good." This concept applies to all of us as attorneys. We are charged to do justice and not pursue the unjust. We are charged to do good. We are a noble profession who has lapsed into an ignoble reputation. Let that reputation not be set by yourself.
These are the things Bench Bar reminds you of–that we are not just attorneys, but we are people. People who need these informal settings to remember to give respect and kindness to one another. Justices mingle with newly-admitted attorneys as if they were old friends. New attorneys offer incite lost on practiced ones. Bench Bar forgives the time lapse of age and the distance of practices and treats us all the same. Not as individuals but as a family gathered together again to enjoy the reasons we all became attorneys.
Now, attorneys are all so unique that I don't pretend we have the same reason for attending law school. But I am so optimistic to believe each of us possess the qualities of the oath we swore. To defend the defenseless and to seek the truth. It is easy to lose sight of that oath. Bench Bar is an event that says it's okay to stray, but come back and remember the values which you hold. Remember the struggles we all shared during law school and the ones we face even now. You don't stand alone, we stand together.
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