Grads being sworn in

Rite of Passage: Ceremony Recognizes Grads who passed July State Bar Exam

Some days are more memorable than others. For a group of University of La Verne College of Law graduates, December 2, 2013 is now permanently etched in their minds as the day when years of hard work and determination reached fruition. It was when lifelong aspirations were fulfilled and a new title became linked to their lives, both personal and professional: Attorney at law.

In front of a classroom filled with family, friends, well-wishers, faculty, staff and administrators, 39 individuals stood and swore oaths of office for the California State Bar and the Central District of the United States District Court. Having passed the July 2013 California Bar exam, taking the oaths made them official officers of the court and a key part of the legal system that is at the core of every American’s heritage.

“Our country would not be where it is if it wasn’t for the lawyers and the judges, the arguments they make in court, the service they provide and the constitutional rights they protect for all of us on an everyday basis,” said Justice Douglas P. Miller, who serves in the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal and who administered the attorney’s oath for California State Bar. “From this day forward, you’re an attorney. People, whether you like it are not, are going to think about you and treat you in a different way. They are going to look to you for answers, for perspective, and to solve the problems of your community.”

In all, 58 La Verne Law graduates passed the July 2013 California Bar exam. Of those, 38 chose to take part in the Swearing-in Ceremony at the law school’s Ontario campus. The 39th participant was a member of the La Verne Law Community, Assistant Dean Jendayi Saada, who also successfully passed the July exam.

For Dean Gilbert Holmes, the ceremony in part reflects the tremendous improvement seen in the results from the July exam. According to the latest data, 68 percent of school’s first-time takers of the California exam passed, just 5% below the California State Average Pass Rate for ABA approved schools (73%), and 13 points better than the July 2012 exam results.

“This group is very special to me, even though they were not here during my tenure as dean,” said Dean Holmes, who began his tenure at La Verne Law in June 2013. “I have been in legal education for 23 years. I’ve been tutoring people for the bar exam since 1977, and ran a business for five years on how to prepare to take the bar. And I have never experienced a group that was as committed, as hard-working, as encouraging to one another or as supportive as this group. I am not the least bit surprised by the results of this bar exam; it’s because they did the work necessary to achieve the results we have today.”

“You guys,” he added, “are special.”

Along with the students’ efforts, Dean Holmes cited the creation of resources to help graduates in their coursework and their exam studies as an important factor in the increased success.

“We established a center for academic and bar readiness last year, and staffed it with people who were tremendously committed to the success of our students, both in law school and during preparation for the bar exam.”

As Assistant Dean in charge of the Center for Academic & Bar Readiness, Saada voiced her pleasure with the performance of the students and the assistance the school provided throughout the lead up to the exam.

“Tonight means everything. It is the culmination of all our students’ very, very hard work, dedication and sacrifice,” said Saada. “The combination of our school coming together to support our students the way a school should, and to see all the joy on their faces and on their families’ faces, it is just priceless.”

University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman credited the students’ attitude and fortitude in her message of congratulations.

“What I do not want you to ever forget is that you were the students who said ‘I believe in this law school, I believe in this university. I am going to stay at the University of La Verne when it is facing some uphill battles because I believe in this College of Law,’” said President Lieberman. “We owe you a debt of gratitude.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge David T. Bristow, who administered the oath for the Central District of the United States District Court, spoke to the recent graduates about the opportunity afforded to them within the local legal community.

“When I say that you are lucky to be a new lawyer within in the Inland Empire, I mean that more than anything” said Judge Bristow. “If you ask any lawyer in Riverside or San Bernardino or Rancho Cucamonga or Temecula or wherever you want to practice, they’ll tell you the same thing. When they have a case with somebody else in the Inland Empire, it’s a pleasure to be in front of a judge from the Inland Empire. Here everybody behaves themselves; they do what lawyers are supposed to do: you follow the law and apply the facts to the law in an ethical fashion.

“As a new lawyer out here, you have an opportunity to learn how to be a great lawyer,” he explained. “It’s pretty easy to be a great lawyer. You just have to be ethical, to know the law, to know your case and to always remember you have to place your client’s interests ahead of your own.”

For longtime university administrator Phil Hawkey, who served as interim dean of La Verne Law from January 2012 until Dean Holmes took office 18 months later, the evening’s proceedings were especially meaningful.

“This is a celebration for the students and for the law school. It demonstrates what a great law school this is,” said Hawkey. “I care about every one of the students, including the ones who did not pass the first time but will come back and pass the next time. They all demonstrated great courage, perseverance and tenacity, all of which will help them throughout their careers.”

To conclude the ceremony, Dean Holmes mentioned two traditions that will become an essential part of the La Verne Law legacy. The first, which he referred to as “bar karma,” involves third year students and other members of the La Verne Law community providing food, snacks, drinks and support to those graduates who take the bar exam at nearby Ontario Convention Center. “It’s a happening at the exam that encourages the students to stay focused,” he said.

The second involved a ritual he intends to see continued at future Swearing-in ceremonies. He called on graduate David Quintanar and third-year student Tiffany Garrick to participate in the inaugural “Passing of the Torch.”

“At La Verne Law, our passing of the torch will involve someone representing the group who just passed the bar, who will then pass the torch to a member of the group who will be next to take the exam,” said Dean Holmes, who unveiled the ceremonial non-flaming device to be used. “As corny as it may seem, this torch represents the important truth: that the way to succeed is to constantly strive to do your best.”

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