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May 20, 2004

Remarks of Jerome J. Shestack at the April 29 Quarterly Meeting

In Acceptance of the
Inaugural Justice Antonin Scalia Award for Professional Excellence

Philadelphia Bar Association Quarterly Meeting and Luncheon
April 29, 2004
Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue

I am deeply honored to receive this Inaugural Award.  Mr. Justice, ever since you led your class at Harvard Law School, excellence has been your hallmark.  And in this home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, all of us appreciate your unflagging devotion to the words and intent of our Founding Fathers.

I heartily thank Chancellor Bevilacqua, Bill Jensen and the members of the Selection Committee.  (I understand the vote was 5-4).

I am especially pleased to see my dear friend, ABA President Dennis Archer.  His energy, idealism and courage have already made him one of our greatest ABA Presidents.

I am sure we all recognize that excellence thrives when nurtured by one's colleagues.  My colleagues at Wolf Block have demonstrated the standards reflected in this award, and I am happy to express my appreciation.

Chancellor Bevilacqua gave me four minutes to tell all I know about professional excellence.  I said "How can I do that in four minutes?"

And he replied  "Speak Slowly."

Long ago my grandfather, an Orthodox Rabbi, taught me that the most vital command in the Old Testament was "Justice Justice shalt thou pursue".  And I fell in love with the law.  And while in law school, I also fell in love with Marciarose.  Happily, both remain sustaining passions.

It is often said that in the past lawyers were kinder, gentler and nobler.  How untrue.  Look back some 100 years ago:  Catholics, Jews, Italians, Irish, African-Americans, Latinos, and women were not welcome at the bar or in law firms.  Indeed, only one generation back, our ethical codes were largely optional, gender and racial bias were widespread and national legal services and organized pro bono were still unborn.

Today, our ethical codes have sharpened, diversity is emphasized, human rights are supported and pro bono is extensive.  These developments are cause for pride.

But today other problems loom.  Security measures erode privacy and civil liberties.  The Blackberry has become our mantra.  Practice is often a frenzied race for the highest bottom line.  Stress in practice and in life is on the upswing.  And public esteem for lawyers is distressingly low.

How, then, in these restless and uneasy times, do we pursue excellence and find satisfaction?  Of course, we all want comfort and some measure of affluence.  But, if that is all we seek and all we gain, we will find little joy in our profession.

I believe that excellence and satisfaction are nourished by seeing our profession not as a business, but truly as a profession.  A profession with a craft tradition that values dispassionate analysis and shapes our work with balance and precision.  A profession that can convert contention into consensus.  A profession that embraces civility and sets limits even upon the fierce desire to win.  A profession that has guts and honor and elicits ideals and responsibility.

So, too, we pursue excellence by viewing our profession as part of the drama of humanity -- with all its hope, its futility, its wonder, its grandeur.  Each case is involved in human aspiration, where service to a client commands loyalty, molded by independent judgment and where always present, heavy or faint, pressing or elusive, beats the duty to law.  The melding of human concerns with the law is part of the challenge of our profession.

In a society where so many are powerless, where so many lifetimes are spent in humdrum detail, where few can be actors in the unfolding spectacle, we as lawyers have a singular opportunity to contribute to society's needs, to guide our clients with wisdom and independence, to make a limping legal structure work for justice, to champion our nation's liberties, to grow ourselves, and to be part of the ongoing struggle for human dignity.  And in that pursuit, perhaps satisfaction in our profession will become self-evident.  And excellence will be a goal that all can achieve.

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