Retired Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Addresses ASL Students
GRUNDY, VA (SEPTEMBER 17, 2019) – Civility and professionalism are skills important not only in practicing law and in mediation, but in life in general, retired Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser told students at the Appalachian School of Law during her visit to the school earlier this month.
“As attorneys you always need to be conscious of civility and professionalism – it’s important for your clients,” Kinser said, adding that lack of civility appears to be all too prevalent in many areas of society today.
“Politeness is the very glue that keeps law and society from flying into pieces,” she added.
In introducing Kinser to students, ASL Dean, Justice (ret.) Elizabeth McClanahan, noted that she and Kinser had similar backgrounds — from their service on the Virginia Supreme Court and their roots in Southwest Virginia, to the fact that they were both 4-H’ers while growing up. Kinser and McClanahan are two of seven women to have served on the state’s high court – three of whom are from Southwest Virginia. Kinser was named Chief Justice of the Court in 2011 and was the first woman to hold the office of Chief Justice. She retired from the Court at the end of 2014 and is currently in private practice with her son in Pennington Gap and also works as a mediator with the McCammon Group.
In talking about professionalism, Kinser noted, “we all want to achieve a legal system that is just, compassionate and reasonable. As attorneys, you will be part of the preservation of the rule of law.”
She noted that relationships for attorneys fall into three categories – those with the courts and judges; those with opposing counsel; and those with clients.
“Reputation is important” Kinser said. “Be frank and honest and do nothing to mislead the court. If you lose your reputation, it is very difficult to get it back.”
She advised students to realize how valuable the clerk and the staff in the clerk’s office is, to be civil and reasonable with opposing counsel and to remember in dealing with clients that as attorneys, they are providing a service.
“They come to you with a lot of misconceptions and it is your responsibility to gain their trust and confidence and not to create unrealistic expectations,” Kinser said.
She also talked about mediation and how it is being used more and more to resolve cases. Utilizing mediation, she said, gives the parties control to work through issues.
“At the end of the day, no one is a big winner or a big loser, but with mediation, you reach a decision that is fair and in the end saves time and cost,” she added.
Through mediation, Kinser said, creative solutions can be crafted and a way is found to work things out that allows relationships to be preserved.
“It is your ethical duty to tell clients about mediation,” she said.
Another piece of advice she offered was related to preparation.
“Nothing takes the place of preparation,” Kinser said. “Part of being a good mediator or an attorney is being prepared — and remember that communication is a two-step process. It’s about talking and listening. It’s a give and take process.
“We all have different ideas, perspectives and beliefs, but it should never cause us to be uncivil,” Kinser added.
Civility, she said, serves everyone well — both in the practice of law and as individuals.
“The practice of law to me has always been a calling, an honored profession,” Kinser said. “Lawyers play a crucial role in this county and being an attorney comes with a significant responsibility. You’ll be protecting property, life and liberty.”
She urged students to provide pro-bono service at times by being involved in access to justice projects, helping vets in need and by being involved in their state bar associations.
“I hope you come to love the law as much as I do,” Kinser said. “The practice of law is very demanding. Have a good mentor to keep you on track and don’t take on more than you can handle. Be prepared. Be on time and be respectful.”
She concluded, “Be civil and professional in all your relationships and you will do well.”
September 17, 2019
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