First-year students at Rutgers Law School in Newark got a lesson last week on the importance of attorney professionalism and decorum from New Jersey State Bar Association President Timothy F. McGoughran and other state leaders in the law.
The panel discussion covered a wide range of topics on how good professional conduct can advance an attorney’s career, promote their reputations in the industry and improve client relations. McGoughran was joined on the panel by Superior Court Judge Dara Aquila Govan; Craig L. Dashiell, a partner at Lowenstein Sandler; Mikeisha Anderson, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Milbank LLP; and Melissa Reilly, corporate counsel at Quick International Courier.
Each speaker shared a common theme of how their reputations and treatment of fellow classmates in law school helped lay the foundation for their careers. Speaking to a class of more than 80 1A law students, McGoughran said the essential character traits for a lawyer – collegiality, integrity, cooperation – start to form as a law student.
“The law is an adversarial system by nature and that’s how we get to justice. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be cooperative with each other and empathetic to the other side’s position,” McGoughran said. “After 40 years as an attorney, I’ve found that civility makes you job a lot easier.”
For Govan, a former U.S. Attorney who was appointed as a Superior Court judge in 2021, professionalism is a marriage of respect and an attitude of excellence. As a law student at Rutgers more than 20 years ago, Govan said her peers knew then which students were dependable, inconsiderate or would make good colleagues after law school.
“You have to be aware that you’re being critiqued all the time, especially now as a judge. How you carry yourself is of critical importance,” Govan said. “In law school and the professional world, you must be respectful of others and of the environment they’re in. If someone doesn’t come to class prepared, they’re not respectful of their environment because the professor took the time to be prepared for them.”
Dashiell, a 2013 graduate of Rutgers Law School, said one of the best compliments an attorney can receive is when an adversary sends them referrals. Attorneys build their reputations and distinguish themselves from other competent lawyers in the way they treat their clients, he said. Each client has a legal issue that can weigh heavily on their life. It’s the lawyer’s job to not only provide legal service but also give them comfort and peace of mind, he said.
“All of you will one day compete for the same work. How you set yourself apart and the reputation you cultivate will determine your success,” Dashiell said. “Always think about how you carry yourself when no one is watching.”
In a parting word to students, McGoughran said meeting peers at law school and joining the NJSBA were the two best ways he built a strong network of colleagues. The current student body at Rutgers is full of future partners at top firms, judges and even Supreme Court justices who can open doors for career opportunities, McGoughran said.
“The law is a series of forks in the road. You just don’t know where you’re going to go. But having that moral compass, knowing the difference between right and wrong is an important guidepost,” McGoughran said.