It was an evening for reminiscence, encouraging words and a bit of poetry as the Hon. Linda Stewart Dalianis, recently retired chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and a Suffolk University Law School alumna, spoke to graduating Law School students.
Dalianis, who achieved several firsts for women in the New Hampshire judiciary, noted that the legal profession has changed since she entered what was then an “overwhelmingly male profession; but Suffolk taught me perseverance.”
In a statement that calls to mind Suffolk Law’s innovative approach to a changing legal landscape, Dalianis said: “We have always found ways to adapt as legal practice has changed. How the practice of law will evolve in the future I cannot begin to guess, but I expect you will all rise to the challenges.”
In a speech peppered with dry humor and received with knowing laughter, Dalianis recalled her time as a Suffolk Law evening student and gave a shout-out to Professor Emeritus Brian Callahan and his challenging subject matter. “To this very day I still shudder when somebody says the words Commercial Code Article Two,” she said.
She also acknowledged the debt students owe to the “many cheerleaders along the way…parents, partners… jealous siblings. … Kind bartenders, understanding Uber drivers and late-night pizza deliverers also deserve a place in our thoughts.”
Profession under siege
On a more serious note, Dalianis advised the graduating law students not to become discouraged.
“Look how our profession is under siege in the nation’s capital. We are called disparaging names. We are not always treated with respect. People tell unkind jokes about us. But do not ever forget that we are an honorable profession.”
She then read from “The Lawyer,” an early-20th-century poem by attorney Louis Landy, which Dalianis edited to reflect changing times. The poem is lengthy, but highlights include:
I am the lawyer.
I displace brute force with mercy, justice and equality…
I am the spokesperson of every righteous cause…
I am the champion of unpopular causes…
I am the foe of tyranny, oppression, and bureaucracy.
I wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Rights of Man…
I defended the slave; I was the abolitionist.
I signed the Emancipation Proclamation…
I am the conservative of the past, the liberal of the present and the radical of the future.
I am the leader in every crisis. I am also the scapegoat of the world.
I am the pioneer.
I am the just judge and the righteous ruler.
I hear before I condemn, and I seek the best in everything.
Dalianis said that, no matter which area of legal practice the graduates pursue, they should adhere to the “lofty goals” laid down by Louis Landy.
“Whenever you can make a difference to your fellow citizens, please seize the opportunity,” she said.
Ethics & reputation
Dalianis also warned the graduates to be careful of their reputations.
“What will matter most is what others think of you as a lawyer and as a person. You will be measured based upon your character, the decisions that you have made and the quality of your judgment. You will not be measured based upon whether your client won or lost.”
Predicting that the commencement address may be her last major speech, her voice seemed to catch as she said: “I think that’s fitting. Suffolk Law School set me on my way, and Suffolk Law School is seeing me off.”
Dalianis received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the ceremony.
Steeped in legal practice
In her address to the Law School graduates, Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly predicted that members of the Class of 2018 “will make important contributions to the practice of law and to your communities.” As evidence, she cited their impact since they began their legal studies.
“You are already making important contributions,” she said, through the practice-oriented, skills-based education that is the Suffolk Law experience. “You rolled up your sleeves and you took on cases and challenges involving real organizations and real people, and you have made a difference in their lives.”
Giving examples of the pro bono work, clinical practice and internships pursued by the graduates, Kelly said: “More than ever, we need law graduates who are committed to bettering their communities. The world desperately needs your talents, your commitment to justice and the law, your desire to protect the rights of everyone and your passion for the common good. The world needs Suffolk Law graduates, and we are lucky to have you.”
About Linda Stewart Dalianis
The Hon. Linda Stewart Dalianis’s 45-year legal career has been defined by milestones. She has the distinction of being the first female associate justice and chief justice on the New Hampshire Supreme Court, as well as the first woman to serve as a judge on the state’s Superior Court trial bench and to be appointed a marital master.
Dalianis, a Suffolk Law alumna, recently retired after serving on New Hampshire’s high court for 18 years. As the leader of the state’s judicial branch, she started the NH e-Court program, which ushered in the era of electronic case filings at all levels of New Hampshire’s judicial system, and founded the J-ONE Initiative, a complex and groundbreaking program dedicated to integrating all components of the state’s criminal justice system. Her legacy also includes developing alternative dispute resolution services and improving how the court delivers services in family law cases.
Dalianis received the Frank Rowe Kenison Award in 2015 from the NH Bar Foundation for her substantial contributions to the betterment of New Hampshire citizens through the administration of justice, the legal profession and the advancement of legal thought. The NH Women’s Bar Association gave her its highest honor in 2017 with the Marilla Ricker Award, which recognizes an outstanding woman lawyer in New Hampshire who has achieved professional excellence, paved the way to success for other women lawyers and advanced opportunities for women in the profession.
The Suffolk University Law School Class of 2018 is made up of 330 new alumni who received juris doctor, master of laws or doctor of juridical science degrees. The Law School ceremony was one of three Suffolk commencements held on Sunday, May 20, at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on the Boston waterfront.
The University conveyed a total of 2,030 undergraduate and advanced degrees during weekend ceremonies.