Convocation proffers words of wisdom and call to honor

An annual program for new Elon Law students emphasized the values of Elon University as the Class of 2018 begins its studies at the preeminent law school for engaged and experiential legal education.

PHOTO GALLERY: See a full set of images from Convocation on Facebook

As one of North Carolina’s most distinguished attorneys of the modern era, Janet Ward Black forged her legal career in personal injury and family law, but the former president of the North Carolina Bar Association is quick to list any number of ways attorneys can improve the lives of other people.

For instance, attorneys:

  • Help with adoptions
  • Develop real estate
  • Patent cures for diseases
  • Take corporations public
  • Negotiate debt burdens of families with sick children
  • Fight unconstitutional laws

Black told Elon University School of Law’s new students on Aug. 12, 2016, that the law is a powerful tool when trusted in the hands of dedicated practitioners. “You can change the world because you will understand what laws mean to people,” she said. “It is a sacred trust that you will be able to enjoy.”

And in delivering the Convocation address to the Class of 2018, she shared with students her own mistakes as a law student – not speaking up, not taking trial advocacy, not taking part in law review. “If you want to make yourself more valuable in the economy,” Black said, “you have to learn to be able to speak in public for things you care about.”

Elon Law’s annual Convocation program took place this month in Whitley Auditorium on the university’s main campus where students heard from Black and law school leaders about the opportunities that await them over the next 2.5 years.

Black pointed out that the Elon Law alumni network is something to appreciate.

“If I had gone to Elon Law School and my classmates were scattered around North Carolina, I would immediately have a network of people I knew who I could contact,” she said. “One of the things they didn’t teach me in law school, and that they’ll teach you here, is that 75 percent of you are going to have to go out and get clients. If you don’t have relationships, you won’t have a network that will send clients to you.”

She implored students not to simply work for grades, but to be avid learners in all aspects of life.

“You have to commit to be a lifelong learner,” she said. “Every single day in my practice, I have to learn something different. I have to want to learn every day. And it keeps my practice lively. You’ll also need to commit to being a lifelong teacher. Take the responsibility of being a mentor.”

Black is the principal owner of Ward Black Law, one of the largest woman-owned law firms in North Carolina. The Greensboro firm represents people in accident injury, workers’ compensation, defective products, family law, veterans’ disability and Social Security disability matters.

Black is a graduate of Duke Law School and a cum laude graduate of Davidson College. She served as the third woman president of the North Carolina Association of Trial Lawyers and the fourth woman president of the North Carolina Bar Association. She is only the second lawyer in history to serve as president of both organizations.

The program she created while president of the 16,000-member Bar Association, “4 ALL,” has been used as a model in the United States and Canada for providing free legal services to the poor since 2008. The annual program includes an “Ask a Lawyer” day statewide telethon during which hundreds of North Carolina lawyers provide free legal advice to callers.

Black received the North Carolina State Bar’s Distinguished Service Award in 2009 and Duke Law School’s 2010 Charles S. Murphy Award for public service. Black has been named in North Carolina Super Lawyers, North Carolina’s Legal Elite and The Best Lawyers in America and her firm has been named as one of the Best Law Firms in America by U.S. News & World Report since 2010. She is a member of the Women’s Presidents Organization and C12, Christian CEOs and Business Owners’ Group.

Black was awarded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2016 for her lifelong service to the state of North Carolina.

She ended her formal remarks with encouragement for students to get personally involved in their legal work. “That’s the kind of lawyer you want to be. The one that no matter your status in life, you’re willing to get personally involved. That you become a servant.”

The Convocation program featured additional remarks from Elon University Provost Steven House, Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman, and Elon Law Associate Dean Enrique Armijo. House and Armijo described for students the quality of the faculty that will teach them about the law while reminding the class to be active participants in their own learning.

“On behalf of Elon’s faculty, I welcome you to our academic community,” House said. “Our hope for you while at Elon is that will be become independent, self-directed learners … that you’re passion and curiosity will be contagious, and that you will continuously reflect on this great learning adventure.”

Each of the students in the Class of 2018 were introduced during the ceremony, which included document they signed pledging to uphold the Elon University School of Law Honor Code and the values of Elon University: honest, integrity, responsibility and respect.

New students also received the university’s traditional gift of an acorn to symbolize the beginning of their Elon education. Elon is the Hebrew word for “oak.”

Bierman concluded the program with his own call to action – nothing, he said, frustrates him more than seeing students miss opportunities – and he reminded the Class of 2018 that Elon Law is “the preeminent law school for engaged and experiential education in the law.”

The law is a noble profession of which he is proud to be a part.

“What we do is clean up messes. We prevent messes. We make things work,” Bierman said. “We accomplish things. And we help other people accomplish things.”