Judge to new law students: ‘Who are you going to serve?’

The Hon. Barron Thompson L’09, an Elon Law graduate who presides in North Carolina District Court, delivered a Convocation address to the Class of 2025 in which he reminded students that “we all owe something to those who came before us.”

Of the six promises found in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, four are fulfilled by the ongoing service of the American judiciary: establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare and secure the blessing of liberty.

The Hon. Barron Thompson L’09 offers another word to describe the role of the judiciary in preserving America’s democracy – service.

Elon Law Dean Zak Kramer greets students of the incoming class at Elon University School of Law Convocation on August 4, 2023, in Alumni Gym.

“The legal profession is one of the great learned professions, along with medicine, education and the clergy. Ours is an honorable profession,” Thompson said in a Convocation address to Elon University School of Law’s Class of 2025. “But what gives it honor? Contrary to popular belief, and many bad jokes, our honor does not come through position, self-aggrandizement or our book of business.

“At the end of our careers, what will be remembered, and what will matter, is not how big our office was, how big our trial verdicts were or what kind of car we drove. What will matter is our service to others.”

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Thompson delivered his remarks on Friday, Aug. 4, before the largest class in Elon Law history. The 173 students who comprise the Class of 2025 had gathered in Alumni Gym on Elon University’s main campus for a formal academic ceremony that introduced them to the values and expectations of the broader campus community.

“It is my sincere hope you find your place in this honorable profession in the zealous cause of others,” he said.

Thompson presides today over criminal, civil, family, child support, domestic violence, social services, juvenile delinquency, and traffic cases for the North Carolina District Court. His tenure in Randolph County, which is south of Greensboro, has been highlighted by leadership efforts in drafting a new Civil Court case management plan and new Rules of Civil District Court.

Prior to his election, Thompson served portions of two terms on the Randolph County Board of Elections that advocated for new, more reliable voting equipment, expanded early voting hours, and a larger office and early voting site to better serve the residents of his community.

Thompson, a first-generation college student, earned his bachelor’s degree from UNC-Greensboro and taught high school social studies for five years in Guilford County before joining the charter class of Elon University School of Law. He graduated cum laude in 2009 and practiced law in Asheboro, North Carolina, for the next decade, representing clients in a wide array of civil matters from small claims court to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

“Our country was born out of a mutual pledge of service to one another,” Thompson said. “There is no greater call to honor than reminding each of us that our role in the judiciary is grounded not just in legal theory and philosophy, but in the practical application of meaningful service to others.

“To each of you, the next few years will be the most challenging of your academic career, but you’re in the hands of a fine law school that already has distinguished itself in national recognition for professionalism, innovation and experiential learning. You are at a law school that values and encourages services as a cornerstone of the legal profession.”

Convocation also featured remarks from Associate Provost Jennifer Platania and Student Bar Association President Elizabeth Kwon L’23.

Incoming students in the Class of 2025 signed the Honor Code at the Elon University School of Law Convocation on August 4, 2023, in Alumni Gym.

Platania introduced the Elon Law faculty to new students and noted how professors, known for their accessibility and responsiveness, enjoy teaching both in and out of the classroom. She told the class how the Elon Law faculty will help students examine more critically, think more analytically, question more insightfully and reflect more thoughtfully.

Professors, she said, “will stretch you and challenge you more than you thought possible,” and added that students should embrace the opportunity.

“Active scholarship is the engine that keeps faculty intellectually curious and stimulated and their research influences and improves the ideas they share with you in the classroom,” Platania said. “I hope you will ask faculty about their scholarly interests and how they’re advancing the discipline.

“You will see the uniqueness of the faculty in the classes they teach, the case studies they assign, the clinics they direct, the leadership opportunities they offer, the moot court experiences they create, the mentoring relationships they develop, and the many, many other ways your paths will cross in the next seven trimesters.”

Kwon encouraged the Class of 2025 to connect with one another as law school will push students to capacities never before imagined while working with peers who will accompany them throughout the rest of their careers.

“Here at Elon Law, we foster a culture of support,” Kwon said. “What that means is to reach out to your peers for help with studying and accountability. Reach out to your mentors when you don’t understand a doctrine or a process. And reach out to your professors when you need it. Don’t try to go through this journey alone.

Elizabeth Kwon L’23, president of the Student Bar Association, welcomes incoming students to the Elon University School of Law during Convocation on August 4, 2023, in Alumni Gym.

“This journey, and this profession, are one of honor. Never forget that. Always remember to elicit honor in everything that you do, every decision that you make. Do the right thing, and I promise you, those honorable decisions that you make will only come around to develop you into a stronger student, a stronger person, and a stronger lawyer,” Kwon added.

As part of the ceremony, each student’s name and undergraduate alma mater were read aloud as they signed a poster with the four tenets of the Honor Code — honesty, integrity, responsibility and respect — to be displayed inside the law school commons. Platania then gifted each member of the class an acorn. At Elon — Hebrew for “oak” — all new students receive an acorn at the start of their studies, a symbol of their potential for growth.

All graduates of Elon University later receive an oak sapling at the conclusion of their Commencement ceremonies, a tradition that started more than three decades ago.

Elon Law Dean Zak Kramer concluded the ceremony by reminding the Class of 2025 of Thompson’s message only moments earlier.

“I urge you to think about what kind of lawyer you would like to be,” he said. “What are your goals as a professional? What kind of service are you planning? When you look forward, what kind of lawyer do you want to be?

“We are here to teach you, to guide you, to help you. Please call on us. We are excited to be on this journey with you.”