Traits of honor, integrity and service to something greater than yourself must form the context of all that you do, a top military lawyer told graduating seniors at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law Friday, May 14.
“They may be intangible, but their absence cannot be hidden,” said Brig. Gen. John W. Miller II, commander/commandant of the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Va.
“Newspapers are replete with stories of good and honorable people that forgot or disregarded those intangibles,” he said, adding that the graduates are entering a profession in which blurred lines and ambiguities are a frequent if not a constant reality.
“In such an environment, you need some things which are constant, upon which you may invariably rely. Let honor and integrity be those points of reference for you,” advised Miller, a 1986 Cumberland graduate who holds a LL.M. in military law and a master’s degree in national security strategy.
He encouraged the graduates to use service to others to make a difference in the community and the world around them.
“You are called to a profession that solves problems and helps people. Whatever your professional calling, make service part of it,” he advised.
Adam Sanders of West Point, Ga., received the Daniel Austin Brewer Professionalism Award given to the graduating senior who best embodies the professional ideals expected of a Cumberland lawyer.
Sanders, who graduated with J.D./M.B.A. degrees, is a U.S. Marine captain who will soon be assigned to a combat battalion in Afghanistan.
Miller also cited five practical characteristics of successful lawyers: intelligence, competence, simplified advice, active listening and the ability to look at issues or challenges through the prism of an opponent.
He noted that the graduates have demonstrated their ability to learn, but their clients and supervisors are going to expect that their competence will increase with time and experience.
About simplifying advice, Miller said that it is not enough to understand all the parts and consequences of a complex issue.
“You must be able to explain them to a client in order to ensure informed decision making. I assure you that there is no better way to show another attorney, judge or law professor that you know what you are talking about than by discussing it in the simplest terms the subject will support,” he advised.
He said he expects his young officers at the Virginia legal center to have the ability to listen and to profit from what others have learned. “Listening is a skill at which we become better with practice. And there are few skills more valuable.”
Most important of all, he said, is the ability to analyze and evaluate issues from a different or opposing perspective, which is the only way to know the weaknesses in one’s own position.
“Some of the best court room lawyers I’ve ever seen seem to magically anticipate what the other side is going to do—this is no accident,” said Miller.
Also at the program, tribute was paid to the late Matthew D. McLain of Huntsville, Ala., who died in a tragic accident in spring of 2008, during his first year at Cumberland. Many of his classmates wore purple and white ribbons to represent donations to a law school scholarship in his name.