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Cabranes welcomes UConn law school graduates to the legal profession (Released: date)

by Renu Aldrich, Office of University Communications.

Storrs , Conn. -- An education in the law offers a great vehicle for personal transformation and advancement, but also confers a public trust that must be exercised responsibly, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Jose A. Cabranes cautioned 214 aspiring attorneys who graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law on Sunday.

"So I welcome you to this unusual and very American aristocracy – an aristocracy of merit to which all may aspire; an aristocracy not of privilege, but of service; an aristocracy that demands hard work, good judgment and integrity; an aristocracy to which you thankfully now belong," Cabranes said commencement exercises at the law school’s campus in Hartford.

Cabranes received an honorary Doctor of Laws, conferred by University of Connecticut President Philip E. Austin and Roger A. Gelfenbien, chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees. He congratulated the recipients of 193 Juris Doctor and 21 Master of Laws degrees for successfully completing their studies at the School of Law, which he said is "in the top ranks of all law schools in the country."

The ceremony was marked by a mix of excitement and anxiety, but most of the graduates had one less worry on their minds — what to do now. Of the graduates, 90 percent already are employed at law firms or by other businesses in Connecticut. But many of the graduates face yet another hurdle – the bar exam. They should consider themselves well-prepared as the School of Law maintains a 95 percent pass rate for all first-time takers of the bar.

Cabranes told the graduates to remember the adversity of their predecessors in the law as they face

the prospect of repaying substantial student loans. He cited the example set by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was denied admission to the law school at the University of Maryland because of his race. Refusing to give up his goal of becoming a lawyer, he enrolled at Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. instead.

Cabranes said Marshall’s mother pawned her engagement and wedding rings to help pay his entrance fees, and that Marshall commuted every day from Baltimore to Washington because he could not afford the cost of housing. But within a decade of his graduation from law school, he had become one of the premier civil right lawyers in the nation. In Marshall’s most famous case before the Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education, he successfully argued that the doctrine of "separate but equal" was unconstitutional. Marshall was later appointed to the high court by President Lyndon B. Johnson, serving for nearly a quarter-century.

Cabranes said the success of Marshall and others — such as the late William O. Douglas, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 35 years — "are instructive not because these men scaled the heights of our profession, but rather because each of them succeeded as an outsider."

Cabranes himself was an outsider. He was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and moved to the Bronx when he was five. His father became director of Melrose House, a settlement house serving newly arrived Puerto Rican migrants in a working class neighborhood in transition.

After attending public schools on New York, he graduated from Columbia University, Yale Law School and Cambridge University in England. He was general counsel for Yale University when he was appointed to the federal bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, the first Puerto Rican to be appointed to the federal bench in the continental United States. He was appointed in 1994 to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton, having served for 15 years as a U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut including two years as Chief Judge.

"Judge Cabranes is simultaneously an insider and an outsider, so he understands what the rules are and also how they could hurt those who did not actively participate in making them," said School of Law Dean Hugh C. Macgill.

Cabranes said being an insider is not enough to succeed in the legal profession.

"Intelligence, judgment and hard work are indispensable to success in the law, and it is rare that in

their absence a good name, good manners or good luck can be of much help. A lawyer’s job is to represent

others, and when it comes to choosing someone to protect one’s life, liberty or property, no one in his right mind will choose to be represented by a well-mannered, well-connected or well-heeled person who cannot do the job," he said.

Cabranes was quick to caution graduates about using their new power.

"You should never see your obligation to your client as a duty to crush those who happen to stand in your client’s way. You will have power, but as a lawyer you will also possess a public trust. You must exercise it responsibly," he said.