By Gwyneth K. Shaw
Berkeley Law’s Class of 2020 had already braved an unprecedented final semester, as classes, graduation, and even the California Bar Exam went online because of the ongoing pandemic.
On Jan. 27, one more milestone happened via Zoom: More than 150 alumni were sworn in to the state bar and the bar of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Living rooms and laptops replaced the traditional auditorium gathering and champagne toast.
Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky praised the group for its tenacity and resilience in the face of extraordinary circumstances, including an extended period of uncertainty about when and how the bar exam would be given.
“Taking and passing the bar exam is always a great hurdle and challenge, but never more so than this year,” Chemerinsky said. “But you triumphed. Ninety-six percent of the J.D. class of 2020 who took the bar exam passed … It’s truly outstanding.”
California Court of Appeal Justice Jon B. Streeter ’81 delivered the oath for the State Bar of California, offering the 157 newly-minted members advice and reminiscing about his own experience in their shoes, 38 years earlier.
“For me, like you, it was the end of one journey culminating in graduating from this great and wonderful law school,” Streeter said. “But it also formally marked the beginning of another journey: Entry into a profession which I have honored and revered to this day, and of which I always have been proud to be a member.”
The oath grants great privilege, he said, and comes with enormous responsibility, too.
“The exciting thing about it is the capacity you now have to impact the lives of others,” Streeter said.
Judge Claudia Wilken ’75 of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California then swore the group into the federal bar, congratulating them on formally joining “the noble profession of the law.”
“The need for lawyers to respond to injustice has always been overwhelming and now it is even more so,” Wilken said.
Chemerinsky closed the ceremony by promising the alumni a raincheck on the in-person toast. Streeter and Wilken, he said, are “exactly the lawyers I hope you will try to emulate.”
“Guard that license carefully. You worked so hard to get it,” he said. “I hope you will use that license to do good. You now have the power as lawyers to make people’s lives better, and the power as lawyers to make our society better.
“I hope you will do that, and make all of us so proud of your accomplishments.”