Law graduates given good advice

Mark Bryant delivers the commencement address at this month's UK College of Law graduation.

Paducah attorney Mark Bryant graduated from the University of Kentucky law school in 1973.

He has kept close ties to the university and served the past six years on its board of trustees, currently as vice chairman.

Last week he gave the commencement address at the UK graduation of 131 law students, and I found several of his remarks worth sharing.

Bryant, who has built a highly successful practice and represented clients in more than 100 jury trials, sought from the start to avoid pretension, introducing himself as "a plain ol' country lawyer from Paducah who had the good fortune to be educated at the University of Kentucky."

The first piece of advice he offered was homespun:

"As my mother taught me, be nice. Honey draws more flies than vinegar."

Other tips were more practical:

• "Hire the best assistant you can afford. That person will help your practice enormously, and you will spend more time with your assistant than with your spouse."

• "Get a job with good lawyers. When you get out of law school, you don't know much. New lawyers who never practice with good lawyers have a hard time learning how to practice law."

Two points I especially liked:

• "Your word is your bond and your most important asset. Be a straight shooter, not a bluffer. This is not a card game. It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation. It takes seconds to ruin it."

• "My dear friend (and former UK President) Otis Singletary once told me, 'Mark, always be humble ... no matter how arrogant you are.' This confirmed my belief that juries have a tendency to help people they like, and that includes (legal) parties and their attorneys."

Bryant emphasized the vital importance of law in America and the need to vigorously uphold it.

"As the world spins off in new directions, our country spins with it, moved by technology and geopolitics into unclaimed territory. The one sure thing we take with us is our commitment to the rule of law.

"When some individuals ask us to steer by alternative facts, we insist on the law as our rudder -- the law, which demands real facts that stand the scrutiny of discovery and cross-examination, jury decision and judicial appeal.

"You will be stewards of that process. You will help keep that commitment. When corruption piles up, it eventually gathers against a wall of law. When blowhards and charlatans, crooks and slicksters make their way among us, they most often find themselves facing the wall of law. Some of you will be its guardians."

He then turned to the proliferation of misinformation in public discourse these days and the struggle most people have knowing what to believe.

"The velocity of change has shattered American media. Newspapers once provided democracy with a widely accepted narrative on which to operate. That has been replaced by the chaos and cacophony of online information, the political purposing of cable news, the near impenetrable thickets of web-based particulars.

"Citizens face the challenge of separating real news from fake news, and fully fake news from the partly fake. A citizen has to work hard to separate one from the other. The agreed-upon narrative has been replaced by a digital mishmash.

"In a world like that, the one certainty our democracy offers is the solidity and endurance of the law."

Bryant suggested the legal profession should be in the vanguard of efforts to expose false information and discredit those spreading it.

Lawyers are trained to build their cases on solid evidence and rip up arguments that lack the facts to support them.

Their education and experience make them well-qualified to debunk phony news.

But lawyers have busy lives. Is it reasonable to expect them to spend time calling out false and misleading reports in the media?

Bryant anticipated that thought and closed with a quote from Sir Edmund Burke:

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil in this world is for enough good people to do nothing."

Left unchallenged, fake news will become all the more common.

Reach Steve Wilson at swilson@paducahsun.com.

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