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I Wish I’d Known – Martha Coakley


By Martha Coakley.

Martha Coakley took office in January 2007 as the first female attorney general of Massachusetts. In that role, she has focused on a variety of issues, including cyber crime, identity theft, mortgage foreclosures, access to affordable health care, and environmental protection. Previously, she was district attorney for Middlesex County. Coakley graduated cum laude from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts and earned her JD from Boston University School of Law.

As you increase your legal knowledge and prepare to begin your career, it’s important not to lose sight of the fundamentals. And what could be more fundamental than the ABCs? Here are some ABCs I’ve learned along the way that help guide me. I hope they can be helpful to you as well.

A for activism: Physically and mentally; keeps you young, keeps you healthy.

B for be somebody: Be competent and respected and do things you care about.

C for courage: Be courageous like Rosa Parks, who refused to go to the back of the bus, or like the domestic violence victim who leaves the abuse.

D for dogs: We can learn from their simplicity and, well, their doggedness with a bone.

E for environment: Massachusetts challenged EPA regulations before the Supreme Court and won. Lawyers can help focus the discussion on energy and the environment.

F & G for facts and getting them right!: Correct conclusions and wise action begin with knowing the facts. This is particularly true for lawyers.

H for humility: Remember that someone is always smarter than you.

I for integrity: The only thing worse than an incompetent lawyer without integrity is a competent lawyer without integrity.

J for judge not, lest you yourselves be judged: Practice tolerance until you know all the facts, and then judge fairly and wisely.

K for strikeout, thousand, and contract: Honor your contracts, manage your money wisely, and try not to strike out.

L for liberty: You are free to make your own destiny.  Choose wisely.

M for merit: Make sure your actions have merit; most important, that they are good and worthy.

N for news: Stay informed. Know what’s happening in your community, your nation, and your world.

O for open your eyes and mind: Don’t let what you learned in law school close either one. As Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.”

P for patriotism and politics: I still get the goose bumps when I say the Pledge of Allegiance or listen to the Star-Spangled Banner. Get involved in politics and vote.

Q for Don Quixote: Who tilted at windmills and said, “Live life not as it is but as it should be!”

R for risks: Take them. Every risk takes some thought and some courage.

S for stress: Lawyers particularly seem subject to stress. Recognize that stress management is as important to your health as your annual checkup.

T for taxes: Remember to pay them.

U for United States of America: It’s the greatest country on Earth.

V for volunteer: Volunteer for your
local bar and for pro bono work.

W for words: Be careful with your words, but never be stingy with them when you can help someone.

X for commitment: Keep your word. Keep your promises. If you sign on that line next to the X, then be sure you follow through!

Y is for Generation Y:  Social media and smartphones are part of your DNA.  Use the power of these tools for good, but remember they are only tools and can never replace the power of face-to-face connections.

Z for Zamboni: Ever wish you had a personal Zamboni? You do. It’s called “I’m sorry.” Never be afraid of a do-over with that personal Zamboni.


Vol. 41 No. 2

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.