For decades, the first steps of many Indiana lawyers into their careers have begun with a swearing-in ceremony.
It's a rite that happens twice each year – in May and October, after aspiring attorneys pass bar exams in February and July, respectively – and features gatherings where oaths are sworn to support the U.S. and state constitutions. They swear to never reject “the cause of the defenseless, the oppressed or those who cannot afford adequate legal assistance.”
“The session is the official start of a lawyer's career, it is the oath taking and written oath signing that allows them to practice law,” Kathryn Dolan, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Supreme Court, said in an email.
It will happen again next week, but the experience will be a lot different for participants including three soon-to-be attorneys from Fort Wayne.
The ceremony – an official proceeding of the state's Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, as well as federal courts in Indiana – had been planned for May 19 at an Indianapolis events center but instead will be held online Tuesday because of COVID-19.
Meetings among judges and about 100 new lawyers gathered with loved ones will be replaced with a video conference where attorneys will sign and submit their oaths electronically.
“This is a joyous occasion for the new lawyers and their families, and this remote ceremony is a celebration of their success and potential,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush said in a statement.
Seven Allen County residents will participate in the tradition. It dates to at least the 1970s, Dolan said, and it's the first time it will be held remotely.
That's “kind of a bummer,” said Lydia LaMont, 38, who graduated this year from Loyola University Chicago after more than three years commuting from Fort Wayne to the Windy City to complete her law degree.
She understands preventing the spread of the virus means barring large gatherings, but she also viewed the swearing in ceremony as the end of years of hard work and a way to celebrate her accomplishment.
“The day is not going to be as I envisioned,” said LaMont, who likely will log on to attend the ceremony from the offices of Tourkow, Crell, Rosenblatt and Johnston, the law firm on West Berry Street that she soon will join as an associate attorney.
“It's interesting the ways the virus is affecting everybody,” she said.
For James Alt, it has affected a graduation ceremony that had been slated for next weekend and the swearing-in ceremony.
“I didn't realize when I was taking finals that that would be the last time I'd see some of my friends (in person),” he said.
Alt earned his law degree from the University of Toledo and – like others – has given family members a link to the video conference so they can watch.
“I feel lucky that I graduated in December and I got to take the bar (exam),” he said. “I kind of feel like I dodged a bullet.”
Alt, 40, will work as a contractor for the Allen County Public Defender's Office.
Ann Young, 33, earned her law degree in 2013 from Valparaiso University but recently passed the bar exam to eventually join the law office owned by her father, Randy Young.
For now, she'll continue her work in purchasing for manufacturer Apollo Design – the company she credits with allowing her to work part time while she studied for the exam – and join her father periodically.
“I'm glad they're doing (the ceremony) this way, because nobody wants to put anybody at risk,” Young said. “(But) doing it from your laptop in front of a white wall isn't the same.
“You look forward to your swearing-in ceremony. I've been talking about it for a very long time. It's kind of a letdown, but I get it.”