“The Fraternity” – A Speech By Cllr. Charlene Brumskine Delivered as Dux of the Supreme Court Bar Examination

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The Honorable Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Honorable Supreme Court;

Madame Vice President, Dr. Cllr. Jewel Howard-Taylor;

Members of the Legislature;

The Minister of Justice, Cllr. Musah Dean and other members of the Cabinet;

Former Justices of the Supreme Court;

All Judges of the Circuit and Specialized Courts and other courts;

All Magistrates;

The President, executives and members of the Liberia National Bar;

All clergy present;

The press;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with great honor and humility that I stand before you today.  The magnitude and significance of this day is not lost on any of us. We, as the newly admitted class of counsellors of the Supreme Court Bar, are entering into a corridor of the epitome of legal practice. We have proven our legal capacity and mental endurance!

When we were preparing for this exam, there were so many speculations about how the exam would be graded. The one thing I kept hearing was that the ethics portion was going to be graded very heavily. So, I made sure to study our Code of Moral and Professional Ethics like my life depended on it.

While studying, one of the rules caught my attention—Rule 17.

The Rule reads:

“Clients, not lawyers, are the litigants… All personalities between counsels should be scrupulously avoided…Wrangling between lawyers on opposite sides in a case does not become members of the profession.”

Hmmm. I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued when I read the final Rule in our Code, Rule 40: A Lawyer’s Duty to His Brother Lawyer.


This Rule reads:

“The legal profession is a fraternity to which all lawyers are members; therefore, a spirt of brotherhood should at all times characterize their treatment to, and consideration of each other.”

These two rules struck me.  Why did the drafters of our Code of Moral and Professional Ethics find it compelling to include a rule that admonished lawyers to be mindful that wrangling between lawyers on opposite sides is unbecoming of lawyers? Why did the Code end on the note of fraternity?

Should not the rules be more concerned about zealous advocacy of our clients and less concerned about lawyers being cordial to one another? Shouldn’t the rules have limited its scope to matters that truly impact the profession? Matters such as financial integrity, prohibition against co-mingling of funds, undue and unprofessional courtesies paid to the presiding judge, public decorum, or personal conflicts of interest for the lawyer! Why encourage civility among lawyers?

As I began to ponder the relevance and importance of the rule that spoke to wrangling among lawyers in our legal practice, I decided to look to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct to see if they had a similar rule. I could not find one.

Why was this included in Liberia? What was so important about legal comradery? Hoping to find an answer, I began to examine my own experience as a lawyer here in Liberia. And questioned what contrasted lawyers in Liberia from lawyers in the US or other jurisdictions. And I concluded that the distinction was, indeed, our comradery and fraternity.

I reasoned that the drafters of the Code had included these rules because they knew well that the success of our profession is inextricably linked to the manner in which we engage each other as lawyers.  We, as lawyers, can never truly represent the best interest of our clients if we are at odds with each other.  Imagine how difficult it would be to find, what should be, an easy solution to your client’s matter if you and opposing counsel were at unwarranted personal odds. Or the difficulty of negotiating a contract if you and opposing counsel had wrangling over a previous matter.

Although our legal system is one that is inherently adversarial in that opposing interests are at stake, our practice should not be one that is hostile or antagonistic. It should only seek to advocate for the rights and position of our clients.  Oxford dictionary defines the word adversarial in two ways. Interestingly, the dictionary has a separate definition for “adversarial” relative to the legal practice. It defines adversarial in regard to the law as a procedure in which the parties in dispute have the responsibility for finding and presenting evidence. The definition is quite straightforward— no use of words such as: conflict, antagonism, or enemy. Adversarial is merely a dispute between two parties. 

We, as members of this adversarial process, must be reminded that we are interdependent on and linked to each other. We are more than just colleagues with a shared profession, we are characterized as “learned friends”. We are a fraternity that relies on each other to improve the quality of service that we dispense to our clients.  For I am only as good as the lawyer on the other side of the table compels me to be. There are some of us in this room who know that when certain names are called as opposing counsel, we tremble. There are some lawyers who others do not want to go up against because they know that these lawyers’ standard of research and writing will be par excellence.  They will drown their opposing counsel with diligently researched case law that the average lawyer may not take the time to find.  They will confront their opposing counsel with cogent and compelling legal arguments.  These are the lawyers that push us and our craft to excellence.

I stand here today having made the highest score on this exam not based solely on my own merit. I have arrived at this place because of the caliber of lawyers with which I have interacted: 1) by chance through client engagement and 2) by my intentional design.  On my journey to this place, I purposely decided that I would seek out the best, the brightest, the ethically astute to work with me, to mentor me and from whom I could learn. I have taken a little bit of virtue from each lawyer that I have come in close contact with.  We must all seek out those who are examples in our practice and our society and stay close to them.  There are countless examples of such stellar lawyers in our profession.

When my father Counsellor Brumskine passed away, I was devastated. We had just opened the new firm, CMB Law Group. He was our senior counsellor. And then he was no more.  There were many days when I wanted to give up. But just when I started to have those thoughts of frustration, I received a call from Dean/Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner calling me to meet with him.  He told me that if we ever needed anything, he and his colleagues at his firm would be there for us. Cllr. Alhaji Swaliho Sesay called me and reminded me that he was my father’s son and legal prodigy and would be a phone call away.  Cllr. Oswald Tweh and the Honorable Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa were always there to answer any legal question I had.  Cllr. Johnny Momoh helped me in more ways than one. Judge Eva Mae Mappy-Morgan constantly reminded me that I was her “prof’s” daughter and that I could call on her (within reason). I have called on Cllr. Abraham Sillah for counsel on more than one occasion.

I was overwhelmed by all of the good will our firm received from lawyers who would accrue no personal benefit from providing us assistance. I believe, however, that what prompted these senior lawyers to help us was their singular belief that better lawyers make a better bar!  And they were willing to build up lawyers to ensure the superiority of character of the members of our bar. That is leadership! That is fraternity!

You see, my colleagues, what I learned from our senior counsellors, was that we, as members of the Liberian national bar are unique in that our shared goal as lawyers should not merely be self-achievement and personal aggrandizement; but we must pursue the comprehensive growth, evolution and eminence of the bar as a whole. It is incumbent on each of us, that as we proceed with our daily advocacy and representation, that we are constantly consumed with the responsibility of uplifting the national bar!

For I believe that our profession, should be the one closest to the calling of God (I beg the indulgence and forgiveness of the clergy). 

In our Judicial Canons, Canon No. Five states:

“The Court is the last place of hope for man on earth!”

Is that not one of the highest callings? What do we say to the poor, the widow, the marginalized, the aggrieved if we, as an association, are unfit to represent them?  And dare I say that we as the nation’s lawyers are only as strong and as prepared as the least prepared among us! We must push towards competence for each of us in this profession. Our class of lawyers must leave no counsellor behind. If we know that our brother or sister lawyer is lagging professionally or morally, we are duty-bound to extend a hand, encouragement, and sometimes admonishment!

If we believe that our calling is the highest one and that we must move towards bettering our profession every day, how do we, as newly minted counsellors, do so?

In our firm at the CMB Law Group, LLC., we have each promised to practice by our motto, which is:

Excellence, Integrity, and Innovation.

What does excellence mean for us lawyers? I submit that it means that we must adopt the highest standard in all that we do.  

In the case of In re Sillah, in the October Term 2017, the Supreme Court, by and through the opinion written by Justice Phillip Banks declared that the practice of law before the Supreme Court was different from that of lower courts. Justice Banks stated, “The standard was different. This higher standard required a different manner and approach to the presentation of a case; a different quality of the instruments filed with the Court; a higher level of and more sophisticated and superior writing and analytic skills; a sharper and more alert mind capable of identifying the complex and difficult issues in a case before the Court of last resort”. In other words, we must don the cloak of excellence in all that we do. In and out of the courtroom!

Our next virtue in our motto is integrity. It is a word that often bounces around our legal lexicon. In order to truly have integrity, we must comport ourselves with the strongest moral principles. We must do away with “the practice” and business as usual. We must realize that the most fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution are conferred and meted out by us as advocates. We set the culture, the drum beat and the tone of our nation. As our profession goes, so does the nation!

The other branches of our government look to our branch as the interpreter and dispenser of rights! If we are callous with this sacred responsibility, some might lose their only or last recourse to justice. As the saying goes, the dead cannot cry out for justice. We must make sure that the living are afforded the same!

Thirdly, Innovation. Innovation is an elusive term for lawyers. How do we innovate and why is it necessary? Innovation is the action of constant evolution, coming up with new methods, new ways of doing things, presenting new products and ideas to our profession and our nation. 

It is incumbent on us to lead our nation into the modern age of how justice is dispensed, technology is implemented, and human rights is assured. We are the custodians of the vehicle that will propel Liberia from an underdeveloped nation to one of the fastest developing and burgeoning nation-states in Africa! We must challenge the old order!  The law must be the apparatus that we wield in our quest for change, improvement and expansion.

My uncle, Cllr. Kabina Ja’neh took a couple of days out of his busy schedule to lecture a few of us during our preparation for the Supreme Court bar examination. Throughout our time with him, when discussing legal theories, he constantly asked us what we thought about how the legal matter was decided. He asked what we would have done differently if we were the lawyers on the case. But what was most salient for me during his tutelage was that he constantly said that lawyers today do not challenge the system enough. He admonished us to not simply rest on what our progenitor lawyers did before us but that we must give birth to new legal theories and arguments. My fellow lawyers, I assert that we must be legal engineers that continue to build the new bridge of justice. We must innovate!

We must dispose of mediocrity! Not just in our profession but throughout the nation! We are so afraid to stand out as excellent in this country for fear that someone will think you are proud or that you believe that you are better than others.  We hide our lights in this country. We would rather walk around unnoticed and blend in with darkness than shine bright for others to see. We must celebrate excellence and distinction at every opportunity. Our country is depending on us! Our children are looking to us! This class of counselors must be the catalyst for legal and societal change in Liberia.

The cries of women and children raped, maimed and murdered will continue to hunt us unless, we innovate! We now see a trend of political party and electoral cases cropping up. Are we prepared to ensure due process and justice for the party litigants? Are we prepared to take on the controversial cases, that may make us very unpopular with some but that could ensure justice for others? Are we prepared to break ranks with the fraternity when we know that a member has violated the code? Are we ready to do hard things?

We must push each other to the highest standard of distinction. We can no longer watch complacently as wrong and injustice reigns and the lawyers, as the custodians of justice, move about circumspectly so as not to disrupt the status quo and cause problems. We must trouble the waters!

As I close, I would be remis, if I did not carve out a special message to all of the women jurists in Liberia. Today, I speak not as a woman who is a lawyer, I speak as a lawyer who happens to be a woman. I am proud of us. We are indeed breaking barriers! We have come a long way, but we still have such a distance to go.  The time is now!  Our souls must ache with urgency. We are the bedrock of society. Our children are dying, our sons and daughters are being violated! We are still underrepresented in the law school. We are still being relegated to a few seats at the leadership table. We must decide that we want better for our children, our profession and our nation! I know we can do it and I know we will!  We must get the brooms and sweep the path for the young women who will follow us!

Lastly, today I stand amongst a distinguished group of lawyers who scored the highest points in the exam. I stand within the ranks of Cllr. Jamal Dehtho, Cllr. Abraham Sillah, Cllr. Golda Bonah-Elliot, Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner, Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, Cllr. Oswald Tweh to name a few.  But most important to me is that another name must be ranked among these outstanding lawyers, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine.

On June 24, 1985, my father received a letter from James E. Brathwaite, the court administrator of the Supreme Court informing him that he was the head of the class of the Supreme Court bar and that therefore he was cited to present his class to the Court. He also “duxed” the exam!

My father was a man of excellence. My father was a man who troubled the waters. My father was a Liberian Jurist! He was known as a politician, but I tell you his first love was the law. He would always tell me that the law was like a jealous mistress, you could not have many other priorities before her. He took pride in his work, his arguments, his writings, his advocacy. He wanted to transform Liberia through the legal system. He was just beginning to seriously train me before he died. My heart still aches for him. But he instilled in me the belief that lawyers can in fact be the change that the nation needs. I owe everything that I am today to him. This day is dedicated to Counselor Charles Walker Brumskine!

I like Cllr. Brumskine also believe that we, as learned counsellors of this noble profession, should light the torch for Liberia’s onward journey through this dark forest of mediocrity, corruption, and injustice. We must use the law to modify the trajectory of this great nation. We must and we can! Let’s go and change Liberia! Thank you!!

Cllr. Charlyne Mnamah-mar Brumskine

February 18, 2022

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