Louisiana Record

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2016 American Inns of Court award winner: Community service essential to law career

By Karen Kidd | Jul 12, 2016

NEW ORLEANS – Community service is an essential part of a law career, this past spring's recipient of the 2016 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Fifth Circuit said during a recent interview.

"As a young child I heard many stories about my grandfather, a longtime sheriff," said Mary Ann Vial Lemmon, a senior judge of the U.S. District Court for Louisiana's Eastern District since 1996, during a Louisiana Record interview. "I particularly recall stories about his hosting soup lines in his front yard during the Depression where he would share eggs and other food items from his farm. I was always conscious of the needs of others."

Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon of the U.S. District Court for Louisiana's Eastern District | Photo courtesy of Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon

Lemmon's grandfather, Leon C. Vial Sr. was St. Charles Parish sheriff from April 18, 1916 until his death March 28, 1939, when her grandmother, Marie Keller Vial, succeeded as St. Charles Parish sheriff. Marie Vail continued as sheriff until the end of her late husband's term April 17, 1940.

Lemmon represents the third generation in her family to pursue a law career. Her father, James P. Vial, pursued a law career and her husband is retired Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Harry T. Lemmon.

On May 10, she formally received the 2016 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Fifth Circuit during the the Fifth Circuit Judicial Conference in Houston. She was presented the award by U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart and U.S. Army Ret. Brig. Gen. Malinda Dunn.

The American Inns of Court Professionalism Awards, underwritten in part by Thomson Reuters, are awarded in participating federal circuits. Each recipient is a a lawyer or judge whose life and practice display sterling character, unquestioned integrity, and dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession and the rule of law.

Lemmon is a St. Charles Parish native and a graduate of Loyola Law School in New Orleans. She was an attorney in private practice at Vial, Vial & Lemmon before serving on the bench in many courts, including as district judge, judge pro tempore, and judge ad hoc in many of the parish judicial district jurisdictions. She was chief judge for four terms on the 29th Judicial District Court for the parishes of St. Charles and St. John the Baptist.

"My position as a judge gave me an excellent vantage point effectively to render service to the community," Lemmon said. "Even as a student I had aspirations to become a judge. I do not think all lawyers want to serve as judges. A law degree opens the door to many opportunities in addition to practicing law. Many factors influence the career paths of law graduates. Traditionally, successful practitioners are more highly compensated than judges, a factor which may discourage some from seeking judgeships."

It is community service that up-and-coming attorneys should consider as an important part of their careers, Lemmon said. "My advice to new attorneys is always to work diligently to do the best you can in your profession to earn the reputation of being dependable and trustworthy," she said. "One should not expect this to be an easy job. Service to the community is an essential part of a career in the law."

Lemmon serves on the Visiting Committee of Loyola Law School in New Orleans and received the school's outstanding alumnus St. Ives Award in 2010. Lemmon is an emeritus member of the school's Thomas More – Loyola Law School American Inn of Court, where she currently is program chair.

Lemmon is a fellow of the Louisiana Bar Foundation and of the American Bar Foundation. She also is a member of the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit, Federal Judges Association, American Bar Association and Federal Bar Association board of directors.

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