From overcoming a shyness for public speaking to learning the ropes of presenting at a principals meeting on his first day on the job, James E. Baker said a strong adherence to personal integrity is what guided the decisions he has made throughout his legal career.
Baker, who currently serves as chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, addressed approximately 50 OSU students and faculty members in his national security simulation keynote speech, held in the U.S. Bank Conference Theater this afternoon.
“Know what you stand for,” Baker said, addressing the audience at the end of his hour-long speech. “There will come a time when everything is on the line. Your sense of self, your sense of integrity … your sense of who you are as a person.”
Baker’s speech drew upon his own experiences as the special assistant to the President and legal adviser to the National Security Council, a position he held following graduation from Yale Law School in 1990.
“I keep by my desk a quote from my grandfather about self-respect,” he said. “And I am not saying I live up to it. I don’t. I try to live up to it, but it is there every day to be a reminder.”
This commitment to self-respect is reinforced through the identification of role models, as well as a familiarity with a legal “toolkit,” Baker said.
“Know your toolkit,” he said. “My toolkit has columns … law, process and personality. It turns out that most issues are personality issues … leadership issues. Leadership is the essential component.”
Baker said he takes leadership guidance from the role models who influence his personal and professional life.
“Know who your role models are,” he said. “The most important role model in my life, in my ethical life and in my life as a lawyer, has been my mother. She is the person I really think about when the pressure is on.”
In addition to his mother, Baker said his other “personal, private heroes” include John Downey, a former CIA operative who, after 20 years of captivity in China, graduated from Harvard Law School and became a juvenile justice court judge in New Haven, Conn.
Baker also mentioned John Sparks, the officer selection officer who recruited him to join the Marines as a walk-in, as a role model from which he draws inspiration. Sparks represents an individual who lives a life of ethical courage and moral commitment to what is right, Baker said.
“When you have these ethical challenges that you are confronting, think about who you are and what you stand for,” he said. “If necessary, fall back on your role models. What would they do in this situation and how will you live up to their standards?”
Baker’s speech is part of the annual OSU national security simulation, organized by Dakota Rudesill, an OSU assistant professor of law. The two-day simulation, hosted in the Ohio Union, places participants in a role-playing environment that allows them to experience the practice of national security law as they would in the real world.
Baker said he would encourage aspiring law professionals to have a firm grasp on individual beliefs prior to taking on responsibilities, as this will be paramount in fulfilling duties with moral courage and ethical leadership.
“If you don’t know what you stand for, you will miss that moment, that one moment when you could have spoken up. It will be too late,” he said. “The one thing you can never get back is your own sense of self-respect. That is totally under your control and only you can give it up.”