Judge Camille R. McMullen Delivers UT Law Commencement Speech

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Camille R. McMullen was selected to give the commencement address at her alma mater, the University of Tennessee Law School, on May 16.

“Being chosen by the students of the Class of 2024 to deliver the commencement address was an honor and a privilege I will forever cherish,” said Judge McMullen. “Looking back to when I first stepped on UT Law’s campus, I never would have believed I would be standing here to share my thoughts on success in the law to such an outstanding group of graduates.”

Through her speech, Judge McMullen’s goal was to emphasize to the graduates that the legal profession is one of the most important and impactful professions in the world. 

“You have the power to make a real difference in your client’s lives and by extension-society,” she said. “But to do so, you must remain genuinely engaged, passionate, and committed to your work.  When you feel apathy begin to set in, fight it. Your law degree has given you immense power to change the world, don’t waste it. It is all too easy to say that someone else will deal with the aftermath of indifference. Whenever I begin to feel this way, I often remind myself of the phrase, ‘If not you, then who?  If not now, then when?’”

Judge McMullen shared that the legal profession brings new challenges every day and it takes time to excel in the craft.    

“Despite all the advances in technology, however, the legal profession, at its best, is about people and how we as lawyers uphold the rule of law and create meaning in the lives of others we serve,” she said. “I can talk at length about the strengths of the legal profession you are about to join.  I can tell you it is a fulfilling and rewarding career choice, and that the University of Tennessee Law has prepared you for the legal profession and equipped you with the tools to impact the world significantly. However, I think it is more important for you to know what I believe to be the greatest threat to our profession. It is all too easy to fall into a pattern of simply going through the motions, doing your job without genuinely engaging with the work you’re doing. But I urge you to resist this temptation. Accordingly, the theme of my morning remarks is apathy and how you, as the next generation of lawyers, must overcome it.”

How does a legal professional overcome apathy? According to Judge McMullen, it takes work.

“We must first remind ourselves that the law is not just a set of rules and regulations but a means to protect and uplift the lives of the people we serve,” said Judge McMullen. “The antidote to apathy is exploring different areas of practice and finding the one that speaks to you. If you find yourself in an area of practice that is not the right fit, don’t be afraid to pivot. Take the time to find purpose and meaning in your work.  Seek out cases and causes that align with your values and passions.  For those working toward change, I acknowledge progress may be slow and gradual. But that does not diminish the importance of the work that must be done.  You are building blocks in the overall foundation.”

Judge McMullen believes it is important for judges to share their experience and wisdom with the next generation of lawyers. She was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in 2008 by then Governor Phil Bredesen and elected Presiding Judge in 2023. Judge McMullen received her J.D. from the University of Tennessee in 1996.





Judge Camille McMullen
Judge Camille McMullen