16 OnCenter Building

17 800 South State Street

18 Syracuse, New York

19 May 17, 1998

20 3:48 PM







1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 MS. RENO: Thank you very much,

3 Dean. It is a great privilege, an honor to be here

4 today. It was 35 years ago that I stood in your

5 shoes. I didn't know what to expect. The future

6 seemed uncertain. I certainly never expected to

7 be Attorney General or have my wattles focused on on

8 the Ally McBeal show, but it's been a wonderful

9 experience.

10 And I can tell you particularly after

11 these last five years of watching lawyers in action

12 across this country, lawyers helping people,

13 developing new systems, volunteering, trying to make

14 things better for America, that I am very proud to be

15 a lawyer in the United States. I love the law. I

16 love good lawyers, and I've met some good lawyers

17 here today in this graduating class. You will take

18 so much from this law school that will be with you

19 all of your professional career.

20 You'll find yourself telling stories about

21 faculty members just as I did this past weekend;

22 faculty members that have influenced your life and

23 will forever. You'll take concepts of the law with

24 you that will hold you in good stead no matter what

25 you do. Use the wonderful tools you obtain here.


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 Use them, I urge you, in public service at some

3 point.

4 The chancellor has spoken of my feelings

5 about public service, and sometimes it does get a

6 little bit rough, but I haven't figured out anything

7 I'd rather do than to try to use the law to help

8 people. I caution you as you consider public service

9 that sometimes it's frustrating. You don't think

10 you're getting anything done or it seems to go so

11 slow. In 1968 I represented a lady in a child

12 support matter. She came asking me to collect child

13 support. I quoted her a fee, and she said, "how can

14 you expect me to pay you? I can't even pay the

15 rent. I haven't gotten child support in nine

16 months." And I felt so bad about asking her that I

17 immediately said, "forget it." But it made me

18 realize that as a lawyer we had to work harder to

19 develop a system for a collection of child support

20 that wouldn't put that woman or others similarly

21 situated in the same position. And so when I became

22 the state attorney, we developed, along with others,

23 a child support enforcement system that provided a

24 public way to collect child support.

25 Now, if you think public service is really


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 interesting and really rewarding, you might get a

3 call at 7 o'clock on a Sunday night. I always left

4 my home telephone number listed. "You haven't gotten

5 my child support yet and I'm going to get evicted,

6 and it's all your fault," bang -- from mothers telling me

7 how their children were doing without because I

8 hadn't collected child support. And yet, about two

9 years ago I drove down an old dirt road in South

10 Carolina with the President of the United States,

11 past the spot where a church had been burdened. We

12 drove to dedicate the new church. The president

13 spoke, we came down off the platform and a lady

14 suddenly burst through the rope line. "Janet, you

15 got me child support in Miami." And she then said,

16 "and these are the two young men you got child

17 support for." And looking at those young men beaming

18 down at me, seeing how they had grown, it's one of

19 the ways that you help people, and it's one of the

20 moments that you always remember.

21 Public service is hard, as John Kennedy

22 said, but it's worth it all. But even if you decide

23 not to go into public service, whether you're a real

24 estate lawyer, a trial lawyer, or have a small family

25 practice, you might do other things with the law.


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 You might leave the law, but I believe a good

3 education does more than produce just good lawyers.

4 It also builds good citizens, men and women who can

5 work harder, think more clearly, communicate more

6 effectively, analyze better, negotiate more

7 productively, and spot and solve problems better than

8 most any other discipline.

9 I did an inventory of what lawyers might

10 do. They help lead Fortune 500 corporations.

11 They're entrepreneurs like the founders of Southwest

12 Airlines and David's Cookies. They teach English and

13 kindergarten. They founded Direct Advocacy

14 Associations, Humane Societies, charities and

15 investment banks. They write novels and

16 screenplays. They are dancers and disk jockeys,

17 sculptors, restaurateurs, ministers and parents, and

18 they even raise llamas. And if you are not satisfied

19 with any of those things, remember that Tony Laruso

20 managed the Oakland A's to a World Series

21 Championship in 1989, and he is a lawyer. But

22 wherever you go, whatever you do in the law, use it

23 to help others. I see the law having three

24 functions; one is as the sword and the shield, the

25 advocate and the protector; the second is as the


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 problem solver, a function too often neglected by

3 lawyers; the third is a peacemaker. A lawyer can be

4 a extraordinarily effective peacemaker.

5 In these roles as you approach

6 whatever you're going to do with the law or out of

7 the law, consider two issues that I think are vital

8 for lawyers to address. First, the issue of access

9 to justice: How do we make the law real for all

10 Americans? If 80 percent of the poor and working

11 poor have no access to lawyers, to the Courts or to

12 justice, what does the law mean to them? For too

13 many, it means nothing more than the paper it's

14 written on.

15 Now, some of you may say, I'm going up to

16 Wall Street and I'm going to be a big corporate

17 lawyer and that's not my problem. You may raise

18 llamas and say it's not your problem. I suggest to

19 you that if you do that you will undermine the law,

20 undermine your community and contribute to a problem

21 that I think we must address. If people do not feel

22 that they have a voice in the law, if they feel they

23 have no remedies, if they feel alienated, then the

24 democracy of which they are a part of is weakened.

25 It is impaired, and it is not a representative of all


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 the people. We are all in this together, and we as

3 lawyers, no matter what course we take in the future,

4 have a duty to make sure that America has access to

5 justice.

6 I would begin in one of the most important

7 areas of all, indigent defense. In too many states

8 in this country, defendants who have no money to pay

9 a lawyer, are receiving little, if any, defense. Too

10 many people face serious penalties, including the

11 death penalty, without adequate defense. Some people

12 say, "but that used to happen, we don't see innocent

13 people charged." The Justice Department did a study

14 of over 16 cases in which in recent years a defendant

15 was sentenced, convicted and sentenced for a crime

16 that DNA testing demonstrated they did not commit.

17 We have seen other instances in cases in which the

18 death penalty was requested when the person didn't

19 commit the crime. One innocent person convicted is

20 one too many. And if we are to make this system of

21 justice we hold dear real, we've got to make sure

22 that at least we do not deprive people of liberty

23 without adequate defense.

24 If you become the investment banker and

25 are indeed on Wall Street, or if you're the lawyer


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 with the family practice here in Syracuse, all of us

3 have a responsibility to speak out for legal service

4 programs across this country, for they are the heart

5 of making sure that America has access. But each of

6 us in our own ways perform pro bono service, and I

7 suggest to you that we can be more effective and

8 cover a lot more ground if we consider how we perform

9 pro bono service. We can go in like the advocate,

10 take the one case and think we can really solve the

11 problem, or we can really solve the problem. Let me

12 give you an example. Suppose a lawyer undertakes pro

13 bono representation of a tenant who wants the

14 landlord to fix the unit that the tenant lives in,

15 but the landlord says, "the crack dealers down the

16 street have driven all my tenants away. I don't have

17 any money. I'm losing rent. I don't have money to

18 fix it. I feel bad about it, I'm sorry." Why not

19 take the whole apartment building? Why not take the

20 whole neighborhood and go to the local authorities to

21 see what community redevelopment monies may be

22 available. Contact the senior partner who is the

23 Chairman of the United Way Campaign and say, "hey,

24 look, this whole neighborhood is in need of

25 rehabilitation." Contact the local Habitat for


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 Humanity, and instead of working on one house, work

3 on one house as part of a whole neighborhood so that

4 you create a domino effect and solve problems with

5 respect to a neighborhood as opposed to one unit of

6 an apartment. Trouble with the crack dealers down

7 the street? Go to the police chief and talk about

8 what community policing could do in that

9 neighborhood, to involve the citizens and bring

10 order, and to bring a force that can address quality

11 of life issues. Go to the local medical community

12 and find out how we can join together in a

13 partnership that will ensure medical care for

14 families that cannot afford preventative medical care

15 for their children, but use the ability of lawyers as

16 problem solvers to make a difference.

17 And then that leads to the second point;

18 lawyers have a responsibility to build a community.

19 It's fine to go in and represent one child, 14 years

20 old, charged with a delinquent act and get them off.

21 But how did that child get there? I used to look at

22 presentence investigations of armed robberies. I

23 could see four points along the way where we could

24 have intervened in that child's life to have made a

25 difference, but there was no advocate. There was no


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 lawyer there looking at the whole picture. We were

3 only looking at individual cases.

4 And then the crack epidemic hit Miami, and

5 I went to the doctors at our public hospital to try

6 to figure out what to do about crack-involved infants

7 and their mothers. And they taught me that 50

8 percent of all learned human response is learned in

9 the first year of life. The concept of reward and

10 punishment in the consciousness is developed in the

11 first three years of life. And I said to myself,

12 what good are all the prisons and detention

13 facilities going to be 15 and 18 years from now if

14 that child doesn't know what punishment means? What

15 good are all the education opportunities going to be

16 if that child does not have the foundation upon which

17 to learn? We have got to make an investment in our

18 children in terms of time and money and structures,

19 and lawyers can lead the way in looking at the whole

20 picture as opposed to an individual picture to help

21 solve problems. Lawyers as advocates can make sure

22 that we have a system for delivering medical care to

23 every child; for ensuring that we can solve

24 parenting through child support mechanisms; through

25 efforts aimed as domestic violence; through parenting


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 skills courses; and through conflict resolution

3 programs that help bring peace within a family. Let

4 us make sure that every child in America has

5 appropriate educare in those first three years so

6 that we build on a strong foundation for K

7 through 12.

8 Now, when I came to Washington for my

9 confirmation hearing and started talking like this,

10 somebody said, "you sound like a social worker." I

11 don't care what we are. We should be problem solvers

12 for the people we serve and for the communities in

13 which we live. We should argue that teachers should

14 start being paid salaries that represent the strength

15 of their profession and the importance of their

16 profession.

17 As problem solvers, yes, we should worry

18 about representing that 14 and 17 year old defendant,

19 but we should let the world understand that if we're

20 really going to solve the problem, we should have had

21 something in the afternoons and evenings and

22 summertimes for that 17 year old to have done when he

23 was eight and started getting in trouble when

24 children are more unsupervised than at any time in

25 history. And we need to develop job-to-work programs


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 that prepare our young people so that it will enable

3 them to obtain a skill to earn a living wage. We've

4 got to give our young people, all of our young people,

5 the opportunity to serve. This class has

6 distinguished itself in its public service and in its

7 public interest work, but there are so many young

8 people that want to be somebody, that want to make a

9 difference and don't know how because they have no

10 strong role model, no mentor. Each of us can make a

11 difference by being a mentor to a young person who

12 does not have someone to lead them.

13 But where it all begins is in the family.

14 I remember my Aunt Louise after school and in the

15 evening and my mother who worked at home. My mother taught

16 us to play baseball and to bake a cake and to

17 appreciate Beethoven's symphonies. She loved us with

18 all her heart, and she punished us. She taught us to

19 play fair. No child care in the world will ever beat

20 the substitute for what that lady was in our life.

21 Somehow or another -- somehow or another we ought to

22 be able to pursue our career aspirations, be the

23 lawyer we want to be, practice law in a sensible way,

24 not get caught up with billable hours, and have

25 quality time with children. With modern computers,


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 with telecommuting, with the way things are done now

3 we ought to use the technology of today to give us

4 time to be with children.

5 Raising children is the single most

6 difficult thing I know to do. It takes hard work,

7 love, intelligence and an awful lot of luck, but it

8 is the most rewarding, as I learned when I inherited

9 15 year old twins when both their parents died and

10 I became their legal guardian. The girl was in love.

11 I've learned an awful lot about raising children in

12 the last 12 years, but it is one of the most rewarding

13 things. When you go looking for jobs in the future,

14 ask: "what is your attitude about family leave time,

15 about quality time with families?" Make sure you put

16 that in the equation of success.

17 One final challenge: I think lawyers

18 are going to be in a better position to help achieve

19 than any other discipline that I know -- teaching

20 America to resolve conflicts, not just with trials

21 but with negotiations and means of dispute

22 resolution. Not with guns and fists and arguments

23 and knives, but talking it out in the elementary

24 school. Not with bully sticks and harsh words, but

25 with a police officer who knows by the tone of voice


1 Syracuse University Commencement Address

2 and manner and an ability to communicate and to

3 listen, how to talk with young people and make a

4 difference. Law firms, bar associations across the

5 country are beginning to reach out and teach conflict

6 resolution. If we work hard at this, when you stand

7 up here 35 years from now you can say that you helped

8 lead the way to bringing America to a more peaceful

9 culture, a culture of respect, a culture where people

10 listen, a culture where people talk and look and

11 understand instead of looking past and through in

12 argument and in division.

13 It is such an extraordinary time in

14 history, a time of challenge, a time where technology

15 threatens to master us unless we master it, but

16 having talked to a number of your colleagues just

17 before the commencement, I have every, every faith

18 that you're going to do it. And when I hear 35 years

19 from now what you've done, I'll be as proud then as I

20 am now of all that you have done.

21 (Proceedings concluded)