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Justice Breyer Graces Graduation

The call to public service echoed through commencement as 245 J.D. students ended the paper chase and took home their coveted diplomas.

Speaking in the grand “chambers” of The Academy of Music, where 79 LL.M students also received degrees, Justice Stephen Breyer implored graduates to devote time during their careers to help others, whether through traditional pro bono work, legal reform efforts or government service.

Justice Stephen Breyer

“I’m asking you to help change a certain law firm culture,” said Breyer, who noted drops in pro bono work at major law firms, decreases in recent graduates’ pursuit of public or nonprofit careers, and disparities in what America spends on legal aid ($2 per citizen) to France ($5) and Britain ($15).

“How many young lawyers will search for a government job – when the comparative public/private salary gap has widened and young lawyers must repay school loans of $100,000 or more?” Breyer wondered.

Still, Breyer commended government service, saying he found it rewarding when, as a staff member on an obscure Senate subcommittee in 1974, he helped organize hearings on airline deregulation that led to cuts in average airfares and opened the skies to more people. “Public questions demand public participation … The participation of lawyers is essential to preserve the democratic government that the Constitution foresees,” Breyer said.

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