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Toobin Encourages Graduates to Keep Open Minds About Their Careers

Jeffrey Toobin
CNN legal analyst and author Jeffrey Toobin offers a recession-proof message to students: Don't get locked into one career path.
Despite record-breaking unemployment rates and a fraught economy, Jeffrey Toobin, author and CNN senior legal analyst, encouraged Penn Law's class of 2010 to view troubled times as an opportunity during his commencement address last May.

"You are graduating into uncertain times, but times of uncertainty, times of change, that is something to embrace rather than fear," Toobin said.

"I suspect that many of you know me as a television legal analyst. When I graduated from law school in 1986, I did not aspire to be a television legal analyst because the job did not exist. Many of you will spend your careers in jobs and fields that do not even exist today. You will litigate cases, and handle deals on subjects and products that have not even been invented yet. That thought is a little bit scary and a lot exciting."

At the time of commencement, the U.S. Senate was on the verge of a confirmation hearing to fill the vacancy created by the impending retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Consequently, Toobin reflected fondly on his own time in law school, where he encountered Elena Kagan.

"When I arrived at Harvard Law in 1984, I joined a first year study group with a few of my friends," he recalled. "The poor people in my study group were me, Tony Herman, Gail Horowitz, and Elena Kagan. Life takes strange turns. Who would've thought all those years ago – as we struggled to understand torts and property contracts – that one of us would go on to cover the Michael Jackson case."

Kagan, Toobin's former study partner, was nominated by President Obama to fill the Supreme Court vacancy just days prior to commencement. The U.S. Senate confirmed Kagan, who was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts in August.

Toobin also turned conventional wisdom on its head, attributing judicial activism to conservatives as well as liberals. He cited the Court's ruling to overturn campaign finance laws and allow corporations to contribute unlimited funds to political candidates. Toobin asked graduates to think of law objectively and not to confuse political ideals with judicial action.

"I don't want to tell you what to think about judicial activism, federalism, or free speech, but I do think you need to think about them," he declared. "The oldest clich̩ about law school happens to be true Рyou learn to think like a lawyer. I happen to think that's a good thing to think analytically, critically, skeptically about ideas in the world. When you think like a lawyer, you think like informed and engaged citizens. And that's what I hope you'll be."