Acknowledging that lawyers are not always popular, Ed Rendell encouraged Penn Law's Class of 2011 to take pride in their new profession.
Sharing an anecdote about a public ranking of professions published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the former governor of Pennsylvania and mayor of Philadelphia said at the commencement ceremony last May, "I quickly went through the story to find out where we lawyers ranked. We ranked second from the bottom."
Nevertheless, Rendell said new lawyers should feel good about their career choice. "I'm enormously proud to be a lawyer, because I think lawyers protect people, defend people, and bring justice to the world. And nothing is more important to life than justice and fairness."
He pointed to an example from William Shakespeare's Henry VI when a character involved in plotting to overthrow the king says, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." While often interpreted as an anti-lawyer sentiment, Rendell said the meaning is debatable. "If you wanted to take a free society and rip it asunder and take away the things and the freedom and the liberties we hold dear, you would need to kill all the lawyers," he said.
Lawyers helped to build the nation, Rendell declared, saying that 26 of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and 13 of the first 16 U.S. presidents were lawyers.
Even trial lawyers, who sometimes suffer the worst reputations, have contributed to improving conditions in our country, Rendell said. "Think about the hundred most important safety advances – advances that protect all of us," he said. "Eighty percent of the most important safety advances of the last century came from litigation."
"Members of the class of 2011, you've been blessed with a great opportunity. The Lord gave you incredible diligence and drive. Your parents have given you an awesome opportunity by sending you to this great institution. You're very lucky and blessed people," he said. "So go out and, yes, do well, but also do good."