Reno: Use law for public good

After joking about her fictional TV presence on both "Ally McBeal" and "Saturday Night Live," Attorney General Janet Reno delivered a serious call for the graduates at the Law School's commencement to use their education to help people.

"I favor public service because I always had trouble charging people for defending their rights," she said May 17 at the Academy of Music to 226 new juris doctor degree recipients, 66 new master of laws degree recipients and their guests. "But this school has a great tradition of public service and public interest law."

Although she said that not all of the newly minted lawyers could or should go into public service, she nonetheless called on all of them to practice law with the public interest in mind.

"You will be challenged by the issues that confront us all -- how the diverse people of this earth live together in peace and prosperity." Lawyers, she said, should lead the way in changing the culture of America from violence to peacefulness by resolving conflicts in a peaceful way.

She also urged the class to make the law serve the poor as well as the wealthy. "If the common law does not issue from all of the people, ...the law will not work in this democracy," she said.

Family and loving relationships were as important as the law, she said. She spoke of the how grateful she was for the time she spent with her mother who was dying of cancer. She spoke of the two 15-year-old twins she began caring for as their legal guardian in 1984. "Nothing I have done as attorney general is as important to me," she said.

And she showed her sense of humor. "I could never have dreamed that my wattles would be a focus of 'Ally McBeal,' or that my nieces and nephews would be having a debate on whether I could watch 'Saturday Night Live' or not."

Reno's elevation to a public icon who merited spoofing led Law School Dean Colin Diver, in his introduction, to note that even Bill Gates knows who she is. The day following the graduation, the Justice Department announced that it was prosecuting Gates' Microsoft for monopolistic practices.

Originally published on May 28, 1998