In a commencement address at Atlanta's John Marshall Law School, the author posed this challenge: Fix the broken legal system and serve everyday citizens.
I am a professor of law at Harvard. I run the university's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. At that Center for Ethics, we study corruption. Not Rod Blagojevich, or Randy Duke Cunningham corruption -- not "criminals violating the law" sort of corruption. Instead, corruption as in improper influence.
Think about a doctor taking money from a drug company, and then sitting on a panel that reviews that company's drugs: Not illegal -- if disclosed, not unethical -- but nonetheless, an influence that causes many to wonder whether it was truth or money that led the doctor to approve the drugs.
Or think about an academic taking money from a telecom company, and then giving testimony before Congress that just so happens to serve the interest of that telecom. Nothing illegal about taking that money -- if disclosed, nothing unethical -- but nonetheless, an influence that causes many to wonder whether it was truth, or money, that led the academic to speak in favor of that company.
Or think about just about every member of the United States Congress taking money from the interests they regulate -- Wall Street banks, coal companies, insurance companies, big pharma -- and then regulating in a way that makes life great for them, while making life for the rest of us not quite as great. Nothing illegal about taking that money -- if disclosed, nothing unethical -- but nonetheless, an influence that causes many to wonder whether it is truth and justice that leads Congress to care about them. Or whether it is just the money.
The system has convinced most of us that the law is for the rich, except that part of the law that involves the prisons.
I tell you this about me because I want to establish my own expertise about corruption, so that I have the authority to say this: My being here today, as your graduation speaker, is totally corrupt. There are plenty of brilliant and successful souls who would have loved the honor of addressing this graduating class of lawyers. But I'm here because I begged. And I begged because my nephew is one among you. And the love and pride that I feel for him led me to do something that I have literally never done before: ask to speak someplace. And that, in turn, led your law school to do something no law school has ever done before: granted me an honorary degree and allowed me to speak to a graduating class.