Tom Perez

The 22nd Annual Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Lecture was delivered on April 4, 2014, by U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. After a welcome from DC School of Law Foundation Board Chair Mike Rauh and introduction of the Rauh Professor of Public Interest Law, Wade Henderson, by Dean Shelley Broderick, Henderson introduced The Secretary, who spoke for nearly an hour on a range of major issues and his deep connection to the School of Law and its mission.

“I have a wonderful connection to this school, and a wonderful affection for this School. … I started working in the Civil Rights division in the late 80s and the law school that had the greatest representation of attorneys in the section where I worked was then called Antioch School of Law but we had a bunch of folks who were people who trained me on how to be a lawyer and to this day I have great gratitude for how they trained me and how they mentored me. And I remember when I became Clinic Director at Maryland Law School in 2001—and Maryland has some pretty good clinics—I was seeking guidance on what to do, who do I call? This Tulman guy, who’s got game. You know? And I get back to the Civil Rights Division and I’m thinking about people to recruit in 2010 and who was one of the first people I tried to steal? This guy named Jonathan Smith—I don’t know if you heard from him earlier today? He doesn’t know a lot about this stuff, but he fakes it. (laughter) Jonathan is one of the most brilliant lawyers I have met. I had the privilege of serving on his board when he was the head of the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, and, again, the footprint of this law school—you said you were small, Dean, but if you are small, dean, you punch above your weight. And you’re always punching on behalf of people who need your help and that is why it will always be a pleasure and an honor…

“And to the students who are here. You’re here because you made some decisions that you don’t want to be just any old lawyer. You want to be a lawyer who when Judgment Day comes, you can look yourself in the eye and say, ‘I led a life in which I tried to build a better community.’ I used to give my students the following assignment on the second to last day of class. And that was, I used to ask them to write their obituary. And the purpose of that exercise, and I would do it on the second to last day because it’s been my experience in my career in law, that all too many lawyers have disproportionate mental health bills because they fail to take that step back and ask that question of ‘What am I doing here on the planet Earth?’ and ‘What do I want my legacy to be?’

“And lawyers as a bunch are disproportionately risk-averse. I’ve taken a number of risks in my life and I’m kind of an oddball because the older I get the more willing I get to take educated risks. Because I’ve led a charmed life, I’ve had the privilege of doing immigrant rights work, labor rights work, civil rights work, and every day I woken up I have loved my job and I’ve challenged my students every day to find your passion and follow your passion—because lawyers don’t do enough of that.

“Fortunately, at the DC School of Law, you do it, and that’s why people like Jonathan end up being leaders around our community here in DC and in Maryland and in his current job, across the nation. And so, I hope you’ll spend some time and do that. And share it with your professor, and put it in your drawer, and when you’re having a bad day read it and remind yourself why you’re on the planet Earth. I know I did that and that was helpful, especially on those periodic days where you did wonder.”

Wade Henderson, Shelley Broderick, Tom Perez and Mike Rauh

The Secretary went to speak in detail about the legacy of Dr. King on the anniversary of his death, about health care, voting rights, a variety of employment-related issues and poverty. He ended his talk with a return to his kind words for the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law:

“We have some democracy maintenance work to do my friends. And you are at the forefront of it. You do that work here at UDC. I love coming here because you all understand that this is a mission-driven institution. We need your help in that! … Fighting poverty will take persistence, fighting poverty will take partnership, fighting poverty will take leadership, fighting poverty will take law schools, like this great law school continuing to be at the forefront of these issues. And I am confident that you will, I am confident that we will succeed.”

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