Washington University School of Law inaugurated its Public Interest Law Speakers Series, entitled “Access to Justice: The Social Responsibility of Lawyers,” during the 1998-1999 school year. One of the goals of this on-going series is to highlight the social justice responsibility of lawyers. Through the series, the School hopes to send a strong message to our students and to the community that access to justice is an important part of the professional responsibility of lawyers and the professional responsibility education of Washington University graduates. Another goal of the series is to bring together students, faculty, alumni, and members of the community in an ongoing, interdisciplinary discussion about the future of the legal profession. A third goal is to highlight the excellence of the Law School clinical program, through which many of our students are exposed to pubic service and public interest law practice. In our clinical program, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1998-1999, law students assist indigent and underrepresented clients with domestic violence, employment rights, environmental, criminal defense, and death penalty cases, and work with state and federal judges, Congressional committees, and federal agencies.
The year-long series featured a number of speakers, from diverse backgrounds and careers, each independently dedicated to providing access to justice, each demonstrating in their personal and professional lives the best of the legal profession–extraordinary integrity, inexhaustible courage, and unbounded compassion. The talks ranged in focus from international criminal justice, to systemic race and poverty biases in our legal system, to the role of our federal courts in influencing public interest law, to the day-to-day fights confronted by individual consumers, to public service in government and private practice. The series soundly dispelled the myth that lawyers work only for high wages and prestige, and provided an inspirational look, through the lives and words of real individuals, at the responsibilities and possibilities the field of law offers.