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Ginsburg to Lawyers: Professionals Do Pro Bono

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

During a recent panel discussion at Columbia Law School on "strategic litigation as an approach to policy change," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg provided some rather damning words of wisdoms for lawyers and law students everywhere:

"If you are a true professional, you will use your degree to help make things a little better for other people."

Basically, Justice Ginsburg, who is not just a trail-blazer but a pop culture icon, is pointing a finger at the legal profession and saying that lawyers need to do more pro bono work.

"Turning Over a Buck"

To help put the audience at ease about her radical proposition that lawyers, in order to be "a true professional," need to help people for free, she commented that by doing pro bono, "you will get a satisfaction you will never get turning over a buck."

And if you're thinking, "Hello landlord, can I pay my rent with the satisfaction I got for helping this person who couldn't afford it?" then you probably aren't Ginsburg's intended audience. After all, she is the Notorious RBG and she is speaking at an Ivy League law school and hasn't actually practiced as a lawyer with boots on the ground since the 1970s. So maybe we take what she says about being a "true professional" with a grain of salt.

Gender Equity Generally Since 1959

Commenting on gender equity in the legal profession, Ginsburg explained that things have changed a lot since her time in law school, for the better. She told of one professor who would hold one "ladies day," which was the only day in the semester when he would call on women students, while other profs simply never even bothered to do that much. And though she believes that things have gotten much better since the late 1950s when she was in law school, she acknowledged others are impatiently awaiting that "reaching nirvana" moment.

Living up to her reputation as a trailblazer, she also told the audience that though she was nervous about speaking up in class at first, that quickly changed. She challenged herself, as a law student, to speak up as much as the men in the class did.

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