Contact: Elizabeth Coplan
University of Washington School of Law



Governor Christine Gregoire's prepared remarks at University of Washington Law School Commencement

Good afternoon.

Thank you Dean Testy, associate deans, faculty, family, and friends.

This is a big day.

...A big day for the husbands, wives, partners, with us this morning – the parents and grand-parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends...

...You who nurtured and supported these graduates. Who encouraged them to pursue their ticket forward – more learning! A degree in the calling of the law.

And parents, I especially know how glad you are to see this day. Mike and I have two daughters – the youngest will graduate from this great law school next year.

Between the two daughters there will soon be two law degrees. As I tell folks, Mike and I have become poorer by degrees!

Thanks to each of you for a job well done!

I am truly honored to share this happy day with you and the graduates.

But before I start, I want you to know Dean Testy gave me a seating chart, and if time permits I’ll be doing some cold calling...

...Maybe to see who knows the holding from “International Shoe”….

...Or maybe a question or two about your “Comparative and International Law” class.

For me, looking out at the graduates is like looking back in time 35 years. That’s when Chris O’Grady was sitting with her fellow law school graduates, getting ready to study for the bar exam and anxious to make those first marks on the blank slate that would become a legal career.

So I asked myself – what insights have I gained over the course of my career that would benefit you at the start of yours?

Those insights that must stand the test of time...that would have benefitted Chris O’Grady at the start of hers?

What keeps coming back are three time-honored and core values. They are:

  • Reputation
  • Candor
  • Justice

These are bedrock values! They are as vitally important to today’s lawyers as they were to those who came before and will come after.

First let me acknowledge, we are experiencing huge shifts and challenges in the practice of law. These will present each of you – our lawyers and judges of tomorrow – with unique, difficult, and exciting challenges.

I believe these challenges can and must be met by innovative lawyers.

If you take on the challenges with full attention to core values...and if you embrace innovation in your practice and our legal will have the compass you need to navigate new and untested waters.

In this context, I will share some lessons I have learned in my career.

And then I’ll look to the the transformations of the legal a time when history alone cannot be our guide.

I begin with how my legal career began.

I still recall what Spokane County Superior Court Judge Willard Roe said to me and my colleagues when we were sworn in as members of the Washington State Bar in 1977.

His words are as clear as if I had just heard them today.

Judge Roe told us that reputation is built day by day. If you are honest and forthright, if you can be trusted and your word is good, you will succeed.

You will build a reputation that will be a solid foundation for all your work that follows, and wherever your career path takes you.

Judge Roe was a tough guy, and he pulled no punches. He warned, however, that reputation can be lost in an instant. No matter the number of years with a good reputation, you can lose it in a day, and it will be difficult if not impossible to regain it.

You must understand, your good reputation isn’t a given. You must earn it every single day.

Judge Roe was right. And his advice is timeless. Over 160 years ago Abraham Lincoln told law students:

“Resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.”

Those of you who practice in Washington will take the following Oath of Attorney ).

“I will employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me, only those means consistent with truth and honor.”

Reflect on those words! Live them. They will serve you well. And they will also serve our justice system well.

That brings me to my second value. The very next words in the oath recognize that candor with the court is the very foundation of our judicial system.

The oath reads: “I will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement.”

Yes, our system of justice depends on vigorous advocacy. But it also depends on candor with the court, whether judge or jury.

And experience has taught me that an attorney can present a client's case with persuasive force without misleading statements about either the facts or the law.

We must clearly represent to the court what facts are in the record, then on this solid foundation advocate for what inferences you believe are drawn. There is a difference between facts and inferences.

Our job is to present an honest statement of law as it exists, and from this solid foundation argue where logic and fairness leads us in the application or development of the law.

Remember, there is a difference between the law as it exists, and the law as you would like it to be.

Candor is the most solid foundation you can have for advocacy. I know this from experience inside the law and out.

When I was Attorney General, I emphasized that vigorous advocacy by my lawyers serves the public interest by sharpening issues for resolution by a court. But the public interest is not served if the court’s decision is based on a distorted or misleading record.

I believe one of the most telling examples of the harm done by a lack of candor was the Solicitor General’s presentation in the United States Supreme Court concerning the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

A key element of the record was General DeWitt’s report setting out the basis for the government's policy. The report claimed there was documented proof that Japanese-American radio transmissions had been made from the West Coast to the forces of Japan.

In truth, the Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to find any instances of radio transmissions and the FBI concluded these claims were fabrications.

But instead of displaying candor to the U.S. Supreme Court, as several Justice Department lawyers urged him to do, the Solicitor General added an obtuse footnote that said:

“We have specifically recited in this brief facts relating to the justification for the Evacuation, of which we ask the Court to take judicial notice, and we rely upon the . . . [DeWitt] Report only to the extent that it relates to such facts.”

Amicii in the case who filed “friend of the court” briefs–a gross misnomer in this case – fully relied on the DeWitt report with no comment by the Solicitor General. By the way, I regret to say the State of Washington signed on to this amicus brief.

With his lack of candor and misleading of the Court, the Solicitor General skewed the very justice system he was sent to represent on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice...

The result was a blot on the attorney general, his department, the Solicitor General and this nation’s commitment to equal justice, and very real damage to U.S. citizens.

When I was Attorney General, we discussed this lesson from history at our ethics seminars. It served as a guidepost and reminder of the importance of candor in fulfilling our individual roles in our great system of justice.

And that leads me to my last value.

I don’t believe you can call yourselves true lawyers unless you are personally committed to justice. It’s the very definition of what you do. While my global travels reinforce my trust that we have the best justice system in the world, it is not without flaws and challenges and it will be up to you to make it better.

Commitment to justice can take many forms, but it all requires a deep understanding that justice is the reason our fellow citizens’ need to respect the courts, and the reason they grant attorneys extraordinary powers.

I have found it is not always easy to discern what justice requires. Sometimes a commitment to justice is a commitment to devote thought, reflection, study, and openness to the experiences and views of others, in order to determine where the path to justice lies.

Certainly, justice isn’t always clear, or simple, or popular.

If you need an example, consider the idea that “separate but equal” is just. By whose reckoning? Whose yardstick? The majority or the minority?

Certainly, the highlight of my legal career was born out of commitment to justice for all citizens.

I’m talking about the tobacco case.

...A few rogue attorneys general – myself included – and a bunch of gutsy trial lawyers, could see that Big Tobacco was killing our people and addicting our kids – and had been for decades. We were frustrated and even angry at America’s response.

Congress couldn’t stop them. Legislatures had not. Individual lawsuits were failing. The Surgeon General C. Everett Coop gave it a try and came away with nothing.

Tobacco’s targeted marketing campaign was unbelievably successful. To kids, Joe Camel was as familiar as Mickey Mouse. And the familiar image of the Marlboro Man was cool. In short, taxpayers were paying the health-care costs and tobacco companies were picking up the profits.

So we decided to take them on. We clearly saw that the only road left to hold tobacco accountable – the last chance – was the American civil justice system.

We had an abiding faith in the justice system and a commitment to work through that system to seek its namesake – justice.

We chose a legal theory of consumer protection unique to Attorneys General amid dire warnings that whatever the theory, we were doomed.

Nobody ever beats Big Tobacco. They’re too rich, too experienced, and too determined.

The tobacco companies were determined. But we were passionate about justice.

The day had come to haul Big Tobacco before a court of law. It was up to the justice system to say no matter how big, how powerful, and how rich they are, they are not above justice!

And here’s a little story within this story about justice. One of the conditions we negotiators had for settlement was dismissal of lawsuits a tobacco company had filed against a courageous individual.

Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, a former high ranking tobacco industry executive, had told the truth about industry practices such as the additives that increased carcinogenic or addictive properties.

Industry lawyers told us they could not agree to drop the suits against him because they could not reach one of the tobacco companies CEOs. They must have figured we would not let concern for justice stand between us and hundreds of billions of dollars. They were wrong.

We voted unanimously to walk away from the table if there was no protection for Dr. Wigand. Suddenly the CEO was found and all lawsuits against Dr. Wigand were dropped as part of the settlement.

Well, you know the rest. They settled for $206 billion to the states, $4.2 billion of which was awarded to our state – the largest financial settlement in world history!

I was the lead negotiator among attorneys general, and it was one of the proudest days of my life as a lawyer.

Remember reputation, candor, and justice. They have stood the test of time for me and they will for you. But beyond that, I see the practice of law and the legal system in a state of unprecedented transformation.

We are living in a rapidly changing world. While time tested values will serve as a compass, you will be navigating untested waters.

The profession is facing dramatic and rapid change, and our court system must also adapt and change to stay relevant.

Look at the financially devastated state of California where reality has struck – justice delayed is justice denied.

In San Francisco, the court has sent layoff notices to 40 percent of its employees. Court officials have predicted a five-year wait for lawsuits to get to trial. A divorce, which used to be finalized in five months, may now take 18 months.

In Los Angeles, the presiding judge recently cited the case of a father who waited hours in line to fill out a custody form to prevent his wife from taking their child out of state. He was told the clerks would not be able to get to him and he should return the next day.

Last July when I was Chair of the National Governors Association, I invited New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman to come and talk to governors about challenging global changes.

Friedman emphasized that the new global changes and challenges apply to many roles – including the role of lawyers in today’s world.

As the mother of a lawyer and soon-to-be lawyer, my ears perked up.

Friedman talked about two key questions that we must continually ask ourselves:

  • “What world are we living in?”
  • “What do we need to do to thrive in this world?”

Today, many law firms no longer seek experienced practitioners who do sophisticated work in a routine way. They don’t hire somebody prepared to do business law on that basis alone.

Instead, firms are seeking creative thinkers who don’t just fill an existing job, but reinvent it – creative thinkers who add new insights to how to meet evolving needs, and who do the job with extra passion.

Friedman wrote about a discussion he had with a friend who is managing partner in the Nixon Peabody law firm.

His friend told him that with the IT revolution and the pressures of globalization, the most valued lawyers are those able to find more efficient ways to do the traditional work...

...Or those coming up with entirely new work to do in new ways. Indeed, last winter Nixon Peabody created a new position: Chief Innovation Officer.

The skills that lawyers need have changed. Friedman’s friend told him that “Critical thinking has become the basic price of admission...”

But you need to bring even more. Today, change is coming so fast that one of the most important qualities is a proven ability to innovate.

And, as governor, I know that innovation is also the only thing that will save our court system. I know this from my own experience and my discussions with lawyers, judges, legislators and citizens around the state. We don’t have the money we once did to pay for our court system.

Yet, we have a court system still relying on annual budget increases.

While the state is emerging from the recession, the recovery is slow, and the first new dollar – and the second and third – will be headed to court-mandated basic education. I hope better funding for the courts is on the horizon, but it is a distant horizon.

We all have to work together to look at new ways of doing business that ensure people have their day in court.

I have discussed the need for innovation of our court system with each of the 55 judges and justices I have appointed during my tenure as governor. I know many judges, court administrators and lawyers have ideas on how we can be more efficient and better serve the people.

In fact, innovation is already happening all over Washington.

In Seattle, a municipal court judge established a Relicensing Court to help people with suspended licenses get community services and set up payment plans. This helps reduce the financial burden of being unable to drive, and also cuts the incredible costs repeat offenders impose on the legal system.

In Yakima, an attorney whose trial was bumped from the civil calendar because no judge was available found himself with a clear calendar and decided to be part of the solution. He set up a program where attorneys in his situation would turn around and act as pro-tem judges for other cases that are backlogged.

In Spokane, a court commissioner developed a DVD in which pro se litigants could watch and learn each step in a divorce proceeding – where to stand, what to expect, how to hand a paper to the judge – all so proceedings can go smoothly and take less court time.

In a legal system as old as ours, there is resistance and the inertia that naturally comes from a system steeped in tradition.

We need more innovation and creativity. We need open and receptive minds. And frankly, when it comes to these qualities, new lawyers have the edge.

We need each of you to participate and to push as we make the changes needed to ensure a strong justice system.

Don’t accept the answer “that is how we have always done it.” Instead, ask Mr. Friedman’s questions:

  • “What world are we living in?”
  • “What do we need to do to thrive in this world?”

We Baby Boomers are on our way out. The people of our great state are counting on you now.

I know you are well equipped to meet these challenges. You have received a top-rate legal education. The talents and the drive that got each of you here – and will see you through the bar exam – will allow you to meet these new challenges and flourish.

Some of you will ask – am I really ready for this?

You bet you are! You better be!

You are incredibly fortunate to be graduating from a great law school.

And remember – as an American, with a law degree, you’re better off than the vast majority of humankind. I hope you use that unique privilege to keep giving keep making a difference. Use that privilege to discover yourself and to live a good life.

Enjoy your journeys. Live to your fullest potential.

Congratulations ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy the ride! I guarantee you, you will be glad you did!

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