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Lawmakers focus young lawyers on the power of a law degree

“I enjoy politics, but I love the law.”

That’s what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) told a gathering of the ABA Young Lawyers Division at their Spring Conference, held May 2-4 in Washington, D.C. He and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.) spoke about how their legal backgrounds inform their work in Congress at a program called, “A View from the Hill.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Graham said that when he travels to Iraq and Afghanistan on congressional business, he finds that what’s missing there is the rule of law.

“The rule of law requires maintenance,” he said, and urged the young lawyers to “be zealous advocates” and “play within the rules.”

Graham noted that when the Supreme Court ruling came down in Bush v. Gore in 2000, the rule of law was respected, which “wouldn’t happen in most countries.” In the Middle East, he said, “there’s no place for a loser,” but in the United States, “you can lose the election but still have your voice.”

Of all the things one could do for a living, the senator said, “being a lawyer in a democracy is a hell of a way to lead your life.”

Prior to being elected to Congress in 2012, Rep. Kennedy served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, where he saw “extraordinary inequities.” During law school, he worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and realized “the power that came with having a legal advocate there to help [people] navigate” the process of something like an eviction.

Later as a district attorney, Kennedy “saw how our justice system works, and how it doesn’t.”

Responding to a question about whether he felt more or less empowered as a member of Congress to work on the issues he cares about, Kennedy said, “more, by a long shot.”

Saying he spent his first three terms in the House of Representatives in the minority, Kennedy has found being in the majority is a “major change” in his career, and that with that change came the realization that “success is never final, and neither is failure.”

“The only guarantee in this job is that it will change and no one can tell you exactly when,” which he said breeds “a healthy dose of humility” and the urge to get as much done as possible while having a majority lasts.

Kennedy ended the program by telling the lawyers, “Go do justice.”

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