Speeches

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor
Notre Dame College Moot Court
Sept. 19, 2017

Thank you, President (Thomas) Kruczek. 

And thanks to everyone for your invitation.  

I want to let everyone know how impressed I am by Notre Dame College’s approach to legal education.

You are one of the few undergraduate programs in the nation that conduct moot court, and you’re doing it very well.

To me, a legal education is an indispensable tool – no matter what career you choose. The law touches every one of us -- every day -- in many, many ways.

If society were a computer, the law would be the operating system.

Of course, I would like to look into this crowd and see future lawyers, judges and justices – maybe a chief justice …

But you are young. You may or may not decide to become a lawyer. You may change your mind about what you want to do with your working life.

So, here are two things to think about.

The tree of law has many, many branches.

Companies, non-profits -- all kinds of organizations -- simply cannot function without their legal departments.

And these organizations span the realm of activities: the entertainment business; the arts; regulated areas like transportation and sports; the environment; fashion; manufacturing; the list goes on and on.

Here’s the other idea to ponder:  The law can help you greatly if you pursue a non-legal career.

When you’re thinking hard about what you would like to do, don’t lose sight of the importance of the law in our society – and where the knowledge of law could give you a leg up on other job seekers – and make your job easier and more fulfilling once you’re hired.

Politicians who serve as legislators are known as “lawmakers,” so finding lawyers at a statehouse isn’t unusual.

But what if you want to be a writer?

You could cover the law as a journalist.

The Associated Press has three legal writers with law degrees covering courts and legal issues.

Law degrees are quite common in journalism.

Cynthia McFadden, the senior legal correspondent at ABC News, is a graduate of Columbia Law School.

You could write fiction based on the law, like John Grisham, author of The Firm, and Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent. Grisham went to Mississippi and Turow to Harvard.

There are many law grads working in TV and film as scriptwriters.

Elizabeth Holloway Marston, co-creator of the Wonder Woman character in the 1940s, received her law degree from Boston University.

Steve Young, who quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl victory in 1995 received his law degree the same year from Brigham Young.

Andrea Bocelli is known for overcoming blindness to become one of the opera world’s greatest tenors. He holds a law degree from the University of Pisa.

What if you’re funny? Comedian John Cleese of Monty Python fame received his law degree from Cambridge.

Before writing the Star Spangled Banner in Baltimore Harbor, Francis Scott Key earned a law degree close by at St. John’s College. Before fighting for independence in India, Mohandas Gahndi earned a law degree in London. And before working to liberate South Africa, Nelson Mandela studied law at Fort Hare College. (Politics intervened and he didn’t finish, but the college’s law school is now named for him.)

Knowing the law – and appreciating the rule of law – can have that effect on people. It gives them an inside track on their dreams.

Here’s a fact: Of the 500 biggest corporations listed by Fortune magazine, nearly 10 percent are run by CEOs who have law degrees.

Now, you may or may not aspire to be a CEO, but you can bet that companies that hold law degrees in high regard are going to look more closely at job prospects who hold law degrees – even applicants seeking jobs in finance, marketing, sales, distribution, manufacturing, public relations and research.

The path to law school and a career that puts the knowledge of law to work starts with dedication at the undergraduate level. That means working hard, and I saw that this evening at moot court.

Another boost to your career is a dedicated faculty and college leadership -- like the caliber you have here at Notre Dame.

So, make good use of your time here. Set manageable goals for yourself – but make sure you meet them. Seek answers. Challenge your professors. Learn all you can.

Knowledge truly is power – and knowledge of the law can be a powerful tool for you – no matter what you do.

Thank you – and God Bless.