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Remarks from Justice Ginsburg

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered introductory remarks at the 2014 PBI Annual Conference Reception. See her remarks below.

The good job that President Clinton, and more than a little bit of luck, gave me in 1993 garners invitations by the score. And to most of them, I am obliged to answer, can’t place time needed for the Court’s heavy work at risk. But the Pro Bono Institute is exceptional, so to Esther’s call, always, I just say yes. The Institute reminds and enables lawyers to do what makes them true professionals, and not simply journeymen, skilled artisans doing a day’s work for a day’s pay. Lawyers have a license to practice law, a monopoly on certain services. But for that privilege and status, lawyers have an obligation to provide legal services to those without the wherewithal to pay, to respond to needs outside themselves, to help repair tears in their communities.

In that regard, the Pro Bono Institute is a prime promoter and facilitator. And its success has been great. Tonight we celebrate, particularly, the Institute’s decade-long partnership with the Association of Corporate Counsel. From a modest start, the Institute’s Corporate Counsel project enlists today over 500 in-house legal departments as active encouragers and supporters of the pro bono work of their legal staffs.

While many have contributed to the Institute’s efforts, the indomitable spirit of one individual accounts for the great good the Institute has done. That individual is, of course, the Institute’s President, Esther Lardent.

This year, Esther has been challenged as never before. She has faced a dread and debilitating disease of unknown origin. Despite the heavy toll on her energy, her vigilance to advance the Institute’s work is altogether amazing. Esther, I express the hope of all gathered here, that you will continue to carry on courageously as you strive to regain good health. Your cheering squad is huge. I ask all its members in this room to join me in applauding you for the Institute’s tremendous accomplishments to date. May there be encores galore in the years to come.

It is my honor tonight to recognize this year’s recipients of the Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award: the legal department of Microsoft and Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel and Executive Vice President. Brad has been at the helm of Microsoft’s Legal and Corporate Affairs Group since 2002, superintending the work of some 1100 employees at locations in 55 countries. He is a graduate of Princeton and, like me, Columbia Law School. Before joining Microsoft in 1993, he was a Covington and Burling partner. Auguring things to come, Brad accepted Covington’s bid to become an associate in 1986 on one condition: he insisted on having a personal computer on his desk, the first associate ever to make such a demand.

At Microsoft, Brad launched a state-wide immigration pro bono project. Together with Angelina Joli, he established a nationwide program to provide counsel to unaccompanied minors in danger of deportation. For many years he has served as Co-Chair of the Advisory Board of Corporate Pro Bono, the Institute’s joint venture with the Association of Corporate Counsel. Among other endeavors, he has been a champion of computer science education for children from their earliest school years, of ending the diversity gap within the legal profession, and of reforming the surveillance practices of the U.S. government.
Bravo Brad, Brava Esther, and cheers to all supporters of the Pro Bono Institute. I look forward to being with you, again and again, at these annual celebrations.