June 05, 2012
Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, gave the commencement address at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School on May 19, 2012.
In his untitled speech, Lessig questioned the purpose of lawyers in modern society, and challenged graduating law students to make the world a less corrupt place. The full text of the speech is available on Lessig’s blog.
An article with excerpts of Lessig’s speech appeared in the Atlantic on May 31.
Lessig is the author of Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It (2011), which advocates for a convention to address what he calls the corrupting influence of money and special interests in Congress.
The beginning of the commencement address is excerpted below:
I am a professor of law at Harvard. I run the university’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. At that Center for Ethics, we study corruption. Not Rod Blagojevich, or Randy Duke Cunningham corruption — not “criminals violating the law” sort of corruption. Instead, corruption as in improper influence.
Think about a doctor taking money from a drug company, and then sitting on a panel that reviews that company’s drugs: Not illegal; if disclosed, not unethical, but nonetheless, an influence that leads many to wonder whether it is truth, or money, that led the doctor to approve the drugs.
Or think about an academic taking money from a telecom company, and then giving testimony before Congress that just so happens to serve the interest of that telecom. Nothing illegal about taking that money; if disclosed, nothing unethical about taking that money. But an influence that leads many to wonder whether it was the truth, or money, that led the academic to speak in favor of that company.