A sense of new beginnings was in the air Tuesday night at the Newseum in D.C. as leaders and friends of the George Washington University Law School gathered to celebrate the arrival of public interest pioneer Alan Morrison as the school's Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest/ Public Service.
University president Steven Knapp called it a "new chapter" for the law school. Law school dean Frederick Lawrence spoke in similar terms as he welcomed Morrison as virtually the founding father of public interest law. Lawrence also recounted how, earlier this year, he reached out to Morrison for suggestions on who might be good for the job and realized, to his joy, that Morrison himself was interested.
For more than 30 years Morrison led the Public Citizen Litigation Group, co-founded with Ralph Nader, and gained admiration as an advocate before the Supreme Court and as a law teacher; his favorite course is civil procedure for first-year students. Nader was on hand at the dinner, as were longtime Naderites Joan Claybrook and Sidney Wolfe, and many other veterans of Nader-launched organizations. And oh yes, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer also attended.
As the name of the deanship suggests, it was funded by the Ted Lerner family -- or to be precise, the Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Foundation. Ted Lerner, in addition to being a loyal GW alum, also happens to be the principal owner of the Washington Nationals, so in post-dinner remarks there were numerous baseball references and much praise, mostly aspirational, for the team. Even the 71-year-old Morrison, in thanking the Lerners, said he regretted that recent shoulder surgery would keep him from helping the team's pitching staff.
Morrison laid out his ambitious goals for his new job which entails promoting, strengthening, and expanding GW's pro bono and public service programs, as well as running a project himself on election law reform, and teaching, you guessed it, civil procedure.
"I want to take away the pull of the law firms," Morrison said, and replace that tug with the tools and training to become public interest, public service, and government lawyers. And for those who do go into law firms, he added, "I want to instill in them the pro bono spirit."
Morrison capsulized his vision for the job by imagining a conversation between two law students in the not-too-distant future, in which one says she is attending GW Law School and the other says, "Oh, that's the public interest law school."