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DeKALB – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan began her lecture Friday at the Northern Illinois University College of Law by asking the lawyers and law students in the audience to consider why they had pursued a legal career in the first place.
“Most of you wanted to help people,” she said. “You wanted to make a difference. You wanted to serve justice.”
Madigan was asked to deliver the school’s annual lecture on professionalism because in an era of widely-publicized misconduct by corporate leaders, public officials and those in the legal profession, she is a role model of ethics and professionalism in public service, law school Dean Jennifer Rosato said.
About a third of the people packed into the Francis X. Riley Courtroom were students, while another third identified themselves by a show of hands as practicing attorneys. In her 45-minute speech, Madigan shared the experiences that shaped her career and the many duties her office encompasses.
Madigan mentioned several successes she has had since taking office in 2003, including an overhaul last year of the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts. She cited recent FOIA requests in DeKalb as examples of the new system working; the city had to comply with requests by the Daily Chronicle and Northern Star for lists of applicants to aldermanic seats in the 3rd and 7th wards after a decision by Madigan’s public access counselor. The public access counselor also ruled this week the city must release e-mail correspondence between the mayor and candidates in the 3rd Ward to the Daily Chronicle.
“Through this new law, we are getting documents that should always have been open to the public actually turned over,” Madigan said. “The changes to FOIA are really sweeping. We had to do this to directly confront the long-entrenched culture of secrecy in Illinois.”
Madigan said that she had dedicated herself to creating transparency and holding public officials accountable. She described several cases in which her office succeeded in reducing or exposing waste and corruption, protecting the public from scams and ensuring the criminal justice system is working.
She also described how her experiences working in the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon’s office as a student and teaching at a girls’ school in South Africa helped to shape her dedication to helping people and advocating for people who don’t have a voice.
She closed the lecture by urging students to save their law school application essay as they move through their legal careers so they can remember what drove them to choose their profession.
“Believe me, you will find that far more helpful than all of the notes and all of the outlines you painstakingly made,” she said. “It will remind you of the obligation in our profession to be ethical and contributing members of our society and, very importantly, to fight for justice for those who can’t.”