February 18, 2010
In a special visit with CUNY Law students, Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, talked emphatically about the need for public interest lawyers. “The need is greater than ever,” he said. “I especially wanted to visit CUNY Law because of its commitment to public service.” According to the National Association for Law Placement Directory, CUNY Law sends a higher share of its students into public interest and public service law practice than any other law school in the nation.
Perez, whose visit was hosted by CUNY Law’s Career Planning Office, encouraged students to think hard about their future careers and the mark they want to leave on the world. “Here’s your homework,” he said. “Take a piece a paper and write your obituary. What do you want it to say? What kind of legacy do you want to leave?” He advised the students to “take educated risks in pursuit of what you want to do.” And, he reminded them “always use your moral compass.” Perez told the students if they love what they do each day, they will always be motivated.
He also challenged the students to be proactive in pursuit of their careers, but not at the expense of others. “I was always taught not to bring up the ladder behind me,” he said in referring to the values imparted by his family. “My parents raised me to think about the community and community service.” He told students, “Email people, call people you know and call people you don’t know and tell them you are a friend of a friend of a friend,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to get out there and get the experience you need.” He praised CUNY Law’s professors and told the students that they were learning from among the best in the country and that the skills they gain from CUNY Law will serve them well as they pursue their lawyering careers.
Perez spent more than two decades in state and federal government service, including being the first Latino ever elected to the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, and serving as the Council’s President in 2005. He was Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under Attorney General Janet Reno, Special Counsel to the late Senator Edward Kennedy, including being Senator Kennedy’s principal adviser on civil rights, criminal justice and constitutional issues. For the final two years of the Clinton administration, Perez served as the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. At the state level, Perez served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, where he was the principal architect lending and foreclosure reforms.
“I’ve always loved what I do and it doesn’t feel like work,” he said. “Civil rights is the unfinished business of America and it’s something that we need to address everyday.”
This is Perez’s second visit to the Law School. His first was in 2001 when he was named Clinic Director at the University of Maryland School of Law. “I came to CUNY Law in 2001 because I needed to learn from the masters of clinical education,” he said. CUNY Law consistently ranks among the top 10 law schools in the country in clinical training.
The Civil Rights Division, said Perez, is tackling a range of issues from foreclosure to voting rights, he said. The students asked questions on the Division’s work concerning language rights and access, desegregation, environmental justice, and immigration, among other topics. “It was a privilege to have him back at the Law School,” said Dean Anderson. “He inspired the students and spoke of issues that are at the heart of CUNY Law’s mission.”
About CUNY School of Law: Based in Queens, NY, CUNY School of Law is the premier public interest law school in the country. It trains lawyers to serve the underprivileged and disempowered and to make a difference in their communities. CUNY Law consistently ranks among the top 10 law schools in the country in clinical education and has been recognized as being one of the top 10 public interest law schools nationwide. Its pedagogy has been heralded by the Carnegie Foundation for its integration of theory and practice. The Princeton Review ranks CUNY Law as having the fourth most diverse law faculty in the nation. It also ranks CUNY Law in the top10 in the nation for best professors, most welcoming to older students, and most liberal student body.
Contact: Vivian Todini, Communications Director at 718-340-4530