Warren Christopher speaks at HLS


Just being an honorable lawyer is an important contribution,” said former Secretary of State Warren Christopher before a packed crowd in Ames courtroom. “Don’t ever forget it is a noble profession.”

On Friday the Law School hosted Warren Christopher in an event sponsored by the firm in which Christopher is a senior partner, O’Melveny & Myers. The event began with an introduction by Dean Kagan and quickly moved into a question-and-answer session between Professor Carol Steiker and the former Secretary of State. She prodded Christopher with questions focusing mainly on his career as a lawyer and as a public servant. Early on, Christopher advised law students who seek to make the most of their legal careers and their desires for public service to “start early…try to get yourselves involved with people of principle, people you admire.”

Indeed, Christopher worked through various presidential administrations, including under Presidents Johnson, Carter and Clinton, the last being the one under whom Christopher served as Secretary of State. Christopher said that one of the highlights of his career was negotiating the release of fifty-two Americans in Iran, for which he received the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award.

Still, Christopher made it clear that navigating the path between firm work and public service was not always an easy one. “There are some sacrifices involved, adjustments you need to make,” Christopher cautioned.

Christopher credits his wife with helping him manage the incredible demands on his time. “We established a sense of rules [for spending time together]…every week we would go out to dinner, me and my wife,” said Christopher, noting that he “would try to eat at home as often as possible.”

“Pick your partners carefully – in your law firm and in your love life,” advised Christopher, evoking laughter from the audience.

After responding to questions from Professor Steiker, Christopher fielded questions from the audience, which focused more on his foreign policy views than on his career or law practice.

A self-identified “non-lawyer, non-law student” asked Christopher if he would encourage aspiring government servants to go through agencies such as the Foreign Service if they seek to one day hold senior positions in government. Christopher responded by pointing out that while that would not be an option he would discourage, such a course was not necessary.

“This is a priceless opportunity we have in the U.S.,” said Christopher, “to be able to embrace a public and private career.” Christopher elaborated that the ability to move in and out of government service was not a feature common to all nations. “You don’t have it in many European countries,” elaborated Christopher. “It is harder to move in and out.”

In response to a question from an LL.M., Christopher described his great respect for the United Nations and the necessity of maintaining it as a vital global institution. Pointing to examples such as the World Health Organization’s rapid and effective response to SARS as an indicator of why such institutions are important, Christopher made it clear that the “United Nations plays a fundamentally important role.”

At the conclusion of his talk, Christopher was handed a set of gifts by Professor Steiker, including a Harvard carrying bag, chocolates, an umbrella and tennis balls.

Two-L Angela Johnson found the event encouraging. “He seems to have a very positive outlook on life,” said Johnson.

“His success is a direct result of his positive attitude.”

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