Justice Brandeis' Legacy of Service

Justice Brandeis devoted the equivalent of at least one hour a day to public service. He also believed that law schools should cultivate an appreciation of service as a professional obligation and outlined this approach in his address, “The Opportunity of Law,” delivered to the Harvard Ethical Society in 1905. In it, he said the “whole training” in law school should include not only the development of reason and judgment, but also the inculcation of a commitment to the legal profession’s public trust.

He lamented that many lawyers had neglected this trust, representing the nation's moneyed interests "while the public is often inadequately represented or wholly unrepresented." Those words remain timely; today, the law school named for Justice Brandeis features one of the country's first five mandatory public service programs.

Brandeis didn’t just preach these words, he lived them: In the two decades before he went onto the bench he earned the title of "the people's lawyer." It was during this time when that he pioneered the "Brandeis Brief," using social and economic data to justify the legislatures' efforts to improve the worst aspects of industrialization. He struck many people as strange when he refused to accept fees for his public work, but many trace the beginning of pro bono work in this country to his efforts in the years before World War I.