Law students who want to change the world should consider representing corporations as a form of public interest work, SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce said.
“Representing corporations also can be a form of public interest law because companies contribute so much to the well-being of society,” Peirce told a University of Michigan Law School class in remarks the SEC released Oct. 1.
“I am not referring to corporate sponsorship of the local minor-league baseball team, food bank, or youth orchestra,” Peirce, who joined the SEC from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, a right-leaning economic policy organization, continued in the Sept. 24 speech. “These charitable activities are laudable, but, to find something good, we need not look beyond the core profit-making activities of the corporation.”
Peirce noted that public interest law typically refers to work on behalf of nonprofits or government entities, but asked students to “rethink this perspective.”
Students who end up representing corporate clients have the chance to help companies make ethical decisions as they pursue profit, Peirce said.
“Regulators have an important role in setting ground rules, but responsibility for decisions needs to lie with the people closest to the relevant facts and those upon whom the consequences of bad decisions will fall most heavily,” she said. “It is not in the public interest to concentrate decision-making in Washington at regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
Peirce doesn’t want students to shun her agency altogether, however.
She said she didn’t intend that “those of you who end up working for the SEC—as I hope some of you will—should feel left out of the public interest discussion,” she told the group.
“You too will contribute to the public interest by helping, albeit indirectly, to ensure that resources and people go to the entities best able to put them to work for society’s well-being,” Peirce said.
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(Updated to include reference to SEC employment.)