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Private Career-Building and Public Benefits: Reflections on 'Doing Well by Doing Good'

23 Pages Posted: 7 May 2004  

Robert W. Gordon

Yale University - Law School


In this Comment to Professor Wilkins' article Doing Well by Doing Good? The Role of Public Service in the Careers of Black Corporate Lawyers, Professor Gordon draws on historical examples to explore the complex intersection between professional mobility strategy for marginals and the general connection between public service and private practice. Since the founding of the republic, lawyers have turned to public service as a means of promoting their careers. For most of the country's history, Jewish lawyers and others at the margins of the profession were forced to build their careers outside of these beneficial synergies, often by suing the clients of the elite bar. It was only when the causes these lawyers represented were institutionalized in government programs creating steady business for lawyers, most importantly in the New Deal, that these traditional marginals were able to use public service as a means of moving toward the profession's mainstream. Whether black lawyers will be able to pursue a similar strategy, Professor Gordon argues, will depend upon many factors, including the importance of the state to corporate clients, the ability of these new marginals to avoid practice niches expressly tied to race, and the degree to which they are genuinely committed to the public causes they pursue. And while there is always the danger that lawyers will use their engagement in public service solely to promote their own (or their clients') interests, the historical record provides ample evidence that maintaining a vibrant connection between private practice and public service is not only an important avenue for creating upward mobility for marginal lawyers, but vital to lawyers' adequate performance of the professional role of counseling private clients and the public role of serving the republic.

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Robert W., Private Career-Building and Public Benefits: Reflections on 'Doing Well by Doing Good'. Houston Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 1, April 2004. Available at SSRN:

Robert W. Gordon (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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