For Tatel, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, what drove him to go to law school and ultimately pursue a career in public service was the summer he spent as an intern during the Kennedy administration. When Tatel graduated from law school, public interest law was blossoming, he said. Not only were there positions with nonprofits and government, he said, but law firms were developing their pro bono program and competing aggressively against one another to form the best practice.
“At that particular time, no one was even talking about things like billable hours — nobody even counted them at that time,” Tatel said. “The financial incentives were totally different. When I graduated from law school and went to work at a major Chicago law firm, I earned $300 a month less than my wife, who was teaching 9th grade in Chicago public schools.”
Despite the numerous changes in the field of law over the past 40 years, Tatel said, there is an even greater demand for public service legal work nowadays.
Judge Tatel knows public service firsthand. Between stints in private practice, he served as Director of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, General Counsel of the Legal Services Corporation, and Director of the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Today’s event was part of a conference sponsored by Equal Justice Works.