The Third Annual Oxholm on Public Service on Oct. 11 shone a spotlight on the myriad means and benefits of pursuing law in the public interest.
“Wherever you go, cast your marker,” said Judge Theodore McKee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. McKee traced his own trajectory from private attorney to public posts with the offices of the Philadelphia City Solicitor, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where his investigation of a police brutality case that helped fuel a nationwide probe by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Contending the courts rely on the willingness of the public to accept their judgments as legitimate, McKee cited low voter turnout as an indicator of weak engagement in the democratic processes upon which the nation depends.
“If the rule of law is to endure, a critical mass of society must care enough to speak out about injustice,” McKee said, citing Irish statesman Edmund Burke’s exhortation that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.
McKee, who was elected to the Court of Common Pleas in 1984 and appointed to the Third Circuit in 1994, serves as an exemplar of the important work that can be done to serve the public, said Carl “Tobey” Oxholm, a former senior vice president and general counsel for Drexel who has endowed a fellowship that supports the work of students who spend a summer working in the Philadelphia City Solicitor’s Office.
Oxholm, who refers to his own tenure in the City Solicitor’s Office as his “best job ever,” encouraged students in the audience to continually seek opportunities to serve the public, even—and especially—if they work for firms that represent clients with deep pockets.
“You’re going to have to find a way to nurture your spirit and keep it alive,” said Oxholm, who currently serves as interim executive director of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity.
Stephen Park, who spent the summer working in the City Solicitor’s Office after receiving the 2018 Oxholm Fellowship, said the experience opened his eyes to the possibilities of building a career in the public sector.
Calling the colloquium “a wonderful tradition” that dovetails with the law school’s mission, Dean Dan Filler praised Oxholm as an individual who has built community and connections “always with an eye to the greater public good.”