Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill Tells Students to Find "Big Issues" in Small Worlds
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New York, Oct. 17, 2011—Charting a unique path from a small state attorney general’s office all the way to the federal executive branch, Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill told a gathering of Columbia Law School students that when it comes to public service, they must follow their own “yellow brick road.”
Today’s law graduates “will come of age with the agonies and ecstasies of the current decade,” said Brill, who as a former member of the Law School faculty co-taught a weekly seminar on “The Role of the State Attorney General.” She was invited back as a guest of the Social Justice Initiatives’ 2011 Visitor from Government Practice program, which brings prominent practitioners in government to campus for a full day of lectures, individual meetings with students, and other programs.
Citing 9/11, wars, the great recession, ongoing economic challenges, and the election of the country’s first African-American president, Brill said, “So far this world has shaped you a lot more than you have shaped it.”
But soon “you’ll start to remake the forces that made you,” she added. “You will be working on and in the law that will shape the future.”
Brill spoke about her more than 20 years in public service, advocating for residents of small towns in Vermont as one of only two lawyers in the attorney general’s office handling consumer protection and antitrust work for the entire state.
She said “working in a small world” brought her to a top post in Washington. “I didn’t land at the Federal Trade Commission because I worked on Wall Street or in a large corporate law firm. Political connections and wealth did not get me to this point in my career. I assure you I have neither,” observed Brill.
Brill recalled the words of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who was instrumental in the founding of the FTC and a personal mentor. He had once admonished law school graduates to be a “people’s lawyer,” reciting a Yiddish proverb about “a world full of small worlds.” She then offered her own advice for young lawyers: ”Go out and find a small world in which to practice law, where if you look hard enough, you will discover issues that have great significance for all of us.” Brill’s encouragement wasn’t limited to the formal talk. During her day-long visit, she also met one-on-one with 13 students, fielding questions and doling out much appreciated personal career guidance.
Brill spoke about consumer protection matters she has focused on during her career, including the areas of privacy, data security, pharmaceuticals, credit reporting, and tobacco.
“I love the interaction,” she said during a question-and-answer session that touched on hot-button topics and headline news stories including redundancies in federal and state antitrust enforcement jurisdiction, Wall Street regulation, the Dodd-Frank Act’s “Durbin Amendment” and new banking fees, the economic impact of government oversight, the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the regulation of online product endorsements.
Armed with a Columbia Law School diploma, Brill reminded students, “You will have a leg up on so many of your peers. You are at one of the nation’s top law schools, with a record of public service second to none. The important thing is to give back.”
Written by Jesse Londin
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