(David Handschuh/NYLJ)

Former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White, far right, gave the graduation speech at Columbia Law School’s graduation on Thursday.

White, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton who is the first and only woman to serve as Southern District U.S. Attorney, said lawyers can face pressure—at times from the media or politicians—”to do the opposite” of what they believe is best for themselves and their clients. “Stick to your guns,” she told the hundreds of graduates of her alma mater. Part of the burden of service, she said, means “saying often what is hard to say” to clients: yes, the law allows it, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. “Give that kind of advice,” she said, “Follow a course that comports both with the letter and the spirit of the law.” And when something seems “wrong, unfair, or bad for society,” she said, “never be too busy to try and change things—it is the right thing to do for every good citizen, and certainly no less than citizens who happen to be lawyers.”

Columbia Law School dean Gillian Lester, second from right, and faculty joined White before the procession.

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