Delivering this year’s Attorney General Robert Abrams Public Service Lecture, Ellen Rosenblum, the first woman to serve as Oregon’s attorney general, encouraged current students to make public service part of their careers no matter what kind of professional path they take.

Robert Abrams '63 and Ellen RosenblumNamed for Robert Abrams ’63, who served as attorney general of New York for 15 years, the lecture is given each year by a current or former attorney general. In his introductory remarks at this year’s October 16 event, Abrams explained that the lecture series began as a way “to inspire the students to consider and thinking about using part of their time as lawyers… to take on the important challenges of public service.”

In Rosenblum’s formulation, the definition of public service is broad, encompassing many different kinds of work. “It does not have to involve a government salary, or even a nonprofit job,” she said. “To me, it’s more about a servant mentality, a mindset, an approach to the world that says that we’re here to marshal everything we’ve got to serve the people who are less fortunate than ourselves,” she said. “It is also about leadership, taking on roles that require strong, compassionate leaders.”

During Rosenblum’s own career, she has worked both in the private and public sectors. She began her career at a small law firm, working in private practice for five years before becoming an assistant US attorney in the Financial Crimes unit at the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon. She then served as a judge, first on the Multnomah County District Court, then on the Multnomah County Circuit Court, and finally on the Oregon Court of Appeals. In 2012, she ran a successful campaign for the position of attorney general, and she was re-elected in 2016.

Ellen RosenblumAlthough in retrospect her career might appear linear, Rosenblum said she did not plan it that way: “It was highly unlikely that I would have become Oregon’s attorney general had I planned to do so earlier in my career.”

Rosenblum said that she considers her job to be “the people’s lawyer,” looking out for the most vulnerable Oregonians, and fighting for “the basic values of justice and the rule of law.” Attorneys general, she said, often work across party lines, including recent efforts to end the opioid crisis. But she also noted that, as co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, she has worked on responses to policies taken by the current White House administration, including early victories against the travel ban.

“This work is meaningful. It’s engaging, it’s rewarding, and it’s even fun. And I believe it contributes every day in ways large and small to the public good,” Rosenblum said. Justice and the rule of law, she said, “stand as a banner for fairness and equality, at least that is how I view the world in this era of what I sometimes refer to as ‘the new abnormal.’ That’s why I want to encourage you to remain hopeful, to lean in, to step forward, be willing to serve, and maybe even one day run for office, and be willing to see yourself in leadership roles…. All of our voices are needed. Together we must constantly work to envision a better country and a better world.”

Posted December 12, 2018