According to U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the defining feature of his job—the most challenging, rewarding aspect—is grappling with what the position of the United States should be on an issue. Verrilli explained that this task is harder than it might seem, involving a balancing of interests and making considered decisions on whether the U.S. should modify a previously held position.

Verrilli’s talk, held Wednesday, Oct. 31 at Harvard Law School, was sponsored by Law and Government Program of Study Faculty Leaders David Barron and Richard Lazarus.

“I don’t know whether in my time in office, I have gotten that right, or I will get it right,” Verrilli said. “They’re exceedingly difficult and challenging judgments, but every solicitor general has described this as the greatest legal job one could have, and it certainly has been for me. And one of the main reasons why is dealing with this set of issues…often of great moment.”

Francis Biddle, who was solicitor general from 1939 to 1940, once claimed that the solicitor general serves an abstract client, and has “no master to serve but his country.” But Verrilli said he has a somewhat different view. “Having been awakened more than once in the middle of the night by phone calls from angry general counsels from Cabinet departments about decisions I had made, [I think] the client is anything but an abstraction.”

Watch a video of Verilli’s talk on the HLS website.

 

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