Lisle, Illinois ~ Lisa Madigan had some advice for students who are interested in public service during her visit to Benedictine University on February 19.
“Don’t run for office if you don’t like people,” she said.
Madigan, who has served as Illinois’ attorney general since 2003 and is the state’s longest tenured chief litigant, visited Benedictine at the behest of Distinguished Fellow Jim Ryan, himself a former attorney general, and the University’s Center for Civic Leadership (CCL) founded by Ryan.
“I have a connection with Benedictine that none of you probably know about,” Madigan confessed to the audience of students, faculty, staff and community members. “Years and years ago, long before I was attorney general, long before I was a lawyer, when I was in high school, Benedictine had a volleyball camp that my volleyball coach actually taught at. “I remember spending several grueling weeks on this campus having volleyballs spiked and served at my head,” she added. “It’s one of those camps where the only thing you really ever want to do is sleep and eat, so luckily I don’t have any wild stories that I have to admit to. But I do have very fond memories of my time here on campus.”
Madigan also visited Benedictine years later when the school hosted a forum on identity theft issues organized by Ryan in 2006. She recently returned from testifying before a congressional committee about identity theft issues and praised Ryan and the University for their foresight on the issue. Madigan spoke at length about the office of the attorney general and the work it does, the majority of which is on civil rather than criminal issues. Her office employs 730 people, of whom 350 are attorneys. Two hundred fifty of those attorneys handle only civil cases. Surprisingly, perhaps, it is only the fourth-largest law office in the state.
The attorney general’s office is also one of the biggest revenue producers in the state, bringing in nearly $9 billion between 2003-2011. Madigan won more than $500 million in claims against Countrywide Financial Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. for their discriminatory mortgage lending practices, and her office successfully recovered $82 million from a number of gas stations which failed to pay their state taxes. However, Madigan cautioned those in the audience who were considering a career in law or public service to do it for the right reasons.
“The most important thing you can do with your life is figure out what interests you, what is your passion,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to try something that is new or challenging or even slightly scary if it interests you. Internships are obviously a great opportunity. I don’t want you to be a career intern. I know that is happening with some kids these days. “If you have an interest in government, it is my hope that you would do it because you want to help others, you want to make a difference, you want to serve,” Madigan added. “You need to recognize that is the satisfaction. You are not going to get rich. If that is a goal of yours, my advice is do something else. Do something else in the private sector.”
Madigan also alluded to the Benedictine values during her closing remarks.
“If you do run for office, be prepared to work very hard,” she said. “It’s harder than volleyball camp, and I found that pretty grueling. And make sure you have a life. That you set some limits. Because at the end of the day, if you’re lucky enough to have a family, you will find out that is the most cherished thing in your life.” The attorney general made a considerable impression on those students in attendance, including senior Derek Murphy of Downers Grove (South H.S.), a Political Science major who works with the CCL and is president of the College Republicans.
“I want to go to law school, so I like the fact that I got the opportunity to hear some advice from the attorney general,” he said. “I also talked to Jim Ryan about law school. That’s two attorney generals. Whatever advice they give you, you listen to them. “She represents what Jim Ryan represents – civic education, civic engagement,” Murphy added. “And and as a person who wants to be a lawyer and then go into public service and government, no matter what your party affiliation is, she is someone you can look up to.”
Madigan’s duties as attorney general include combating financial fraud and educating consumers on prevalent financial scams and product recalls. Her office sued some of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders and obtained more than $12 billion in damages and restitution for borrowers. She has also advanced legislation to protect homeowners by prohibiting abusive lending practices.
In 2003, Madigan created a statewide law enforcement team to improve the state’s obsolete sex offender registry. She has since proposed legislation to strengthen sex offender laws and helped Illinois become the first state in the nation with a law mandating the submission and testing of sexual assault evidence, a move gaining momentum from crime victim advocates nationwide. Madigan also oversees the Illinois Internet Crimes Against Children task force, a collaboration of law enforcement agencies which tracks and arrests offenders who exploit children.
Madigan’s other priorities include advocating for a more open and accessible government, protecting senior citizens in nursing homes, and protecting Illinois’ air, water and land from pollution while developing new laws to promote investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon reduction technology.
Prior to her election as attorney general, Madigan served in the Illinois Senate and worked as a litigator for a Chicago law firm. Before she became an attorney, she was a teacher and community advocate, developing after-school programs to help keep kids away from drugs and gangs.
Madigan is the recipient of the 2005 John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, an honor presented annually to an American elected official whose contributions in office demonstrate the impact and value of public service in the spirit of President Kennedy. In 2006, she was one of 24 elected officials chosen to receive an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellowship, which recognizes the nation’s most outstanding young political leaders and is focused on the ethics and responsibilities of public leadership.
To learn about more upcoming speakers sponsored by the CCL, visit www.ben.edu/ccl.
Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 55 undergraduate majors and 17 graduate and four doctoral programs. Benedictine University is ranked No. 1 among the country’s fastest-growing campuses between 2000-2010 in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of private nonprofit research institutions, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among “America’s Top Colleges” for the third consecutive year in 2013. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fifth largest in the Chicago area in 2013.