In the 20th cen­tury, lawyers played a cru­cial role in helping secure basic rights for African Amer­i­cans, women, and others through law­suits, advo­cacy, and per­se­ver­ance, according to public interest attorney Sharon Eubanks.

In the 21st cen­tury, how­ever, Eubanks said this work will require lawyers to forge strategic part­ner­ships with those out­side their pro­fes­sion to meet new chal­lenges, from changes in the law to the evolving dynamics of infor­ma­tion flow in the dig­ital age.

In today’s world to advance equality for all, actions can’t take place only in lit­i­ga­tion. There must be other forms of advo­cacy,” Eubanks said Monday during a public lec­ture to more than 100 North­eastern School of Law stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff in Dockser Hall. “We as lit­i­ga­tors will find ben­e­fits in coor­di­nating with advo­cacy groups who iden­tify the best causes to move the law toward recog­ni­tion of equality.”

The role of jour­nal­ists in shed­ding light on legal issues will be also be more impor­tant than ever before, Eubanks added, as will the use of social media.

Eubanks’ lec­ture, titled “Rep­re­senting the Under­rep­re­sented: Civil Rights in the 21st Cen­tury,” is part of her three-​​day campus visit and is spon­sored by the Day­nard Public Interest Vis­iting Fel­lows Pro­gram, which brings two dis­tin­guished public interest prac­ti­tioners to campus each aca­d­emic year. The fel­lows serve as role models for stu­dents, demon­strating how legal skills can be used effec­tively and cre­atively to make the world a better place. Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Law Richard A. Day­nard, pres­i­dent of the law school’s Public Health Advo­cacy Insti­tute, and his wife, Carol, estab­lished the pro­gram in 2004.

Eubanks gave a public lecture to more than 100 Northeastern law students, faculty, and staff in Dockser Hall on Monday.

Eubanks gave a public lec­ture to more than 100 North­eastern law stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff in Dockser Hall on Monday.

On Wednesday at noon, Eubanks will take part in a round­table dis­cus­sion on the topic of pri­vate impact legislation.

Eubanks is a founding partner of the public interest law firm Edwards & Eubanks. She pre­vi­ously spent 22 years as an attorney in the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice’s civil divi­sion, where she served as lead counsel in the largest civil Rack­e­teer Influ­enced and Cor­rupt Orga­ni­za­tions enforce­ment action ever filed, United States v. Philip Morris. Fol­lowing a nine-​​month trial, the fed­eral dis­trict court found that defendants—major U.S. cig­a­rette companies—committed fraud on a mas­sive scale and were ordered to change the way they do busi­ness, par­tic­u­larly in the areas of mar­keting and advertising.

Jeremy Paul, dean of the School of Law, wel­comed atten­dees and lauded Eubanks for her esteemed career and accom­plish­ments. “She’s had the career that serves as a role model for anyone preparing for a career in the law,” Paul said.

Eubanks, for her part, noted that the civil rights move­ment of the 20th cen­tury set the stage for many impor­tant legal reforms that fol­lowed. She cited sev­eral public opinion sta­tis­tics to sup­port her argu­ment, noting that, between 1944 and 1963, the per­centage of whites who felt blacks should have an equal oppor­tu­nity to get a job dou­bled from 42 per­cent to 84 percent.

The law fol­lows public opinion some­times. This growing pop­u­larity of nondis­crim­i­na­tion brought civil rights to the front of the bus, if you will,” Eubanks said, pointing to the pas­sage of the land­mark Civil Rights Act of 1964 that pro­hib­ited employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of race, color, reli­gion, sex, or national origin.

Eubanks also sin­gled out the legacy of the late Thur­good Mar­shall, who suc­cess­fully argued the Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion of Topeka case before the U.S. Supreme Court that led to the deseg­re­ga­tion of public schools. He was appointed the first African-​​American to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Most of us don’t think of lawyers as being par­tic­u­larly coura­geous,” she said. “But make no mis­take: there were many coura­geous lawyers who brought us to many of the civil rights that we all enjoy today.”