I first met Mary Jo when I was a young man interviewing to be a federal prosecutor, an idealistic attorney’s dream job. She was as down-to-earth as I was nervous, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this Bud-drinking Yankees fan was equally at home rooting for her Bronx Bombers as cheering on her team of prosecutors at trial against al-Qaeda.
Her sports allegiance is fitting, since Mary Jo is the Babe Ruth of lawyers. As the first female U.S. attorney in Manhattan, she battled fraud, bludgeoned the Mob and was onto Osama bin Laden well before everyone else recognized him as the face of evil. Now, as chair of the SEC, she has brought that same furious focus to policing the Street and rationalizing the markets.
Mary Jo White is without a doubt one of the most influential lawyer-leaders of modern times. But hers is the kind of influence measured not only in cases won and clients defended but also in people inspired and characters formed. After her decades at the pinnacle of law practice, her progeny fill the country’s legal firmament. She is a role model for all of them and everyone else who wants to make a difference.
Bharara is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York