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I Wish I’d Known: Alberto R. Gonzales

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Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales talks with ABA Young Lawyers Division chair J. Logan Murphy at the 2019 ABA YLD Spring Meeting in Washington D.C. in May 2019. Watch the full video from his appearance, which was recorded for C-SPAN.

I grew up in a poor family to parents who were uneducated and former migrant workers. We had no hot running water in our small, two-bedroom home the entire time I lived at home, and we had no telephone until I was a junior in high school.

As I grew older, I was driven to work hard so that I’d have the things I never had as a child. My ambitions led me to attend private undergraduate and graduate schools and to secure a job as a young lawyer in a prestigious national firm.

Yet after years of private practice, I was still unsatisfied. I ultimately went into public service, where I served at the highest levels of state and federal government.

As I rose up the ladder of success, there were many people who wanted to be close to me. When I no longer had power as a Texas Supreme Court justice or as White House counsel or as the U.S. attorney general, many of my so-called friends disappeared.

During this experience I learned the importance of true relationships. I wish I’d known back when I was younger that I shouldn’t measure my life primarily by achievements but through relationships.

How others will judge my achievements and my legacy is out of my hands. I’ll be long gone when the work of historians is completed. Since I can’t control how others will judge me in the future, I try not to worry about achievements and my legacy. While I’m proud of the things I’ve done, I treasure most my relationships with my wife and my sons.

Pay it forward

I also wish I’d known at the beginning of my career how much people in positions of influence and leadership can affect the lives of others.

President George W. Bush gave me several once-in- a-lifetime opportunities. His belief in me fundamentally changed the trajectory of my life.

I’ve tried to do the same for others. I’m proud that a lawyer I once hired in the White House Counsel’s Office and another who once sat in on my morning staff meetings at the U.S. Department of Justice now both serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. I’m proud that lawyers I once hired have gone on to serve as general counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. State Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Another of my hires has gone on to be a U.S. solicitor general, and another was the associate attorney general, the third-highest position in the Justice Department. Several of my former lawyers now hold or once held powerful positions in such major companies as Wal-Mart, Bank of America, and Boeing.

Our service together ended years ago, but when we gather for reunions, I’m filled with such pride in the accomplishments of these individuals and gratitude for their service to the country and to President Bush. We remain close, bonded by our experiences and feelings forged in the fire of the September 11 attacks and other national crises. I like to think that I had a role, however small, in their achievements.

Relationships, especially with my family and with those whom I’ve worked, are the most important to me. I didn’t realize the importance of relationships when I was in law school or a young lawyer. If I’d known, I’d have worked harder to seek out mentors and to be a better mentor to those who worked with me.

Alberto R. Gonzales Alberto R. Gonzales served as the U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush. He is currently the dean of Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, where he teaches constitutional law, separation of powers, national security law, and First Amendment law.