In debate, competitors must be able to argue both the pro and con perspective on a proposition. If you find yourself opposite Stuart Singer in a debate, odds are you are going to lose no matter which side you are on. However, he will win with such grace and humanity, that you will feel good about the whole experience.
Singer, one of the nation’s most effective and successful lawyers, has served on SPEA’s Dean’s Council for eight years. A Miami native, he’s well known for leading a team that won a settlement to boost access to health and dental care for Florida’s children under the state’s Medicaid program. Singer, who served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White, is a partner in the firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. While he has Florida roots and a Northwestern-Harvard education, he is an enthusiastic and generous supporter of SPEA. Not surprisingly, it’s a connection that started with debate.
How did you get involved with SPEA and what have been some of the rewards of your connection to the school?
I got involved with SPEA when John D. Graham became dean. John and I have been friends since we were both in college debate, John at Wake Forest, and I at Northwestern. We debated each other a number of times and, although we were competitors, we became good friends. Participating on the Dean’s Council has been rewarding in following the growth of the school to its current preeminent position, and, on a more personal note, I was delighted when our older son Matt went to SPEA for his graduate degree in public policy. I also have enjoyed supporting the IU debate team that is progressing nicely. (Editor’s note: Mr. Singer endowed a scholarship that has helped boost the team’s rapid improvement.)
What did you learn as a debater that has helped your career?
Just about everything I do in law is an outgrowth of debate. Debate teaches you to organize arguments under time pressure, which is what you need to do in court. Through debate, you understand there are both sides of an issue and you learn to research a topic deeply. I use those skills every day. Because debate has been so important to my career, I am a longtime supporter of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues that has helped 500 urban public schools in 22 cities re-establish debate programs for their students.
Many of our students are considering careers in public service and these are challenging times for people working in that area, especially at the federal level. What advice would you have for students who want to serve the greater good?
I would say look at the long term, and even the intermediate term. Politics change rapidly, including at the federal level. The country is evenly divided and that has been reflected in moving back and forth between Republican and Democratic presidents from Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump. There is no reason to believe that trend will not continue. So, whatever one’s political orientation, there are likely to be opportunities to participate in public policy at the federal level. Beyond that, I think the states are going to be increasingly important in public policy. If a conservative Congress does not legislate, that leaves the door open for states. I am, for example, currently working with others in Florida on a ballot initiative for 2020 to amend the Florida Constitution to ban assault weapons. If the Supreme Court limits the degree to which progressive decisions are made judicially, there are opportunities for states to use their own constitutions to go beyond the federal floor.
You have mentioned the Florida Medicaid case to be among your most satisfying. What about that case did you find rewarding?
Florida Medicaid was the most rewarding case in my over 35 years of practicing law. It was a ten-year battle with the State of Florida to secure better access to medical and dental care for the approximate two million Florida children on Medicaid. Hundreds of thousands of these children lacked preventative health care, only 21 percent of Florida Medicaid children were getting dental care, and tens of thousands of kids were being wrongly terminated each year. After a trial spanning three years, and a sweeping decision from the court in our favor, the state settled and has made substantial changes. These include eliminating wrongful terminations, and increasing the 5 reimbursement for doctors serving children on Medicaid, which is critical to providing greater access to care. So, this was a case that allowed me to use my training and skills as a lawyer, and with the support of my law firm, Boies Schiller & Flexner, to lead a team of lawyers that have made a real difference in the lives of children in Florida. I hope Florida Medicaid is an example of how pro bono work by attorneys in private practice can make a difference. I also want to note that SPEA professor Kosali Simon has done important work in the Medicaid area.
You handle a remarkable variety of cases and clients. Can you tell us about a very good day in your career?
A few months ago, I attended a mediation for one of my corporate clients. I have done that many times, but what was different here was that I was accompanied by my son Mark, who was working at my firm as a paralegal before going to law school. During the morning, it seemed like the mediation – that involved a breach of contract and intellectual property dispute – would not accomplish anything, but a breakthrough was reached in the afternoon, leading to a very good settlement and a happy client. We finished late, and then Mark and I went to a really good dinner at Miami’s best Italian restaurant. That was a very nice day.