A History of New York Law School, Founded in 1891
New York Law School was established in 1891 by Columbia College School of Law faculty, students, and alumni who were protesting their trustees’ attempts to dictate the teaching methods used by professors. The central figure in the revolt against Columbia and the subsequent creation of New York Law School was Columbia Law School’s founder, Theodore Dwight, a major figure in the history of American legal scholarship.
Almost immediately, New York Law School attained a formidable reputation due to the excellence of its students and faculty.
From its beginning, New York Law School has been dedicated to providing diverse routes to achievement through innovation in scholarship, service, and professional training. By 1904, New York Law School was the largest law school in the country. That year, the School’s founders created one of the nation’s first evening divisions to provide a flexible alternative to full-time legal education for those in the workforce or with family obligations. The Evening Division also allowed students to build upon previously established successful careers or to begin a second career.
Among the Law School’s early lecturers were Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes. The first class included James W. Gerard, who went on to serve as Ambassador to Germany during World War I; and Bainbridge Colby, who became Secretary of State under President Wilson. Other early graduates included Robert F. Wagner, a future U.S. senator from New York and a leader in developing national labor policy; and two Pulitzer Prize winners: Wallace Stevens (poetry) and Elmer Rice (drama). Another prominent alumnus from the pre-World War I era was the Honorable James S. Watson, a distinguished judge and an important member of New York’s African American community. The judge’s daughter, Barbara Watson, also attended the Law School and was the first woman to attain the rank of Assistant Secretary of State of the United States.
Many of those attending at the beginning of this century became founders or name partners of leading law firms, including Alfred Rose of Proskauer Rose; Henry Hurlbut Abbott of Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan; Edwin Sunderland of Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Sunderland & Kiendel; William Parke of Chadbourne & Parke; Alfred Mudge of Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander; Jacob Scholer of Kaye Scholer; Randolph E. Paul, founding partner of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and Albert Milbank and Walter Hope of Milbank, Tweed, Hope & Hadley.
Classes of the 1920s and 1930s produced graduates who would play a leading role in the profession. Among the most notable was U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan. Other prominent graduates included Albert Parker, a founding partner of Parker, Chapin, Flattau & Klimpl; Cameron F. MacRae, a former chairman of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae; Chester Carlson, who invented the xerography process leading to the founding of Xerox Corporation; and Justice Emilio Nuñez, the first Latino to be named to the bench in New York State.
New York Law School closed for one year during World War I, interrupting a steady expansion that had lasted until the mid-1920s. While the situation improved by the 1ate 1930s, the draft in 1940 dealt the institution another blow when the Law School was forced to close in 1941 for the duration of World War II.
In 1947, New York Law School reopened and began to rebuild. A major impetus came from graduates who formed a committee spearheaded by New York State Supreme Court Justice Albert Cohn. The new program was small, but the Law School made significant strides and gained accreditation from the American Bar Association in 1954*.
Steady growth marked the next few decades. With the appointment of E. Donald Shapiro as Dean in the early 1970s, the Law School joined the Association of American Law Schools and the trustees authorized an increase in the size of the full-time faculty. Admissions requirements were raised and enrollment grew. As facilities expanded, an endowment fund was established. In 1975, the School received its first endowed professorship, the Joseph Solomon Distinguished Professorship of Law. The School’s first center for specialized study, the Communications Media Center (now the Media Center), opened in 1977.
Many graduates who were students during these years achieved prominence in the bar, the judiciary, government, and business. They include the Honorable Roger J. Miner, Senior Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Maurice Greenberg, former Chairman and CEO of American International Group (AIG) and current Chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr and Co., Inc.; Bernard Mendik, former Chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York and former CEO of Mendik Properties; Arthur N. Abbey, Senior Partner at Abbey Spanier Rodd & Abrams, LLP and current Chairman of the Law School’s Board of Trustees; Lawrence S. Huntington, former Chairman and CEO of Fiduciary Trust International and former Chairman of the Law School’s Board of Trustees; Hon. Judith Sheindlin “Judge Judy,” New York family court judge, author, and TV personality; Zygmunt Wilf, principal owner of the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL; Kenneth D. Werner, President of Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution; and Kathleen Grimm, Deputy Chancellor for Administration and Finance, New York City Department of Education.
Dramatic growth and revitalization continued under the leadership of James F. Simon, Dean from 1983 until 1992. A series of major facility renovations were begun, highlighted by the opening of the Mendik Library in 1990. This was followed by the construction of the Samuel and Ethel LeFrak Moot Court Room, the Ernst Stiefel Reading Room, and the Shepard and Ruth K. Broad Student Center. An extensive remodeling and modernization program transformed the Law School’s classrooms, offices, and specialty training areas. During Dean Simon’s tenure, the Rita and Joseph Solomon Professorship of Wills, Trusts, and Estates was added, and the Law School introduced the innovative Lawyering Skills Program into the curriculum.
In 1992, Harry H. Wellington, Sterling Professor of Law Emeritus and former Dean of Yale Law School, became the 14th Dean and President of New York Law School. Under Dean Wellington’s dynamic leadership, a strategic plan was implemented to position New York Law School as a vital urban law center with an academic program that integrates the strategic and ethical perspectives of the practicing attorney. Dean Wellington broadened the Law School’s curriculum to increase emphasis on the development of professional skills.
During Dean Wellington’s tenure, the Ernst C. Stiefel Professorship of Comparative Law was created.
Richard A. Matasar, a nationally recognized scholar in civil procedure and federal jurisdiction, was named the 15th Dean and President of New York Law School in 2000, serving until December 2011. Almost immediately, Dean Matasar led a comprehensive, collegial self-evaluation process involving all members of the New York Law School community in an exercise that sharpened the definition of its goals. The School articulated a mission statement centered on three goals that focus its approach to legal education:
• Embrace innovation.
• Foster integrity and professionalism.
• Advance justice for a diverse society.
On this principled foundation, the Law School created a plan for its future to strengthen skills and values education for its students. It also developed the motto “Learn law. Take action.” to express the Law School’s commitment to teach students to use the skills and knowledge they acquire as lawyers to do something valuable for others. By fostering an internal culture that embraces innovation and creativity, the Law School encourages students to develop the ability to adapt to new situations as they arise, to modify their behavior when change requires it, and to graduate with a commitment to a lifetime of learning. Through an extensive program for professional development, with an emphasis on integrity and professionalism, the faculty and staff engage students in the ongoing improvement of the legal profession.
In 2012, New York Law School,
continuing its tradition of bold and innovative leadership, named Anthony
W. Crowell, former Counselor to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
and Board Chair of the Brooklyn Public Library, the 16th Dean and
President of the Law School. Dean Crowell joined the School in May 2012
and is poised to maximize New York Law School’s strengths and bring
it recognition as a leader in legal education.
The faculty has adopted a new curricular approach, grounded in a strong J.D. curriculum, to provide students with different avenues for academic success. Dubbed “The Right Program for Each Student,” this approach acknowledges that different practice settings require differing levels of training. For example, students working in larger organizations with extensive in-house training programs have less need for hands-on training than those who will open a solo practice. Those in larger organizations may need training in a specialized area, while those in general practice settings may need more breadth and less specialized expertise.
The faculty approved and implemented several new initiatives that together comprise The Right Program for Each Student:
The School’s academic centers, led by members of the faculty, continue to be developed to maximize the effectiveness of faculty research and scholarly endeavors, teaching, and activism, and to increase opportunities for students to engage in important policy issues. The centers complement course work in civil rights, family law, international human rights, international trade and finance, constitutional law, urban legal studies, information law and policy, real estate, finance, and professional values and practice. Eight academic centers, described below, play an integral role in the Harlan Scholars honors program.
Center for Business and Financial Law
The Center for Business and Financial Law (CBFL) provides students with an unparalleled, rigorous, and integrated approach to academic study and skills training in all aspects of corporate, commercial, and financial law. Through cutting-edge courses, events, projects, and research, the CBFL brings together academics, practitioners, and students to address the challenges that animate business and finance.
Center for New York City Law
Established in 1993, the Center for New York City Law is the only program of its kind in the country. Its objectives are to gather and disseminate information about New York City’s laws, rules, and procedures; to sponsor publications, symposia, and conferences on topics related to governing the city; and to suggest reforms to make city government more effective and efficient. The Center produces several publications, including CityLaw, which tracks New York City’s rules and regulations, how they are enforced, and court challenges to them; and CityLand, which reports decisions from the New York City land use agencies.
Center for Professional Values and Practice
The Center for Professional Values and Practice provides a vehicle through which to examine the role of the legal profession and approaches to law practice. The Center’s work supports research and teaching on the legal profession, focusing on the dynamics of professional regulation, the market for lawyers, and lawyers’ careers. Designed to provide students with an in-depth portrait of law practice in a variety of settings, the Center sponsors research, symposia, and speakers to bring the “real world” of practice to the classroom.
Center for Real Estate Studies
The Center for Real Estate Studies provides students with a unique educational opportunity to study both the private practice and public regulation of real estate. Launched in 2007, the Center offers an extensive selection of classroom courses, advanced seminars, and independent study projects, as well as externships in governmental offices and real estate firms. It also sponsors conferences, symposia, and continuing legal education programs on a broad spectrum of issues for New York's real estate community. The Center aims to bridge the existing gap between the private practice and academic study of real estate, and is one of the premier research centers in the country for the study of real estate.
C.V. Starr Center for International Law
In 1996, aided by a grant from the Starr Foundation, the School created the C.V. Starr Center for International Law. The Center supports teaching and research in all areas of international law, and derives much of its strength from interaction with New York’s business, commercial, financial, and legal communities. The Center sponsors events such as the prestigious C.V. Starr Lectures and the Otto L. Walter Lecture series, which regularly bring world-renowned speakers to the Law School. It also sponsors the Law School’s Jessup and Vis moot court teams, publishes an award-winning newsletter, hires research assistants, and provides resources for researching careers in international law.
Diane Abbey Law Center for Children and Families
The Diane Abbey Law Center for Children and Families exists to ensure that children and the families who care for them receive the legal assistance they need to remain safe and secure, and to thrive. Founded in 2009, the Center offers a comprehensive curriculum aimed at creating excellent practitioners able to represent children and families in all aspects of family law. The Center approach is holistic and interdisciplinary, recognizing that assisting families requires a basic understanding not merely of law, but also social work, psychology, and other fields. Center members engage in volunteer externships, work with alumni mentors, and complete capstone projects that make concrete contributions to the lives of families in need. The Center not only prepares graduates for successful careers, but also helps give New York's children and families the support they need.
Institute for Information Law & Policy
Established in 2003, the Institute for Information Law & Policy is home to the study of information, communication, and law in the global digital age. The goal of the Institute is to apply the theory and technology of communications and information to strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law as technology evolves. Through its curriculum, ongoing conference and speaker series, and a variety of original projects, the Institute investigates the emerging field of information law, which encompasses intellectual property, privacy, free speech, information access, communications, and all areas of law pertaining to information and communication practices.
Justice Action Center
The Justice Action Center brings together New York Law School faculty and students in an ongoing critical evaluation of public interest lawyering. Through scholarship and fieldwork, the Center seeks to evaluate the efficacy of law as an agent of change and social betterment. Through a focused curriculum, symposia, clinical experience, and research opportunities, the Center seeks to instill in students a deeper intellectual understanding of the law regardless of their final career goals, and to present opportunities to maintain their ties to the social justice community beyond law school.
In 2006, the School’s Labor & Employment Law Program became part of the Justice Action Center. Ever since New York Law School alumnus Senator Robert F. Wagner—the “legislative pilot of the New Deal”—wrote and led the fight to enact the National Labor Relations Act, New York Law School has remained on the cutting edge of labor and employment law and public policy. In the tradition of Senator Wagner, New York Law School’s Labor & Employment Law Program seeks to advance and influence law and public policy with an action-oriented, public-interested agenda.
Legal Practice Program
In fall 2011, New York Law School launched a new first-year skills program, Legal Practice, which provides students with a comprehensive introduction to lawyering skills at the beginning of their law school careers. The program is designed to prepare students for their first legal work experience and presents them with challenging scenarios that call on them to problem-solve and apply the law in context.
The Media Center is the School’s home for the study of telecommunications, media, and new media law and policy. One of the oldest and most extensive programs of its kind, it was established in 1977 in response to the explosive growth of communication technologies. The Center sponsors pedagogy, scholarship, and projects relating to the intersection between evolving communication and information technologies and the laws that regulate them. The Center has three goals: to promote scholarship, to preserve democratic values through effective media policy, and to train media-savvy lawyers who understand the law of media and the role of media in the law.
Program in Law and Journalism
The Program in Law and Journalism is home to the study of the relationship between and among law, lawyers, the media, and the public. The Program is affiliated with the Institute for Information Law & Policy. The Program hosts seminars, panels, and colloquia for practicing journalists on legal issues raised by newsgathering activities, for lawyers on the ethics and practicalities of dealing with the media, for academics on issues at the intersection of law and journalism, and for the general public on the role of lawyers in media and the influence of the media on lawyering.
Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Taxation
In 2003, the Law School began offering the Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Taxation, becoming one of the only law schools in the New York City area to offer this advanced training to tax attorneys. The program enables students to increase their mastery of tax law and refine their practice skills in order to better serve clients and communities.
Master of Laws
(LL.M.) in Real Estate
Beginning in the spring 2009 semester, New York Law School will offer a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Real Estate. The program provides students with a thorough grounding in the law, business, and regulation of real estate transactions, finance, and development.
Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Financial Services Law
In fall 2009, the Law School began offering the Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Financial Services Law. The program provides students with knowledge and expertise in the law, business, and regulation of the global financial services industry.
Master of Laws (LL.M.) in American Business Law
In 2012, the Law School will begin
offering the LL.M. in American Business Law. The program provides
foreign-trained lawyers with a thorough grounding in the basic principles
of American business and commercial law.
Online Mental Disability Law Program
The School’s Online Mental Disability Law Program is offered to professionals who work with, or on behalf of, people with disabilities. It is the only program of its kind offered by an ABA-approved law school*. Each of the 14-week courses is delivered to students though the convenience of distance education. The program offers a Certificate in Advanced Mental Disability Law and began offering a Master of Arts in Mental Disability Law Studies in 2009.
Patent Law Program
The Institute for Information Law & Policy offers the Patent Law Program to provide students with the opportunity to develop greater expertise and experience in patent law. Students who are eligible, as determined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, also sit for the exam for admission to the Patent Bar prior to graduation.
Certificate of Mastery in Law Practice Technology
The Institute for Information Law & Policy offers a Certificate of Mastery in Law Practice Technology to demonstrate to potential employers that the student awarded the certificate is unusually qualified with respect to understanding and use of technologies employed in law practice. It is also designed to encourage students to contribute to the Institute’s efforts to develop innovative legal technology applications and to better understand the potential impact of technology on law and legal institutions.
Public Service Certificate
The Office of Professional Development offers a Public Service Certificate. Certificates will be issued to graduating students who have performed at least 40 hours of voluntary service while at law school, or who have a combination of at least 30 hours of voluntary service and have another 30 hours of public interest work done through a work-study placement, clinic, or externship. The names of certificate recipients will be listed in the commencement program, and a notation will be placed on the student’s transcript, indicating that the student earned a Public Service Certificate.
New York Law School is poised for continued success. Its vitality springs from the dedication of its stellar faculty, the talent and energy of its students, and the strong support and commitment of its graduates.
The Law School’s distinguished full-time faculty comprises productive scholars who are dedicated educators. Some of the nation’s most prominent scholars from other law schools also have served as visiting professors.
Government leaders and judges from the United States and abroad often speak at or visit the Law School. These have included former President Jimmy Carter; Justices of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan Jr., Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Sandra Day O’Connor; former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo; former New York City Mayors Edward I. Koch, David N. Dinkins, Rudolph W. Giuliani and current Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Drew S. Days III, U.S. Solicitor General; Thomas Pickering, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of the International Criminal Court.
The School’s success as a center for intellectual and cultural exchange will continue to grow with its new state-of-the-art academic building, which opened in 2009. In August 2006, New York Law School broke ground on a $190 million expansion and renovation program that has since transformed its TriBeCa campus into a cohesive architectural complex nearly double its former size. The centerpiece of the expansion is a new glass-enclosed, 235,000-square-foot, nine-level building—five stories above ground and four below—which integrates with the School’s existing three buildings. The new facility will allow New York Law School to enhance student support, expand the faculty, and deepen its extraordinary program.
* Office of the Consultant on Legal Education
Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
American Bar Association
321 N. Clark Street, 21st Floor
Chicago, IL 60654