Mission and History

The New York Law School Mission

To provide an extraordinary and innovative educational experience that embodies the fundamental values of the legal system and creates a bridge from scholarship and service to leadership and practice;

To offer a vibrant, diverse, and forward-thinking center of legal studies where students develop the knowledge, skills, and professional values to serve their clients and have successful careers advancing justice, building the economy, and serving the various needs of modern society; and,

To serve as an incubator of ideas and actions to be emulated throughout New York City, the nation, and the world.

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. 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 Law 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 the 20th century became founders or name partners of leading law firms, including Alfred Rose of Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn; Henry Hurlbut Abbott of 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; 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; Randolph E. Paul and John F. Wharton, founding partners of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; 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  lasted until the mid-1920s. The Great Depression took a toll on enrollment numbers, but that situation improved by the late 1930s. Then, the draft in 1940 dealt the institution another blow, and 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 Law School’s first center for specialized study, the Communications Media Center (later renamed 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 late Honorable Roger J. Miner, Senior Judge, U.S. 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 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; the Honorable 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 the late Kathleen Grimm, Deputy Chancellor of Operations, 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 and the construction of the Ernst Stiefel Reading Room. 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 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. During Dean Wellington’s tenure, the Ernst C. Stiefel Professorship of Comparative Law was created and the Law School’s Centers for International Law and New York City Law were established.

Richard A. Matasar was named the 15th Dean and President of New York Law School in 2000, serving until December 2011. Under Dean Matasar’s leadership, the School expanded its academic Centers. During his tenure, the Law School completed an expansion and renovation program that transformed its TriBeCa campus into a cohesive architectural complex. The centerpiece of the expansion is a glass enclosed, 235,000-square-foot, nine-level building—five stories above ground and four below—which opened in 2009.


In spring 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, the 16th Dean and President of the Law School. He joined the Law School in May 2012, after having been a member of the adjunct faculty for nearly a decade. Under Dean Crowell, the Law School is poised to maximize its strengths, develop new ones, and bring it recognition as a leader in legal education. In his early months, he aggressively restructured leadership in key areas of the Law School and launched a strategic planning process that addressed areas of strategic priority including fostering academic excellence and innovation; supporting the career success of students and alumni; creating a vibrant intellectual community that supports research and scholarship; strengthening engagement among students, alumni, faculty, and other constituents; and driving operational efficiencies and institution-building. In July 2013, that planning process came to fruition with the publication of the New York Law School Strategic Plan. The Law School is setting its sights on the high-growth fields of tomorrow: intellectual property, media, technology, and applied sciences; business and financial services; and government and public interest—all of which encompass what will be the major areas of employment and growth over the next 10 to 20 years.

To strengthen the Law School’s connection to our great city, Dean Crowell introduced the “We are New York’s law school” campaign, which has now become the Law School’s motto. Initiatives already under way at New York’s law school include the establishment of a new Public Service Scholarship Program for uniformed services personnel and other dedicated public servants working in New York City at the local, state, and/or federal level. The Scholarship celebrates the Law School’s rich history of enrolling students coming from these professional areas to advance their careers and be the most impactful leaders in this great city and beyond.

In fall 2012, New York Law School was the first law school to announce an initiative to identify and create new experiential learning opportunities for students that would help provide the community with access to justice and help students satisfy the 50-hour pro bono requirement for admission to the bar. Dean Crowell worked with the Law School faculty to expand the school’s experiential and clinical learning programs to encourage each of our students to bridge their classroom learning to practical legal training. In spring 2013, the Law School announced a historic expansion of clinical and experiential learning programs, doubling the number of clinics from 13 to 26 in one year. New clinics include: the Administrative Enforcement Clinic; the Child Welfare Clinic; Civil Justice through the Courts; the Clinical Year; the Criminal Prosecution Clinic (New York County); the Legislative Advocacy Clinic; the Municipal Litigation Defense Clinic; the Post-Conviction Innocence Project; the Suspension Representation Clinic; the Transactional Law Clinic; the Taxpayer Assistance Clinic; the Tax Planning Clinic; and the Disability Rights Information Center. In summer 2013, the Law School issued and began implementing a bold new Strategic Plan covering every aspect of the School’s academic, career planning, scholarly, student and alumni engagement, fundraising, and operational activities. In fall 2013, the Law School announced a new Two-Year J.D. Honors Program, the first in the nation to reduce the cost of tuition by a third, as well as an Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program, with an emphasis on experiential and clinical courses.

These and other initiatives are garnering greater visibility than the Law School has had in recent years, including media attention in legal and popular media outlets. The Law School recently earned Presidential honors when it was named to the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll by the Corporation for National and Community Service. NYLS was one of only three law schools in the country and the only law school in New York State to be named. In September 2013, Dean Crowell was interviewed on New York Public Radio and Bloomberg Law about the Two-Year J.D. Honors Program. In October 2013, Crain’s New York Business selected him as one of its “People to Watch in Higher Education,” the only law school dean to be named to the list.

In November 2015, New York Law School was the recipient of a $5 million gift from Joe and Susan Plumeri through the Plumeri Foundation. The gift is supporting New York Law School’s nationally recognized practical training programs by establishing The Joe Plumeri Center for Social Justice and Economic Opportunity (“The Plumeri Center”). The Plumeri Center is the home of the School’s law firm where a diverse client base drawn from all of New York City will receive free, high-quality legal services. The Plumeri Center houses NYLS’s legal clinics, provides the space for extensive simulation training in both the first-year Legal Practice program and upper-level courses, and includes a moot court room with an accompanying jury deliberation room. The Center aims to be the premier place in New York City that clients can turn to for a breadth of legal services ensuring fairness and equal opportunity. The donation is among the largest in the School’s history, and one of the largest donations ever to a law school to enhance clinical and experiential learning.

Engaging the Law School’s constituents—from students to alumni to faculty to employers and other leaders and influencers—is a key component of Dean Crowell’s strategy to reintroduce the Law School and lead it to new success. New York Law School will embrace its location in the heart of the City’s legal, government, and financial districts and provide students with unmatched opportunities to gain valuable practical experience and build the foundation for a meaningful and successful career. Simply put, New York Law School is New York’s law school. We are a vibrant, diverse school that has given and will continue to give opportunities to countless students to advance justice, improve society, and reach their goals in every sector of the economy.