Rita and Joseph Solomon Professor of Wills, Trusts,and Estates
Director, Estate Planning, Graduate Tax Program
William P. LaPiana believes that one of the best ways to analyze a society is to examine how its legal system deals with people’s most personal concerns.
And what is more personal, he asks, than how people choose to pass on their assets?
“Trusts and estates is one of the most dynamic areas of law today,” he says. “The law of trust investing has been transformed by insights gained from economics and the idea of ‘family,’ so society’s notions about the proper distribution of wealth after its owner’s death is changing. Whether the question is legal recognition of same-sex lifetime partnerships or the legal status of posthumously conceived children, old assumptions simply do not answer current questions.
“The accomplished trusts and estates practitioner,” he adds, “not only has to know how to find the law, but also needs to be able to explain it to the client. Every T&E lawyer is a teacher, too.”
Professor LaPiana holds both a Ph.D. in History and a J.D. from Harvard, where he also received his B.A. and an M.A. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1978, Professor LaPiana, who is originally from suburban Buffalo, spent four years as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York. It was, he explains, all part of a plan to someday obtain an academic position.
“I figured every law school would need professors who had actual practice experience and who could teach something as central to the legal system as wills and trusts,” he recalls. “The only hard part was getting hired by a law firm after I told them that I wanted to practice to learn as much as I could and then take that training into the classroom.” After four years spent at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, Professor LaPiana joined the faculty at New York Law School in 1987. In 1993, he was named the Rita and Joseph Solomon Professor of the Law of Wills, Trusts and Estates.
His doctoral dissertation was published as Logic and Experience: The Origins of Modern American Legal Education (Oxford University Press, 1994). An analysis of the intellectual roots of the case method and of the reasons for its success, it is widely cited in discussions of legal education and, as Professor LaPiana notes, still sells enough copies to buy one average bottle of wine per year.
Professor LaPiana also has been active with the trusts and estates sections of both the New York State and the American Bar Associations, and is an academic fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, serving on its Committees on State Laws and Legal Education. He is also a member of the American Law Institute and serves on the Members Consultative Groups for the new restatements of Trusts and of Property (Donative Transfers).
In 1999, he served as the reporter for the revised Uniform Disclaimer of Property Interests Act, which was adopted by the National Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and has been adopted in thirteen states and the District of Columbia. Professor LaPiana has been a frequent speaker at continuing legal education events, including several conferences sponsored by the Real Property Trusts and Estates Law Section of the ABA and the Trusts and Estates Law Section of the New York State Bar Association, the Heckerling Institute, and the New York Estate Planning Institute. He has also been a regular participant since 1987 in the New York University Law School Legal History Colloquium.
Harvard, A.B. 1973 summa cum laude, A.M. 1975, J.D. 1978 cum laude, Ph.D. 1987.