Mission and History


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.


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 and education.

The Early Years

Almost immediately, New York Law School attained a formidable reputation due to the excellence of its students and faculty. In 1894, 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.

By 1904, New York Law School was the largest law school in the country. 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 around the turn of the 20th century became founders or name partners of leading law firms, including Alfred Rose of Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn; Randolph E. Paul of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Henry Hurlbut Abbott and William C. Breed of Breed, Abbott & Morgan; Edwin Sunderland of Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Sunderland & Kiendel; William Parke of Chadbourne & Parke LLP; Alfred Mudge of Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander; Jacob Scholer of Kaye Scholer LLP; and Albert Milbank and Walter Hope of Milbank, Tweed, Hope & Hadley.

Classes of the 1920s, and 1930s produced graduates who would play leading roles in the profession. Among the most notable was U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan II. 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; Conover English, a founding partner of McCarter & English; David Wilentz, a founding partner of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer; Chester Carlson, who invented the xerography process leading to the founding of Xerox Corporation; and the Honorable 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. While the situation improved by the late 1930s, 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.

Post-War Rebuilding, 1947–1979

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 provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association in 1954, and final accreditation 10 years later.

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.

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, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; the late Bernard Mendik, former Chairman 48 | New York Law School of the Real Estate Board of New York and former CEO of Mendik Properties; and the late Kathleen Grimm, Deputy Chancellor of Operations, New York City Department of Education. Other prominent alumni from that period include Maurice Greenberg, former Chairman and CEO of American International Group (AIG) and current Chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr and Co. Inc.; 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, known as “Judge Judy,” New York family court judge, author, and TV personality; Zygmunt Wilf, principal owner of the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL; and Kenneth D. Werner, President of Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution.

Recent Leadership and Growth

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 and increased its graduate offerings, which now include advanced degree programs in American business law and tax. 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.

"New York's Law School" and the Future

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 addresses 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.

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 as 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 federal levels. 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 effective leaders in the 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’s faculty to expand the school’s experiential and clinical learning programs to encourage each of its students to connect 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. Dean Crowell also initiated the Dean’s Leadership Council, which invites 1L students who perform in the top 25 percent of their class to take part in a special series of dialogues with the Dean and top City leaders in law, business, and government.

In July 2013, the Law School issued a provocative and groundbreaking Strategic Plan, which garnered national attention. The Plan focuses on five areas: Academic Excellence and Innovation; Career Success; Intellectual life; Community Engagement; and Operations. The Law School is setting its sights on the high-growth fields of tomorrow: intellectual property; 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. In September 2014, the Law School followed up with Strategic Plan Progress and Outcomes for 2014, its first annual report on the progress made and outcomes achieved in implementing the Strategic Plan.

During the 2013-14 academic year, the Law School added two new programs: the Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program and the Institute for In-House Counsel. During the 2014-15 academic year, the Law School announced the formation of the Impact Center for Public Interest Law, which brought all of the Law School’s important public interest work under one umbrella, as well as the Innovation Center for Law and Policy, which absorbed and transformed the Law School’s Institute for Information Law and Policy, and focuses on the innovation economy and the growth of media, science, and technology in the digital age. In January 2015, the Law School started the country’s first two-year J.D. honors program. In February 2015, the Law School issued its Institutional Diversity Plan, a bold statement of principles and goals, and ambitious course of action, to maintain diversity and inclusion as essential components of the Law School’s operations.

Through it all, the Law School stabilized tuition, keeping it the same for the fourth straight year in 2015-16, and doubled the amount of scholarship aid to students. NYLS has also achieved an unprecedented level of student and alumni engagement.

2015-16 is the 125th Anniversary of New York Law School, and we are celebrating the highlights of our past and showcasing the prospects for our future. The celebration kicked off in August 2015 and continues through 2016. During this time we featured alumni who contributed to the New York City legal community and beyond, across a wide range of subject areas.

In November 2015, NYLS was the recipient of a $5 million dollar gift from Joe and Susan Plumeri through The Joe Plumeri Foundation. The gift will support 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 receives free, high-quality legal services. The Plumeri Center houses NYLS’s legal clinics that serve clients; 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.

These and other initiatives have gained great visibility for the Law School. During the 2015-16 year, NYLS received national recognition for diversity by U.S. News & World Report; for its practical training by National Jurist; and earned the highest grades for Intellectual Property Law and Technology Law from preLaw magazine.

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 embraces its location in the heart of the City’s legal, government, and financial districts and provides 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—a vibrant, diverse school which, for nearly 125 years, has given opportunities to thousands of students to advance justice, improve society, and reach their goals in every sector of the economy.