By Michael Rhee
July 1, 2016
WHAT do these events – big and small – have in common? In their own ways, they each raised the study and profile of international and comparative law at New York Law School (NYLS). It did not happen overnight or without the commitment of five visionaries in particular who made it possible. Twenty years of work since the founding of the Center for International Law on July 1, 1996 (and decades since the start of even earlier efforts) have positioned the Law School to address important legal issues – on topics ranging from terrorism to global financial stability – facing the world today and those in the future. The paths taken by these five men would lead them to the Law School where they would build the long-term foundation of its international law program.
IT all started in Germany in the winter of 1907. Dr. Ernst C. Stiefel was born in Mannheim, and was the son of a religion teacher. Ten days later, Dr. Otto L. Walter ’54 was born in Hof, a drive four hours away. Both shared an early passion to excel. Like his father, Dr. Walter became an attorney after studying law and economics at the University of Munich, later earning a Doctor of Laws from the University of Erlangen. Dr. Stiefel, while still a teenager, had written a still-cited monograph on car insurance law, and received a Doctor of Laws from the University of Heidelberg, according to archival materials. They were both admitted to the German bar In 1932, but soon found themselves disbarred a year later – along with other Jewish lawyers – when Adolph Hitler came into power.
Arriving in New York City in 1936 at the age of 29, “in the midst of the Great Depression, with limited English and no marketable job skills,” Dr. Walter earned his high school equivalency certificate, recounted the NYLS Magazine. He eventually found work as a bookkeeper in a hotel on Broadway . . . even though he did not have any knowledge of bookkeeping, he told the organizers of “Lawyers without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany under the Third Reich,” an exhibition organized by the German Federal Bar in cooperation with the American Bar Association.
But Dr. Walter studied accounting at night, became a CPA, and started his own accounting firm. He returned to the study of law in the evening, graduating from New York Law School – as a member of the Law Review – at the age of 46. He was one of the founders of Walter, Conston, Alexander & Green, and became a prominent international tax lawyer. The firm merged with Alston & Bird LLP in 2001.
Dr. Walter set his mark not only through private practice, but also his work in improving relations between Germany and the United States. According to the foundation which bears his name, Dr. Walter served as an advisor to Germany during its negotiations with the United States on the 1954 United States-Germany Income Tax Treaty and also on the 1980 United States-German Estate, Inheritance, and Gift Tax Treaty. In recognition of these efforts and others, Germany awarded Dr. Walter with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Merit in 1980. For its part, New York Law School awarded him with the Dean’s Medal in 1977, the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1980, and an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1984. He passed away in New York on January 12, 2003, at the age of 95.
Dr. Stiefel had also left Germany, earned several more law degrees in England and France, and became members of the bars in both nations. When he arrived in New York in 1939 at the age of 32, he found work only as a dishwasher and, later, a chauffeur because (as in the case of Dr. Walter) the state did not recognize his European degrees.
But he eventually became a law clerk, and, in 1944 – five years after his arrival – passed the New York bar exam, giving him the distinction at the time of being the first lawyer “licensed to practice in four countries,” said colleagues to the New York Times.
During World War II, Dr. Stiefel worked for a unit of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the forerunner of the CIA – headed by Cornelius Vander Starr whose insurance company, now known as the American International Group (AIG), would become the largest in the world. In 1955, C.V. Starr would establish the Starr Foundation, which became (and still is) well-known for making generous contributions to higher education, including an important one to New York Law School. (More details to come later.)
After the war, Dr. Stiefel was affiliated for several decades with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, now one of the biggest international law firms in the United States, and later with another international firm, Coudert Brothers, as Counsel. Even with a busy private practice, Dr. Stiefel made time for public service. He helped the Allied Military Government in Germany rewrite the German traffic code, reported the New York Times, and also establish the legal groundwork for the restitution of Jewish property and the payment of reparations to victims of Nazi atrocities, said the NYLS Magazine.
Dr. Stiefel also “made it one of his life’s missions to document and chronicle the contributions made to dozens of foreign legal systems by refugee Jewish lawyers,” added the New York Times. One result was the publication of German Lawyers in the American Exile with Dr. Frank Mecklenburg. He also published articles on topics ranging from discovery problems in international litigation to trade secrets, according to an alumni profile. He passed away in the German city of Baden-Baden on September 3, 1997, at the age of 89.
EVEN decades before the talk of globalization, the Center’s forerunners – through their personal and professional experiences – knew that the practice of law (whether public or private) would increasingly cross national borders, and that law students and attorneys would have to understand not only international law, but also become “well versed in other nations’ practice of law,” said Dr. Stiefel in an interview. A series of gifts put their thoughts into practice and firmly cemented a place for international law at New York Law School.
A large donation from Dr. Walter in 1986, for example, established the Otto L. Walter Distinguished International Fellows Program which funded visits from “scholars, practitioners, and public officials of distinction in the international arena” to the Law School where they met with students and faculty, co-taught an international law class for a one- or two-day period, and gave a formal address to the community on important topics. These Fellows included a judge from the International Court of Justice, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, among others. Dr. Walter also taught international taxation as an adjunct Professor of Law for a decade.
Dr. Walter, with another gift in 1994, also established the Otto L. Walter Distinguished Writing Award which, according to the Law School, “honors the most distinguished publications of full-time and adjunct faculty, and also students,” and are awarded annually by the Law School’s Board of Trustees at graduation.
With another generous donation in 2010, this time from the Otto and Fran Walter Foundation, the Law School established the Otto L. Walter Distinguished Faculty Chair, a professorship for a top scholar in domestic and international tax law. The current incumbent is Professor Ann F. Thomas who is also Director of the Law School’s nationally ranked Graduate Tax Program.
In his honor, the Law School’s Center for International Law regularly organizes the Otto L. Walter Lecture where a distinguished jurist speaks on an important issue of international and comparative law.
For his part, Dr. Stiefel – who already had been teaching at the Law School as an adjunct Professor of Law for a decade – also backed up his beliefs with action by giving three generous gifts.
The first, in 1987, established the Ernst C. Stiefel Comparative and International Law Program which supported visiting lectureships, scholarships, faculty research, and an annual symposium featuring distinguished panelists discussing emerging international and foreign law topics, including China and its legal system, the practice of law in the Soviet Union, and privatization efforts in Eastern Europe.
In 1991, a second substantial contribution restored the main reading room (the ornate venue of the annual symposia) which the Law School then re-dedicated as the Ernst Stiefel Reading Room. Today, it houses several clinics for law students and their clients. A third gift of $1.5 million given in 1996 established the Ernst C. Stiefel Professorship in Comparative Law whose incumbent is Professor Ruti G. Teitel, a renowned scholar of international law and human rights, and also a leading expert in the area of transitional justice.
For all of his generosity, Dr. Stiefel interestingly was not a graduate of the Law School. Still, the New York Times noted that “when it came to academic philanthropy, Dr. Stiefel . . . focused his attention on New York Law School.”
So how did he become such an active patron for an educational institution with which he had no previous ties? In the mid-1970s, he had met then-Dean E. Donald Shapiro on a flight to Paris for a seminar, and the two bonded quickly. “We liked each other and each other’s ideas very much,” Dr. Stiefel told the Law School’s Magazine.
A Law School spokesperson said: “It is important for people to understand that Ernst’s incredible generosity toward New York Law School . . . has always been the result of his own initiative.” In 1988, he received an honorary degree, formally making him a permanent part of the NYLS community.
From the late-1980s through the mid-1990s, Dr. Stiefel and Dr. Walter had set the foundation for the study of international and comparative law to an extent never imagined at New York Law School during its century of existence. Could any other effort match what had already been carried out? It would be only a short time later when another giant would answer the call.
FIGHTING the urge to punch out a personnel director. That’s usually not a good sign when starting out in the insurance industry, let alone any industry. But that’s what Maurice “Hank” Greenberg ’50 – a decorated officer who had fought on Omaha Beach during D-Day and also later in the Korean War – had to do.
After graduating from New York Law School – which, at the time, was located in lower Manhattan at 244 William Street – he walked into the offices of Continental Casualty Company on 76 William Street, looking for a job, and came face-to-face with its personnel director.
“He was a very poor personnel director. His attitude was very, very negative,” said Greenberg in an online interview. “I was of two minds – one was to slug him.” He decided that wasn’t a good idea. Instead, Greenberg went straight into the office of a resident vice president, complained about being treated poorly (“You have a jerk as a personnel director,” he said), found himself with a job, became the youngest vice president in the history of that company, and later fired the personnel director.
This is Hank Greenberg, a fighter, and someone’s bad attitude had been the catalyst that propelled him to the top of his industry.
While Dr. Stiefel had worked in an OSS unit directed by C.V. Starr during World War II, Starr hired Hank Greenberg in 1960 to work at AIG – which at the time had operations in over 75 countries – and then named him the company’s successor in 1967. Under Greenberg’s direction as Chairman and CEO, AIG expanded its operations into new markets, including China and India. Greenberg retired from AIG in 2005, and is currently Chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.
Sharing the same global outlook as Dr. Stiefel and Dr. Walter, the Starr Foundation in 1995 – with Greenberg as Chairman of its Board of Directors, a position he still holds today – gave a $2 million donation (the largest in the history of the Law School up until that time) to raise the profile of international law. The gift endowed the C.V. Starr Professorship of International Trade and Finance and also gave international law a permanent home in a newly-created Center for International Law. This time, Greenberg himself became the “catalyst for New York Law School’s international focus,” declared the NYLS Magazine. But who would hold this professorship and lead the new center into the 21st century?
DENIM, and making lots of it. That was one of the legacies of the storied Cone family of Greensboro, North Carolina, whose company was once the world’s largest manufacturer of denim throughout the 20th century.
Another legacy was a descendent, Sydney M. Cone, III, whom the Law School had chosen to become the very first C.V. Starr Professor of International Trade and Finance and also to direct the newly-established Center for International Law. A prominent international lawyer, Professor Cone – who joined the faculty on July 1, 1996, and formally started the operations of the Center for International Law on that date – has been with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton (the same firm where Dr. Stiefel had worked for decades) for 57 years, including 28 as partner. He is currently Senior Counsel.
An internationalist himself, Professor Cone is licensed to practice law not only in the United States, but also Paris, and worked for many years as a resident in the Paris and Brussels offices of Cleary Gottlieb. He was instrumental in establishing its offices in Tokyo and Frankfurt, and its representation of post-Soviet Russia.
A major figure in the legal community who had “assisted in the development of [U.S.] rules regulating the practice of lawyers established outside their home jurisdictions,” Professor Cone is the author of International Trade in Legal Services published by Little, Brown and Company in 1996.
Like Dr. Stiefel and Dr. Walter, the roots of Professor Cone’s family started in Germany. In 1846, Herman Kahn, at the age of 17, left Bavaria (the location of Dr. Walter’s hometown of Hof), and traveled to the United States where he changed his name to Cone and eventually started a wholesale grocery business in Baltimore.
His oldest sons, Ceasar and Moses, began to invest in the textile industry. They formed Cone Export and Commission Company in 1891 – the same year New York Law School received its state charter – and built a series of mills in Greensboro which, according to the Jackson, Miss.-based Institute of Southern Jewish Life, was known as a tolerant city with a diverse population of Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Jews; served as a stop in the Underground Railroad; and became a major center of the textile industry in the United States. The company later became the Cone Mills Corporation.
In 1915, it reached an agreement with Levi Strauss & Co. to manufacture the denim for that company’s iconic 501® Jeans. That agreement continues today, and Cone Mills still manufactures the denim for the 501 Jeans in its plant in Greensboro.
The company’s headquarters in New York City were located on Worth Street, specifically in the current E building of the Law School’s campus. Even today, visitors can still see the faint lettering of the company’s name on the cornerstone at the northwest intersection of Church and Worth Streets. The now-Stiefel Room was used as a space to sell wholesale denim while the second floor (the current location of the dean’s office) contained the executive suites complete with wood paneling on the walls, according to Professor Cone. In 2004, Cone Mills became a unit of the International Textile Group. This year, as in the case of New York Law School, Cone Mills is celebrating its 125th anniversary. And starting this year and every year afterwards, the city of Greensboro will celebrate Cone Denim Day on April 6th.
The philanthropy of the Cone family led to the creation of Cone Health, a major non-profit network of health care providers, ambulatory and urgent care centers, and also six hospitals – with the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro as its flagship teaching hospital – in over 100 locations in North Carolina, making it the second largest private employer in Guilford County in 2015, and the 17th largest in the state, according to statistics from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
The family’s philanthropy also extended beyond health care. Professor Cone’s aunts – Etta Cone along with her sister Dr. Claribel Cone – had long collected works by artists such as Cézanne, Courbet, Degas, Gauguin, and Pissarro. They also befriended Matisse and Picasso from whom they bought many pieces. The Cone sisters later donated their extensive collection to the Baltimore Museum of Art, and major works are on display in the Cone wing. Experts have described the donation as “one of the world’s most important art collections.”
WITH Professor Cone as director, the Center for International Law would regularly and more frequently schedule international law events and activities. With contacts throughout the world, Professor Cone invited some of the most prominent speakers ever invited to the Law School who addressed timely international and comparative law topics.
• In November 1996, the first symposium – Implications of the Reconstruction of Lloyd’s of London – assessed the reconstruction of major insurer Lloyd’s of London, along with its legal and financial implications on the world’s insurance markets.
• During the second symposium – The Russian Securities Markets: Regulation and Practice – executives from the New York Stock Exchange, then-Price Waterhouse, and the Bank of New York examined securities offerings made by Russian companies on the international markets.
• During a major symposium in 1997 covered by the New York Times – The Euro: Hard Questions to be Answered by Market Participants and Policy-Makers – panelists from government agencies, major banks, large law firms, and securities exchanges discussed the legal and market implications of the adoption of the Euro.
• In the 1998 Otto L. Walter Lecture, Justice Richard Goldstone of the Constitutional Court of South Africa spoke about the proposed International Criminal Court (ICC). Six years later in a following Otto L. Walter Lecture, the first Chief Prosecutor of the ICC (Luis Moreno Ocampo) discussed how the newly-created court was building its credibility.
• After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Center for International Law, over several years, invited speakers to discuss the implications of the war on terror, including its effects on civil liberties and obstacles concerning its prosecution.
• A series of lectures in 2005 examined different aspects of the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, including the making of its interim constitution, the restructuring of its debts, and the shaping of the state media policy.
• In a series of highlights, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, delivered the 2011 Otto L. Walter Lecture where he discussed the United Nations and the rule of law, and also gave a shout-out to the Law School itself: “This great school has a motto that gets a loud cheer from me: ‘Learn Law. Take Action.’ That’s very important. That is exactly the same philosophy I have. Lead by example. Take action. Deliver results.” During the 2016 Otto L. Walter Lecture, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, Miguel de Serpa Soares, elaborated on the implementation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s ideas on the rule of law.
Along with bringing prominent speakers to the Law School, Professor Cone taught the three main courses of private international transactional law – International Business Transactions, International Finance, and International Trade Disputes. He also oversaw the Center’s Harlan Scholars program and also its International Associates program where students during their 2L and 3L years must fulfill certain curricular requirements. Since 2005, 124 Harlan Scholars have completed the international law curricular requirements. For the International Associates program, 152 students have completed the curriculum since 2010.
The Center for International Law also created a noted resource for the American law school community called The International Review, the only academic newsletter in the United States published by an ABA-accredited law school that reports on a broad range of timely international and comparative law topics in a nonpartisan manner.
Recent articles have analyzed whether international law requires nations to pay a minimum wage, whether governments may use their power of eminent domain to pursue social justice, whether flag burning is protected under international law as a form of political expression, and whether people have a right not only to food, but to healthy and nutritious food.
In contrast to other legal publications which are often laden with dense prose, the articles in the International Review are written for a wider audience interested in international law. (“International law in plain English,” proclaims the newsletter’s motto on each front cover.) Its humble beginnings started with a six-page inaugural issue in the spring of 1999. Recent issues have reached almost 70 pages.
As a testament to its reputation as a source of unbiased and clearly written information, institutions such as Georgetown University Law Center have used articles from the International Review in their national security and public health seminars. One law professor described it as “a wonderful review of current developments in international and comparative law.” Another professor added that the articles had “just the right length, depth, objectivity, and balance.”
In recognition of the research and writing carried out by the staff of the International Review, the Sixth Annual Magnum Opus Awards in 2009 awarded the newsletter with its Gold Award for “Most Improved Editorial (Print Newsletter).” In 2007, the Newsletter on Newsletters awarded the International Review with its Gold Award for “Best Edited Organization Newsletter.”
Along with bringing prominent speakers to the Law School, Professor Cone undertook efforts to bring more professional opportunities to students. In one successful initiative, the Starr Foundation in 2001 awarded the Center with a $500,000 grant to provide, among other activities, partial stipends for New York Law School students who find unpaid summer externships in the area of international business law in a government or multilateral agency.
Such financial support has helped them work in the Federal Maritime Commission, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and also in the judiciary such as the United States Court of International Trade.
“Interning at the Commission has been by far the best internship I have had while in law school,” said Josephine Bahn ’16 whose job at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was made possible through the grant from the Starr Foundation. “I am much more prepared to be a lawyer because of the internship and work experience.”
Chloe Coniaris ’16, who worked at the Federal Maritime Commission in Washington, D.C., said that the Starr Foundation grant allowed her to “zero in on what type of law I want to practice and the steps I need to take to ensure my dream became a reality.” And for Radhika Deva ’15, the Starr Foundation grant allowed her to work “alongside some of the most experienced trial attorneys” at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Through the efforts of Professor Cone and his predecessors, international law not only had a solid foundation at the Law School, but also a home. But almost a decade into the 21st century, when the legal profession as a whole would face serious new challenges, another visionary arrived at the helm of the Center for International Law.
“A celebrated legal historian who, amongst other things, has contributed during the last quarter century some of the most significant discussions of medieval and early modern legal application.” That is how one scholar described Professor Lloyd Bonfield who, in January 2011, became director of the Center for International Law.
A legal historian would seem to be, at first glance, a curious choice for someone to succeed Terry Cone as the director of the Center for International Law. But a deeper look reveals that someone with an appreciation for (and context informed by) the past will have the foresight to lead the Center into the future.
A distinguished scholar of English legal history with a doctorate from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Professor Bonfield is a co-founding editor of Continuity and Change, a journal of social history, demography, and the law which had celebrated its 30th year of publication in 2015, and has been described as “one of the principal outlets” for a discussion of these topics. He currently teaches in the areas of trusts and estates, property, and legal history; is an expert on European Union law; and is the author of several books. (His Ph.D. thesis published by Cambridge University Press remains in print to this very day.) Before joining the Law School’s faculty in 2008, Professor Bonfield taught at Tulane Law School for 25 years where – as the Thomas J. André, Jr. Professor of Law and also Associate Dean for International Graduate Studies and International Relations – he significantly built its reputation in international law with the creation of certificate and study abroad programs in the United Kingdom, Finland, and Italy, among other activities.
The timing of his arrival in New York could not have been better. As the legal profession emerged from what is now called the Great Recession of 2008, Professor Bonfield began to lay out a new direction for the Center in a legal market which now calls on law students to be “practice-ready.” To this end, he created and is teaching what the Law School today calls project-based learning courses where students combine legal theory and practice.
In European Union Business Law – co-taught with Adjunct Professor of Law Marc Firestone who is General Counsel of Phillip Morris International – students carry out research and analyze actual antitrust cases in the European Union. For instance, in one project, which focused on whether Google had used its dominance of the Internet search market to stifle competition in Europe, three members of the class traveled to Brussels where they interviewed Luc Gyselen (a former civil servant in the Commission’s Competition Directorate), Ian S. Forrester and his team at White & Case who had argued the Commission’s case against Microsoft, and Scansource’s General Counsel Nicholas Bridgman. In another project, Professor Bonfield and a team of students gathered and analyzed research from Europe concerning a ruling issued by the European Court of Justice on mobile phone operator T-Mobile and the kinds of concerted practices that could violate European antitrust laws.
In another project-based learning course, Professor Bonfield leads a team of NYLS students at the Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court in Vienna, Austria, where over 300 law schools from around the world compete in oral arguments to resolve – through arbitration – an international commercial dispute involving a claimant who requested damages from a respondent who had breached a contract.
Said Hank Greenberg of the project-based learning courses: “I think it’s very good [for students]. It’s very important that they understand not just theory, but the practicalities of what the real life of a lawyer is and how they will adapt to it once they get out of school.”
Professor Bonfield also created the Law School’s first-ever study abroad program where over 150 students, since 2010, have taken summer courses in international business and corporate law at the University of Law in London. “It’s another aspect of our school’s growing and blossoming, and coming into a new era,” said then-Associate Dean Carol Buckler. Taught by NYLS faculty, these courses included visits to barrister, solicitor, and corporate law offices around London.
Said one student of the program: “The professors were excellent, and I developed interest in aspects of law that I didn’t think I would have.” And through the tremendous efforts of Professor Ronald Filler – the Director of the Law School’s Graduate Program in Financial Services Law – most students began summer legal externships in banks, brokerage firms, hedge funds, law firms, and government agencies when they returned to New York.
While largely forgotten today, the Law School had a special place in the New York legal community during the war years of the 20th century. “It was the place where foreign lawyers fleeing their home nations had received their training in U.S. law,” said Dr. Michèle Cone, a noted art historian and interdisciplinary scholar specializing in 20th century art, and whose husband is Professor Terry Cone. On that note, Professor Bonfield continued this tradition by creating an LL.M. program in American Business Law for individuals with foreign law degrees who sought advanced training in American corporate and commercial law with a particular focus on New York practice.
New York Law School also continues to participate in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, the world’s largest moot court competition where participants from over 550 law schools from more than 80 countries argue a dispute before a mock International Court of Justice. This past year’s problem focused on public international law matters concerning the legality of cyber-surveillance, and also cyber-attacks.
During the Northeast Regionals of the competition, students from the Center for International Law went through four rounds against Brooklyn, Harvard, Rutgers-Camden, and Rutgers-Newark Law Schools at the offices of Shearman & Sterling LLP, arguing about matters pertaining to admissibility of documents, seizure of state infrastructures, human rights violations, and cybersecurity. The team placed 14th (out of 21 teams) in the Northeast competition, and its memorial placed in the top 10. Head coach James Foster ’12 (a Jessup competition alumnus) along with Center director and assistant coach Professor Lloyd Bonfield guided the team.
Along with its lectures, the Center also began to organize what it called a “Lunchtime Debate” series where a Center staff member prepared and led a debate with students on a contentious international law issue such as whether the United States can target its citizens for lethal attacks using drone strikes, or whether nations can and should prohibit its citizens from insulting religions. One student noted that these lunch debates were the kinds of forums which her classmates wanted to attend for the simple reason that they were able to actively participate in them.
In the years ahead, what does the future hold for international law? As the world becomes even more complex and intertwined, experts say that nations will have to use international law – either grudgingly, with caution, or realistic expectations – as one important tool in grappling with current and unanticipated issues. For its part, the Center for International Law – under the direction of its leaders – has led the way for several decades, with an assurance that the Law School’s graduates understand and appreciate the role which international law can and will play in their work, now and into the future.
– Michael Rhee, the current Associate Director, has been with the Center for International Law since 1998.