Patricia Salkin acknowledges she has become a law school dean at a time when “virtually everything” about the legal profession and legal education is “under fire.”
But she views her new job as “an exciting opportunity” and said she has found an “undiscovered gem” in the Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center and is eager to trumpet the school’s virtues.
Touro Law Center’s Dean Patricia Salkin
Photos: Rick Kopstein, NYLJ
“I would like Touro Law Center to have a national reputation as a top New York law school for people who want an education that makes them practice-ready,” she said.
Salkin, 48, moved to Touro from Albany Law School where she received her law degree and had spent almost her entire professional career, as a professor, associate dean and director of the school’s Government Law Center.
Salkin said she had what she called the “perfect job” when a Touro search committee tapped her to apply to replace Dean Lawrence Raful, who had decided to return to full-time teaching after eight years.
A well-regarded scholar of municipal law, zoning and land-use policy and government ethics, Salkin has consulted regularly with local governments and state officials on these and other issues. For example, she served on the transition teams of the last three state attorneys general and on Eliot Spitzer’s gubernatorial transition team.
She also has been active in the American and New York State Bar associations. She led state bar task forces on government ethics, town and village justice courts, and eminent domain. She is also a member of the New York City Bar’s Task Force on the Future of the Profession.
Salkin said she realized she could apply her experience in public policy reform to the world of legal education as dean.
“I’m now taking that same approach, that same skill set and applying it to the legal profession and legal education in an era when there is a need for reform and reform is taking place.”
Salkin said she “is willing to be out there and tackle the difficult issues,” noting that she has the ability to think strategically and to bring together people with different perspectives in politically charged environments.
At Touro, she is heading the state’s youngest law school—established only in 1980. (Albany Law was founded in 1851).
Touro has 536 full- and 212 part-time students. The school received approximately 1,400 applicants this year, down from 1,653 in 2011 and 2,057 in 2008.
Of graduates who took the bar exam for the first time in July 2011, 83 percent passed, compared to 77 percent in 2010 and 81 percent in 2008 and 2009.
While Salkin pledges to raise the school’s profile, she also plans to polish her gem by adding “new and exciting” offerings.
The school moved five years ago from a former junior high school in Huntington to a new campus in Central Islip within walking distance of state and federal courts. Building on that proximity, the school created programs where students observe the courts in operation—programs Salkin would like to expand.
Students also can work with roughly a dozen legal services providers housed in its Public Advocacy Program. Salkin would like to “better integrate” the work of those agencies into the educational experience.
She noted that Touro is one of only two law schools in the state—Columbia is the other—to require students to perform 40 hours of pro bono work before graduation. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has decided that a 50-hour requirement for all newly admitted attorneys would go into effect next year.
Salkin hopes to revive a veterans clinic now on hiatus and generally offer more clinical opportunities, either through new clinics or additional faculty to supervise existing ones
“Our students are really all leaving here having had some significant legal work experience and court knowledge, which most other law students in New York and across the country don’t get,” Salkin said.
She said she would seek additional funding for the school’s institutes for Business, Law & Technology; Jewish Law; Holocaust Law and International Human Rights; and Land Use and Public Policy so they can offer research fellowships, major conferences and provide opportunities for student employment.
In particular, Salkin plans to work with a committee examining an expansion by the land-use institute into topics like real estate law, construction law and sustainability.
She also is exploring the idea of joint programs in law and business within Touro College.
The school has plans for on-campus housing to attract students from a wider area, and Salkin would like to see shovels in the ground within 12 to 18 months. Right now, 88 percent of its students come from New York.
Salkin proposes to create a new associate deanship for research and scholarship to support faculty work. As the first woman dean, she wants to raise scholarship funds for women students, who now represent 47 percent of the school’s enrollment.
Allen Fagin, a partner at Proskauer Rose who headed the school’s search committee, said about 24 applicants were considered for the deanship.
“Patty checked all the boxes,” he said, citing her leadership at Albany Law and in bar associations, her teaching and “dedication to service in public interest.”
Salkin, said Fagin, “was someone who we felt would bring a fresh, vibrant and visionary approach to legal education in general and Touro Law Center in particular. So for the committee she held it all.”
“One of the best things that came out was her creativity and being able to try and put concrete examples of what she’d want to bring to Touro Law Center,” said Erica Vladimer, a third-year student and president of the Student Bar Association who was on the search committee.
Vladimer said Salkin spoke knowledgeably about the school’s clinics and suggested how professors could get better online exposure for their research. While other candidates sometimes said they did not have enough information to give specific answers to the committee’s questions, “she always had an idea to give,” Vladimer said.
Howard Stein, chairman of the school’s board of governors and a partner at Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, called Salkin “a natural” who “gets what school is about.” Stein did not serve on the search committee.
Looking back on his tenure, Raful said there were two big milestones for the school: its relocation to Central Islip and the creation of a curriculum that plays off its location near the courts.
“We set this mission” of fusing theory and hands-on experience, “and we have taken slow, steady steps to get there,” Raful said. “We’ve really arrived and it’s a good time for a new dean to trumpet what we’re doing.”
Raful said students and alumni were pleased with their education, but “people would like to see Touro talked about.”
Raful said Salkin’s administrative skills, her scholarship and her connections to bar associations were what the school needed next.
“So far, Patty looks to me like what the doctor ordered,” he said.
Michael Hutter, an Albany Law professor who has worked with Salkin, called her “a wonderful choice.”
Touro Law already has “a good reputation in Long Island,” said Hutter. “I think she’s going to expand its footprint throughout the state.”
Salkin has “a particular knack” for drawing attention to the institutions where she works, said George Carpinello of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, former head of Albany’s Government Law Center, who selected her for that program.
He noted it is “a tough time” for law schools generally as they “battle” for a declining number of applicants.
In that tighter market, said Carpinello, “I don’t think they could’ve picked a better person.”
‘Time to Fly’
As Salkin settles in to the new position, she said she’s staying involved with bar groups.
In fact, she has offered to pay first-year state bar dues for any student who wants to join—a potential outlay of $2,500—out of her own pocket.
“I believe in leadership,” she said. Through her offer she said she did more than talk about the value of professional associations.
“I took an active step to enable students to try it out for themselves,” she said.
Salkin also said she plans to stick to her scholarship—”although scaled back.”
She will continue posting to her blog on land-use issues and will keep updating the American Law of Zoning Treatise and New York Zoning Law and Practice.
She also has plans to teach, but not this year, on either government ethics, Chinese law or land-use law. (Another “selling point” for Touro, said Salkin, was that the majority of the state’s land-use litigation comes from the Appellate Division, Second Department. As a result, she looks forward to meeting the practitioners in the field).
Meanwhile, Salkin is working hard to connect with students.
Walking through the school’s halls, she waves ‘hi’ to some of the students who pass by.
Salkin has established a Facebook page and prior to the school year, she tried calling all the incoming first-years to introduce herself and welcome them to the school. One student was surprised to get her call at 8 p.m. one Saturday.
Vladimer said that student reaction to the new dean has been “above and beyond positive.”
When Salkin turned up at a party on the last night of orientation, Vladimer turned away briefly to buy her a drink. By the time she returned, Salkin said she was already surrounded by students.
Salkin, who is married and has two teenage children, said each day has been a whirl, starting before 9 a.m. and finishing after 10 p.m., as she meets with faculty, students, alumni and others, but she’s loving the experience, she said.
“I really believe it’s Touro’s time for greatness now,” Salkin said. “We’re into our 30s and it’s really time for us to fly.”
@|Andrew Keshner can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.