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It is hard to imagine that in 1901, Brooklyn Law School had five students and held classes in the basement of the business school. Now the law school, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, supports a student body that has grown to 1,524. What began as a faculty of five has swelled to 62 full-time professors and 118 adjuncts. The law library, which originally had no books and seated one, now contains 460,000 volumes and occupies 78,000 square feet of space over six floors. And the school’s curriculum, which for many years offered no electives and focused on New York law, today is organized into “areas of concentration” such as international business law, intellectual property, and media and information law. The school has been advancing in prestige as well. Jonathan Lindsey, managing partner at Major Hagen & Africa, a legal search firm, said Brooklyn Law School “certainly has moved up substantially in people’s eyes. Graduates who have done well there are getting interviews at major law firms and that hasn’t always been the case.” But while many law schools can cite similar growth in the size of their student body or the variety of their course offerings, few have played a leadership role in helping women and minorities enter a profession that had been closed to them, and few have been at the forefront in clinical education. These two factors have helped raise the school from a local to a regional, and by some accounts, national institution. In fact, in the most recent U.S. News & World Report ranking of law schools, Brooklyn’s clinical training program is tied for 16th place in the nation, along with the likes of Harvard Law School, the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, and the University of Baltimore School of Law. Otherwise, as a whole, Brooklyn Law School is not ranked in the top tier of 55 law schools nationwide. BUILDING A FACULTY The heart of any academic institution is its faculty, and this is where Brooklyn Law School in recent decades has made significant strides. Beginning in the early 1970s, when it became a member of the Association of American Law Schools, the school broke with a tradition of hiring its own graduates and began courting graduates of the nation’s top law schools. Scholarship is the “coin of the realm by which law schools are judged,” said Professor Joel Gora, noting that in recent months, articles by Brooklyn Law School professors “have been accepted by the nation’s top law reviews. That just wasn’t true 25 years ago and that matters a lot.” Among the school’s experts are Aaron Twerski in products liability; Margaret Berger in evidence; Elizabeth Schneider in domestic violence; Roberta Carmel in securities regulation; Samuel Murumba in international human rights; Lawrence Solan in linguistics; and Beryl Jones in intellectual property. The list goes on. How do you attract top faculty? “With salaries and support for research,” said Professor Twerski, one of the school’s two professors who are also reporters for the American Law Institute. “We have a generous program of summer stipends,” said Dean Joan Wexler. “You have a good proposal, you’ll receive the grant.” Professor Mary Ellen Fullerton noted the school’s generous reimbursement policy for attendance at scholarly conferences. “A lot of schools only allow faculty to go to one or two conferences a year. Here there’s no limit.” In addition, said Professor Twerski, the library has been “aggressive in its acquisitions in order to accommodate the research needs of the faculty,” and its staff is “extraordinarily competent at being able to dredge up what you need dredged up.” SCHOLARSHIP V. TEACHING Brooklyn has worked to make sure its emphasis on serious scholarship has not come at the expense of teaching. “A lot of law schools have difficulty maintaining that balance,” said Professor Neil Cohen. “We serve our students by being the best teachers we can and by being on the cutting edge of law.” Starting in the late 1960s, the school began reducing the faculty-student ratio, from one to 57 in 1967 to one to 38 in 1974. Today, the average class size is 40 students, but many classes are much smaller. Teachers have an open-door policy. “Not only are we approachable; we want to be approached,” said Professor Twerski. “We value it as part of the spirit of Brooklyn Law School.” The school also established one of the nation’s first in-house clinics in 1970. The clinical program, which for the past 10 years has been directed by Professor Stacy Caplow, who co-teaches a safe harbor clinic, numbers about 11 clinics, ranging from elder law to securities arbitration. Between 60 and 70 percent of students take one clinic, and they are in such demand that a memo recently went out seeking ideas for more. Some 300 students applied for the coming semester. While they take up a lot of time, they “make law school exciting,” said Professor Fullerton, “and many students learn better when they try doing it themselves.” In addition, the school offers externships, a first-year legal writing program, instruction for upper-class students — in interviewing, counseling, negotiation and advocacy — and a moot court program that enters about 17 competitions a year. The clinics and skills-oriented courses are mirrored in the way law is taught. The teachers say they want their students to understand doctrine both at a theoretical level and how it plays out in the real world. Outreach to the professional and academic community through symposia and lectures has been an important part of the school’s public relations efforts since at least the early 1980s, when Dean Trager sought to make it a more dynamic place. Events scheduled to mark the school’s centennial have attracted well-known and respected speakers. Among them was Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Noam Chomsky, who ruminated on democracy in a global marketplace. In another, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lamented the declining trend in pro bono work by major law firms. Top legal minds assembled to debate the ethics of maintaining DNA databanks and to discuss the impact of revised Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code. HOUSING AND DIVERSITY Another aim of Dean Trager’s was to attract a more geographically diverse student body, a goal that has also been important to Dean Wexler. She recently supervised the purchase of land two-and-a-half blocks from the school’s main building on Joralemon Street where it plans to build a dormitory for 300-400 students. The school currently houses 150 students in six brownstones and a small apartment building in Brooklyn Heights. Robert A.M. Stern, the architect who designed the addition to the school’s main building, which opened in 1994, has agreed to design the residence hall. While addressing the “housing issue” is critical to Brooklyn Law School’s goal of becoming a national law school, Professor Fullerton said the tradition of providing entr�e to the professional world for the children of immigrant families has already enriched the classroom experience. “Many of our students came to the states when they were little, or while in high school or after college. If I teach a course in international law, these students have lived in all these different legal cultures. Even my civil procedure classes are enlivened by the student from Israel or Russia who says, ‘This is how it happened there,’ ” said the professor. Professor Paul Schwartz agreed: “In every possible way you could define diversity, we have it. The entering class has over 20 native languages other than English. That’s unbelievable. Such a melting pot.” And do not forget the evening students, said Sara Robbins, law librarian and professor of law. They bring “maturity and a real-world perspective” to the mix. In the convocation held last September to kick off the anniversary year, Dean Wexler said that while Brooklyn Law School has changed location several times, it has never veered from its initial commitment to provide a legal education to those who either could not afford to attend — or, for reasons of race, religion or gender were likely to be rejected by — the city’s elite law schools. HISTORY Noting that there were no law schools in “Long Island” at the turn of the century, attorney William Payson Richardson, who would later author “Richardson on Evidence,” and Norman Heffley, head of the Heffley Business School, saw an opportunity. To meet the needs of the borough’s largely immigrant population, the school would offer morning, afternoon and evening classes so working people could attend. It would open its doors to women and African-Americans. And it would do all of this without compromising academic excellence. Pre-World War II graduates included Appellate Division Justices George Beldock and Bernard Botein; Eastern District Judges George Rosling and Harold Kennedy; Nathan Sobel, assistant counsel to Governor Herbert Lehman, and an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Frieda Hennock, the first woman member of the Federal Communications Commission; and Jerome Prince, the renowned evidence scholar. When World War II so hurt enrollment — there were 174 students in 1943, down from 3,312 in 1928 — that St. Lawrence University, which had been operating the school as a cash cow, was prepared to shut it down, then Professor Prince and Justice William Carswell, who was then dean, purchased the institution. While the war may have been problematic for the school’s admissions office, it opened doors for its female graduates, recalled Frances Friedman, class of 1939. “It was very difficult for us to get jobs when we graduated. I could only get a job as a legal secretary. The war changed everything because the men were all gone. Social change never happens out of ideology, but out of necessity.” Friedman landed a dream job: in-house counsel for the Abraham & Strauss department store. “Because of the war effort, the store was swamped with regulations,” she said. “The War Production Board allocated material to the war effort. The War Labor Board froze wages. Merchandise managers didn’t know how to price their goods. It was really the birth of administrative law.” Retired Supreme Court Judge Howard Bell, 1947, an African-American, recalls similar difficulty getting work. As a law student, he loved his job in the mailroom at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “I would bring briefs home with me to study in the quietness of my home,” he said. But with a law degree under his belt, he set his sights higher. He discovered, however, that “large firms wouldn’t hire blacks” and small ones were not much better. “I couldn’t even get past secretaries,” he said. Little had changed by the 1950s, when such notable Brooklyn Law School minority alumni as David Dinkins (1956), Herman Badillo (1954), and Percy Sutton (1950), despite exemplary academic records, found greater opportunities in government service than in the private sector. Brooklyn Law School’s unwavering commitment to diversity is evident in last year’s entering class. Of 482 new students (selected from 3,300 applicants), women constituted 52.3 percent and minorities constituted 22.2 percent. Students came from 31 states and 34 foreign countries. Meanwhile, finding jobs has become easier for graduates. When you have been around for 100 years, the number of alumni out there starts to add up. Brooklyn has about 16,000 living graduates, and the school puts a lot of effort into staying in touch with them. Dean Wexler took her centennial show on the road, hosting a series of alumni receptions in various cities across the country. Thus, with applications up 7.2 percent this year, plans for a residence hall that will give the school the feel of a real campus, the recent retrofitting of the main building so almost every classroom seat is wired for power and every seat in the library is wired for network communications, Brooklyn Law School is on the verge of becoming a national law school. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the centennial is less about remembering the beautiful art deco building on Pearl Street that the school outgrew in the 1960s, or recalling the days when class attendance was compulsory and students were required to stand up when called on, than about dreaming about the future. Sam Adler is a free-lance writer in New York.

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