As a former top advisor to New York City’s mayor, Anthony Crowell sees himself as ideally positioned to take over New York Law School—or, as he calls it, “New York’s Law School.”
New York Law School, he says, is defined by its “deep and rich tradition of being linked to the civic fabric.” That tradition, Crowell says, is what sets the school apart from its competitors.
“If you want a track into city government, there are no competitors,” he said. “This is the only game in town.”
All law schools are struggling to set themselves apart from the competition in the midst of a weak legal job market that has led to declining applications. But while New York Law School saw a sharp decline in applications following the financial crisis, its numbers rebounded last year.
Nonetheless, the school, like others, has been criticized for admitting students and charging high tuitions in the face of a gloomy legal market. Along with other schools, it was sued last year by alumni who alleged that it published misleading figures about employment rates among graduates. The suit was dismissed earlier this year, and is now on appeal (NYLJ, March 22).
Though Crowell could not comment on the pending litigation, he said he had made publicly available all the information provided by the school to the American Bar Association and to rankings publishers, to ensure that the school’s alumni employment record is “fully transparent.”
The criticism, and the lawsuit, seems not to have hurt the school’s popularity among would-be students. The school had 5,606 applicants in 2008, but that number dropped to 4,188 in 2009 and 4,520 in 2010. In 2011, however, the school had 5,998 applicants.
The school currently has 1,568 students. The student body reflects its roots in the New York City area—37 percent hail from the city, and 56 percent from New York state. In 2011, 80 percent of students who took the bar exam for the first time passed, compared to 84 percent in 2010 and 2009, and 94 percent in 2008.
Crowell, 42, served as special counsel and then counselor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg before becoming New York Law School’s 16th president and dean on May 22. He succeeded Richard Matasar, who held the job from 2001 to 2011 before joining New York University as vice president for university enterprise initiatives and a professor of management.
Crowell, who taught at New York Law School as an adjunct for nine years before becoming dean, attributed the school’s continued appeal to its focus on the job market, with a particular focus on New York City.
That includes not only government jobs, but jobs tied to the financial services industry, particularly involving emerging areas like Dodd-Frank compliance, and other burgeoning sectors like technology and health care, Crowell said. To bolster employment prospects, Crowell said the school will continue its policy of encouraging all students to do externships.
Crowell said the school’s administration, led by its career services department, would work with all incoming students from “day one” to develop a career track and advise them about what courses to take and what work opportunities to seek to further their goals.
Those goals, he said, could include both “traditional legal jobs and jobs where a J.D. is something of great value but not necessarily required.”
To further promote contact between students and potential employers, the school will push for programs that put students to work in positions where they can gain useful experience. For example, Crowell said, the school currently runs a program in which students work with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to develop a new approach to the standard lease for commercial tenants in order to make it more favorable to small start-ups, which may need shorter-lease terms and more flexibility.
New York Law School is also launching a new pro bono initiative to comply with Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s new requirement that all new attorneys complete 50 hours of pro bono work before being admitted to the New York bar. The program will offer students pro bono work opportunities, focused on the needs of low-income New Yorkers, through the school.
Ties to City Government
Crowell said his experience in city government made him particularly well-suited to strengthen the school’s position in the market.
Crowell explained that, with his personal knowledge of the government and the nature of the legal work available, he would be able to connect individual students with jobs, and would be able to work with people in government to create work opportunities for students.
City attorneys who worked with Crowell agreed.
“New York Law School could not have selected a better person than Anthony Crowell as its new dean,” Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said in a statement when the hire was announced. “The school has a rich and respected reputation in the New York legal community, and Anthony—whose dedication to New York is unmatched—is a perfect fit, particularly at a time when the challenges and changes law schools must face are becoming increasingly difficult.”
Cardozo said in an interview that Crowell will be able to make connections between students and work opportunities.
“The main thing is he says, ‘Hey I know what government is all about, and I know what my third-year law students are capable of,’” Cardozo said.
Still, Cardozo emphasized that he did not see the city government favoring New York Law School at the expense of other schools.
“There are 11 law schools in the metropolitan area, and we pride ourselves on having good relationships with all of them,” he said.
Jeffrey Friedlander, first assistant corporation counsel, said in the same press release that Crowell is “astute, motivated, savvy and altruistic.”
And Bloomberg stated that his former adviser had been given “an extraordinary amount of responsibility” by him over the past decade, playing an integral role in “shaping and implementing almost all of our administration’s key initiatives.”
William LaPiana, the faculty chair of the search committee that hired Crowell, agreed that Crowell’s background in city government made him an especially attractive candidate.
“The city is very big and does an awful lot of things, but my precise knowledge of exactly how it works is tiny,” LaPiana said. “I think Anthony has an enormously detailed knowledge of how it works.”
LaPiana said that Crowell was chosen by the faculty and trustees from a pool that was eventually narrowed down to three candidates.
“It was wonderful to have someone in the final group with such close ties to city government,” he said.
LaPiana said that even at the beginning of his term Crowell has proven a good choice.
“Anthony is spending a lot of time absorbing knowledge, which he does at a ferociously fast rate, so we can move forward,” he said. “He’s involving all the faculty in learning what he needs to know.”
That involvement has included meetings with every faculty member, as well as reviving the previously defunct faculty coordinating committee, which LaPiana described as “the dean’s cabinet.”
LaPiana said Crowell’s background will translate into better job prospects for students.
“He certainly knows a lot of people. Those kinds of contacts, especially when it comes to helping students market themselves, is always enormously useful,” he said. “It’s both knowing people and knowing the structure” of government.
LaPiana said that, in the current climate, other law schools would likely follow New York Law School in bringing on administrators from non-traditional, non-academic backgrounds.
“I think we’ll see more and more of that as schools try to address the changes and challenges that we face,” he said. “It’s just that I feel very smug that few will find someone as good as Anthony.”
‘Young and Very Inspirational’
Chelsea Beshore, president of the school’s Student Bar Association, said that Crowell has been very well-received by students.
She said that most students were not surprised by Crowell’s selection, and saw him as a logical choice. Not only had he taught at the school as an adjunct, but many students knew him from working in externships in city government. She said that familiarity worked to Crowell’s advantage, as students already saw him as relatable.
“I think people weren’t really that surprised as far as Dean Crowell’s hiring, because he’s very known,” she said. “We know this guy. He’s a familiar face. He’s very young and very inspirational. I think students like having someone who’s been in their shoes more recently.”
Beshore credited Crowell for “bringing back the positivity” at a time when “all law schools are facing criticism” because of the weak job market. She said his selection has provoked more enthusiasm overall from students.
“I really think the student body in general is excited to have Dean Crowell,” she said. “This year they seem really excited to be at school and excited about the future.”
Beshore said Crowell’s connection to government and deep familiarity with the market for government legal jobs will be an asset to students.
“I think in this job market a big part of improving the school is improving students’ ability to gain employment after they graduate,” she said.
Beshore said that she herself would be applying to work at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Beshore also praised Crowell for bringing a hands-on management style to his position.
“From the get-go, Dean Crowell was just very available for students to talk to,” she said, adding that she knew of multiple students who had emailed him to talk about various concerns and had been able to arrange one-on-one meetings.
Beshore said that Crowell has been particularly receptive to the needs of evening students, who comprise almost one quarter of the student body. She said that the dean has been able to advise them about how to balance the demands of work and school.
Crowell said he looks forward to continuing to help his students build their legal careers.
“The market is tough, but one of the things that everyone says is that we have a great foundation,” he said. “Our programs are strong. I want to adapt our programs to the market.”
@|Brendan Pierson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.