(L to R) Lance Liebman; John J. Costonis ’65; Judith Reinhardt Thoyer ’65; Hon. Nathanial M. Gorton ’65
Friday, June 12
Law School and Law Practice: Then and Now
Moderator: Michael I. Sovern ’55, Chancellor Kent Professor of Law, Columbia Law School; President Emertius of Columbia University
Panelists: John J. Costonis ’65, Paul M. Herbert Law Center Chancellor Emeritus, Louisiana State University; Hon. Nathanial M. Gorton ’65, United States District Judge, District of Massachusetts; Lance Liebman, William S. Beinecke Professor of Law, Columbia Law School; Judith Reinhardt Thoyer ’65, Of Counsel, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
Guest Speaker: Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law
Alumni and Faculty Reflect on the Change of Legal Education and Practice over the past 50 Years
A sitting federal judge and distinguished graduates and faculty from Columbia Law School addressed the Classes of 1965 though 1945 at a special Reunion 2015 panel and luncheon event for Stone Circle members, a venerable alumni group open to graduates who have celebrated their 50th reunion and named for former Law School dean and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harlan Fiske Stone. The panel discussed the evolution of legal education and practice over the past half century. The event took place at the iconic Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor Law, introduced the panel, welcoming guests and paying tribute to the late Harvey Goldschmid ’65, a beloved colleague, mentor, and friend who helped organize the event before his death in February.
“I want to warmly congratulate you for reaching this milestone,” Dean Lester said. “I’m certain Harvey is watching, with his trademark twinkle in his eye, making sure we have attended to every detail of this weekend that he influenced,” Dean Lester said.
Michael I. Sovern ’55, the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law, president emeritus of Columbia University, and a former dean of Columbia Law School, moderated the panel, which also featured John J. Costonis ’65, chancellor emeritus and professor of law at Louisiana State University’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center; United States District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton ’65 of the District of Massachusetts; Judith Reinhardt Thoyer ’65, of counsel at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind LLP, Wharton & Garrison; and Lance Liebman, the William S. Beinecke Professor of Law and Columbia Law School’s 12th dean.
Reflecting on his long career in legal education, including more than a decade as dean of Vanderbilt Law School, Costonis said the diversification of law students, practitioners, and faculty has dramatically enriched the field.
“Among the most important changes of the past 50 years are the numbers of women and minorities in legal practice and education,” Costonis said. “Our generation played a major role in the social changes we’ve seen.”
Gorton argued that the U.S. judicial system has vastly improved over time, with better trial lawyers and more institutional respect for litigants.
Attendees listen as panel reflects on the change of legal education and practice over the past 50 years.
“Juries tend to be more than 12 times as smart as a juror, and they get it right almost all of the time,” Gorton said. “Federal judges are almost without exception conscientious, thoughtful, and ethical, and feel their purpose in life is to do justice. I have the best judicial job in the world.”
Looking back at her decades in private practice, Thoyer discussed how the rise of digital communications and other technologies has transformed the legal profession.
“Technology has changed enormously the practice of law,” she said, recalling when corporate deals were stored in heavy bound volumes for reference. “The biggest difference between then and now is the 24/7 mentality that came with email.”
Sovern and Liebman reflected on how things have changed on campus, including Columbia Law School’s expanding facilities and innovative new approaches to legal education.
“Oh, to be 75 again!” joked Sovern, who was celebrating his 60th Reunion. “The biggest change at Columbia Law School besides diversification is scale. There has been an explosion of clinical work and small-group opportunities.”
Liebman agreed, saying such experiential learning opportunities have become key to teaching the law, supplementing traditional classroom education with field observation and exposing students to the increasingly international nature of much legal work.
“There’s so much still to be figured out about the connection between classroom work and real-world practice,” Liebman said. “Columbia Law School has often led the way, and I’m sure we’ll lead the way on this as well.”