A native New Yorker, Justin Steil ’10 was raised on West 89th Street, a residential block where old men still play dominos on the corner. While the quieter qualities of his street have remained the same over the years, much of New York City has undergone a significant transformation. The changing city, Steil explains, influenced his decision to study both law and urban planning.
“Growing up in New York in the ’80s and ’90s—all the energy of that time and the different and diverse struggles the city went through—made me interested in how cities work,” says Steil, who will graduate with a J.D. from the Law School while finishing his Ph.D. in urban planning from Columbia University. “Urban development is shaped by the law. The things that interest me most are balance of power questions, in addition to the different branches of democratic governments, the balance of federal, state and local issues."
While in Law School, Steil, who was selected as the outstanding public interest student in his graduating class, dedicated a great deal of time and energy to a variety of social justice projects. In addition to participating in numerous public interest groups, he served as president of the Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and as pro bono chair of the Civil Rights Law Society.
Following graduation, Steil will spend the remainder of this year finishing his Ph.D. dissertation, which examines how local governments respond to immigration through land use policy. Then, next summer, he will turn his attention back to law and begin a clerkship with Judge Kimba Wood of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Though he says he will miss classroom discussions on social justice issues, Steil is ready for what lies ahead. “One of the best ways of learning,” he explains, “is to go out and do.”