Alumni Forum: Columbia Law School's Alumni Adjuncts

Columbia Law School's Alumni Adjuncts
by Jennifer Itzenson, Contributing Editor

Adjunct professors play an important role at Columbia Law School, which was highlighted in Dean David Schizer's welcome to 1Ls: "We bring the world into the classroom, and classrooms into the world."

Adjuncts give students a wide range of exposure to the nuts-and-bolts aspects of law. Columbia's adjuncts are law firm partners, judges, prosecutors, and consultants, and most report that teaching invigorates their own practices. Here's a brief look at a handful of the School's more than 150 adjunct faculty members, who also happen to be alumni:

Trials are a stage

Karen Shatzkin '77

Instead of a final exam, students in the Trial Practice course taught by Karen Shatzkin '77 hold full-scale trials in federal courtrooms, with actors in key roles, doctors as expert witnesses, and Prof. Shatzkin's colleagues and friends as judge and jury.

"It's almost like organizing a stage production," says Prof. Shatzkin, who finds the real-life quality of the experience benefits her students. "They really find that it pushes them, and it therefore brings their performance to a higher level."

Prof. Shatzkin enjoys helping students consider nontraditional routes in their careers, as she did by launching her own firm, Shatzkin & Mayer. The majority of her clients are in creative fields, including publishing, design, and documentary film - her greatest love after litigation. "Even in the practice of law, when you're trying to pay the rent from it, you can do it in an independent way," she says.

The real deal

Robert A. Weiner '72, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, describes Big Case: Tactics and Strategy as a practical course on the art of being a lawyer. He and Professor Jeffrey Kessler '72, co-chairman of the litigation department at Dewey Ballantine in New York, teach students how to strategize from the moment a client walks in the door - from planning for litigation to considering settlement. The importance of these critical thinking skills is sometimes overlooked.

"We saw it among our own younger associates," he says. "No one ever taught them what a real case was like."

Outside of class, Prof. Weiner, who has more than three decades of experience in complex commercial litigation, spends a fair amount of time in the courtroom. Teaching at the Law School has honed his own skills.

"Often, what you do in a trial is teach," he says. "The communication skills are quite similar, and this helps make me better at it."

How to be a litigator

Jess Velona '88

In Pretrial Commercial Litigation, taught by Jess Velona '88 and Larry Jacobs of Davis Polk & Wardwell, students are split into two teams - the plaintiff's and the defendant's - and litigate a case through summary judgment. Prof. Velona stresses skills such as drafting complaints, taking depositions, and reviewing documents - the type of work many of his students will do as they start their careers.

"I like to call the course informally ‘How to Be an Associate at a Big Law Firm,'" he says. "It's about easing the transition from academia to private practice."

Prof. Velona spent 14 years at large firms before joining the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement division. His current work is in many ways similar to pretrial litigation, and he's picked up some new tactics, particularly for taking depositions, through the give-and-take in the classroom.

"Students will come up with techniques that in all these years I haven't thought of," he says.

Navigating legal shoals

Janice Tudy-Jackson '92

When Janice Tudy-Jackson '92 enrolled as a student in the Law School, she already had a master's degree in industrial and labor relations and had worked as the vice president of a multinational agribusiness corporation. She now has her own practice as a collaboration and conflict management consultant and teaches the Negotiation Workshop, a unique course conceived by Professor Carol Liebman. By engaging in game theory and taking part in role-plays, her students learn how to navigate contracts, business transactions, and multiparty deals and disputes. They master theories and techniques that they often find quite useful in their personal lives, as well.

Prof. Tudy-Jackson says she enjoys seeing her students' expectations about negotiations and conflicts change as they gain greater understanding.

"The underlying principles of the course are very different from the principles of litigation," she says. "In negotiation, it's not just about who is right or wrong. What I hope is that my students will learn which negotiation strategies and techniques work best for them."

Challenging First Amendment Assumptions

Before taking the bench as a circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Robert D. Sack '63 was a press lawyer for more than 30 years, defending clients such as the Wall Street Journal. In his course, First Amendment and the Institutional Press, Prof. Sack uses news reports and broadcasts that got journalists into legal trouble as a basis to discuss current media law.

Prof. Sack started teaching six years ago, in part to refresh his own thinking on First Amendment controversies.

"I heard press lawyers discussing all the major issues of the day, but discussing them almost entirely amongst themselves," he says. "The conversations became awfully stale."

As the dividing line vanishes between the traditional press and the "new press" of the online world, his class serves as a forum to challenge all of these old assumptions.

First-hand look at immigration law

Theodore Ruthizer '72

Theodore Ruthizer '72 has seen his course on Immigration Law and Policy become even more popular in recent years, thanks to the increasingly contentious political debates on the subject. Every year, he takes his class to see an asylum hearing from start to finish, giving his students a first-hand look at what often seems an abstract issue. Afterward, he invites the presiding judge to speak to the class.

"Usually there's a couple of students who really want to live and breathe immigration law," says Prof. Ruthizer, a partner at Kramer Levin and the firm's business immigration chair. But for the most part, students take the class because they have an intellectual curiosity about the subject.

"This gives them an opportunity to really understand what the immigration system is all about and how it functions," he says. "Then they're in a much better position to have informed opinions."

A cultural approach to deals

Mark Vecchio '85 speaks eight languages, including Russian, French, and Portuguese, which has proved quite useful in his two decades of practice in international corporate and commercial law. Students in his course, Strategic International Commercial Transactions, analyze and reconstruct actual cross-border deals ranging from mergers and acquisitions to securities offerings, most of which come from the course of his own career.

A partner at Venable, Prof. Vecchio tells his students that an understanding of other cultures is a necessary component for success in the field.

"A lot of what we do as lawyers is interpreting not only laws, but in the international context, interpreting different approaches to cultural issues involved in business," he says. The class attracts many LL.M. students from abroad, who enhance the course by sharing their own perspectives.

"There's all the more of an interplay of different cultures and different legal backgrounds," Prof. Vecchio says.

False advertising

Harold Weinberger '70

In the False Advertising course taught by Harold Weinberger '70, students tackle cases involving everything from potato chips to cancer drugs. False advertising claims surged in the past two decades as consumer product and drug companies took their competitors to court, and much of the course material - including testimony from depositions and trials, expert reports, and product testing - comes from Prof. Weinberger's more than 20 years of specialization in the area.

His own career at Kramer Levin, where he is a partner and heads the advertising group, prepared him for teaching.

"One of the things that I have enjoyed the most at the firm is working with and training young lawyers," Prof. Weinberger says.

He has accumulated many court experiences to share with his students, since advertising cases tend to go to trial.

"They're very hard to settle," he says. "They're not about money."

A view of complex cases

Abbe David Lowell '77

This year, Abbe David Lowell '77 will give students in Advanced Criminal Procedure and Litigation an in-depth look at one of his very complex past cases: His client, one of the most politically connected lawyers in Mississippi, was accused of bribing state court judges. (The client was acquitted of bribery after a three-month trial last year.)

Prof. Lowell, a partner at Chadbourne & Parke in Washington, D.C., has represented high-profile clients and political figures throughout his career and has argued appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court. He taught for many years at Georgetown University Law Center, and this is his first year at the Law School.

"I've wanted to do this for a long time," says Prof. Lowell, who is also an alumnus of Columbia College. "I try to do as many things as I can to give back to the university that gave me so much."

Critical discussions on civil rights

Theodore Shaw '79, the director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, likes to engage his class in critical discussions of civil rights issues - and encourages students to analyze the success of his own organization's efforts.

"I prefer to have students who don't take what we do or how we do it as the final word," says Prof. Shaw, who has worked for the Legal Defense Fund since 1982. "The best discussions are those where students really ask themselves, each other, and me hard questions about the efficacy of the work that we do."

Teaching has helped Prof. Shaw scout new talent. Students from his Race and Poverty Law course have interned at the NAACP and even joined as lawyers after graduation. He has been consistently impressed by his students' dedication and intellectual curiosity.

"One of the best ways of learning is to teach," he says.

All viewpoints welcomed

Nancy J. Northup '88

Nancy J. Northup '88 of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) is no stranger to the classroom, having taught a seminar on constitutional law for the past five years at NYU. Now in her first year at Columbia, she says she benefits from teaching because it allows her to step back from the role of advocate and into the position of educator. The stimulating dialogue between herself and students "allows me to actively push myself and others to consider difficult legal and ethical questions."

As president of the CRR, she heads an organization that uses litigation, advocacy, and legal scholarship to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental right. The CRR also brings cases before U.S. courts, UN committees, and regional human rights bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

However, Prof. Northup makes it clear that her class is not a soapbox for any single viewpoint.

"I emphasize in my first class that this is an academic environment and all views are welcomed and encouraged," she says. "Although I advocate for a particular legal position, I expect and encourage that students engage in a full and critical exploration of perspectives."

Socratic method, with a light touch

When Michael Marks Cohen '65 first studied maritime law, the course wasn't based on experience in the field.

"I felt after I had been out in practice that there were insights that students deserved to learn," he says.

He arranged to teach Admiralty Law every other year, so that every student would have the chance to take the class. It's a pace he has maintained for more than 30 years. The course covers all aspects of ocean transport in the United States and, to a lesser extent, England and elsewhere.

Prof. Cohen, who specializes in maritime arbitration at Nicoletti Hornig Campise & Sweeney, teaches according to the Socratic method, but with a light touch and sense of humor. Students "respond more enthusiastically if you can make clear that you're not mean, and that you are attempting to use the dialogue as a way of advancing knowledge," he says. "And I can get the students to focus on the material a little more closely if their adrenaline is flowing."