From the Dean

By David M. Schizer

Fall 2011

On August 19, David M. Schizer, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, welcomed the incoming class of J.D. and LL.M. students to Columbia Law School. An edited version of Dean Schizer’s welcoming remarks follows. 

On behalf of the faculty and graduates of Columbia Law School, it is my pleasure to welcome all of you. You are a remarkable group, and we are very proud to have you with us. . . .

[T]he graduates of this law school are among the most distinguished and influential lawyers in the world. You know the names of many of them, but not all. For example, one of our graduates was governor of New York, a candidate for president of the United States, secretary of state, a judge on the Court of International Justice in the Hague, and chief justice of the United States. How many of you can name the graduate I am talking about? Have you heard of Charles Evans Hughes? He is arguably the Columbia graduate most in need of a publicist, since I’m betting that his name is new to most of you, notwithstanding his remarkably distinguished career. Hughes graduated in 1884, and this coming April marks the 150th anniversary of his birth. It is worth remembering Hughes today because he helped define this nation’s direction during a time of extraordinary turmoil and change—in the geopolitical order, in our economy, and in our constitutional system—a time that was, in many ways, much like the present. . . .

Hughes’ professional trajectory was meteoric and, as he rose to the top of our profession, he was constantly in the company of other Columbia-trained lawyers. Within a few years of his graduation, Hughes became the name partner of a distinguished New York law firm (which still exists and is now called Hughes Hubbard & Reed). One of his first law partners was another graduate, Paul Cravath, Class of 1886, who went on to found another well-known law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Hughes’ political career began in 1905, when he presided over hearings to investigate the gas monopoly in New York City and the insurance industry. By revealing rampant corruption and incompetence, Hughes so wounded the New York political establishment that he was the only viable Republican candidate for governor left standing in 1906. Or at least that was the assessment of Theodore Roosevelt, who was two years ahead of Hughes at Columbia Law School. As president of the United States (and as a former governor of New York), TR was Hughes’ most influential supporter. When Hughes later served as chief justice of the Supreme Court from 1930 to 1941, his central preoccupation was the legality of the agenda of another Columbia-trained lawyer, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Class of 1907. And when Hughes retired, his successor as chief justice was Harlan Fiske Stone, a graduate from the Class of 1898 and a former dean of this law school. Basically, these guys all knew each other. If they lived today, they would be writing on each other’s Facebook walls. (I have no idea what that means, but I suspect you all do.) . . .

As I am sure you know, Hughes was part of a proud Columbia Law School tradition that continues to this day. Generations of our graduates have had a profound influence on the law and on our world. . . . I suspect that during their first week at Columbia Law School, these graduates had no idea how their careers would unfold, and obviously the same is true of all of you.  But we know that, like the classes that have come before you, you will grow intellectually and personally while you are here. . . . It is a great pleasure and a privilege to have you with us, and I look forward to an exciting time together. Welcome to the Columbia family!