2020 Annual Report

Dear Alumni & Friends,

Few of us could have anticipated the ways in which our worldand Columbia Law School—would be called upon to act, to evolve, and to adapt in the face of a pandemic that has affected nearly every aspect of human life around the world. As I reflect on the 2020 fiscal year, the experience certainly evokes descriptors that have become familiar, even overused: challenging, historic, unprecedented. But, even more powerful than feelings of disruption, I am filled with a deep sense of awe and gratitude for the ways our community has united, innovated, and recommitted to our common purpose, even during these challenging times.

Adjusting quickly when the evolving public health conditions forced our retreat from the Morningside campus, our dedicated faculty took on the herculean task of shifting their classes online to ensure that our students could continue their studies uninterrupted. They also collaborated in sharing their expertise, authoring a free e-book, Law in the Time of COVID-19, which addresses key questions facing law and society during the pandemic. Even further, many faculty members engaged in pro bono and advocacy work, directly supporting those most in need—helping small businesses apply for federal grants and loans, advocating for medically at-risk individuals in immigration custody, and assisting vulnerable workers in accessing their stimulus payments, among other endeavors. 

At the same time, many of our outstanding students, who had come to Columbia from across the country and around the world, returned to their homes. For some, that meant unanticipated financial burdens, new distractions, and increased demands on their time, particularly for those living with family members and young children. To help them face these hardships, we turned to you, our alumni and friends, for support. And you came through. The Columbians Caring for Students emergency relief fund helped us to meet the pandemic-related needs of more than 160 students, including aiding with relocation, technology support, and health care expenses. As of early fall, we had raised more than $360,000 for student emergency assistance.

These funds have been indispensable, as are all gifts in support of our ambitious, five-year Campaign for Columbia Law, launched in 2017. I am pleased to report that, to date, we have raised over two-thirds of our $300 million goal, from more than 11,600 donors, to support faculty and students, expand our experiential curriculum, and bolster our Annual Fund. Students and faculty alike continue to benefit from the campaign’s success, especially during this time. 

The campaign also has helped us continue to offer innovative, student-focused programs, such as the cross-disciplinary Davis Polk Leadership Initiative and a public service fellows program for students committed to using their legal training to serve the public good. As part of the Reuben Mark Initiative for Organizational Character and Leadership (a joint venture with Columbia Business School), we hosted two distinguished leaders in residence this year to teach intensive courses through our In House Counsel Lab: Hilary Krane, executive vice president, chief administrative officer, and general counsel of Nike; and Colin Stretch, former vice president and general counsel of Facebook. 

Perhaps most importantly, we are continuing to strengthen our financial aid, fellowship, and loan repayment assistance programs. We have created 78 scholarships since the start of the campaign, and 68% of the 1L class that entered in fall 2019 received financial aid, up from just 49% in 2015.

One of my greatest pleasures as dean is the opportunity to meet with many of you at events on campus and beyond—especially during Reunion Weekend. But even in the absence of these in-person gatherings, continuing to hear from you—whether about a professor who inspired you or the enduring friendships you made at Columbia—uplifts our entire community. 

In the pages that follow, we are pleased to share a glimpse of our unusual year at Columbia Law School, including virtual Reunion, campaign successes, a profile of our fall 2020 entering J.D. class, and the voices of some of the faculty and students who have benefited from your generosity. Indeed, it is because of your support and engagement that all of our progress—and pivots—are possible. Thank you for your continued support, and I look forward to our ongoing partnership, no matter what the next fiscal year may bring.

Best regards,

Gillian Lester signature




Gillian Lester
Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law