Achieving and Advancing Our Shared Goals: A Year in Review

As the 2022–2023 academic year comes to a close, Dean Lester reflects on the milestones and accomplishments of the past year and looks ahead to the future.

Dear members of the Columbia Law School community,

Two weeks ago, on a beautiful May evening on the South Lawn of Columbia’s campus, we celebrated the graduation of the Law School’s Class of 2023. Class Day is an opportunity to honor a joyful milestone for our graduates and their families, but it also marks the end of the academic year—a time for our community to pause and reflect on all that we have accomplished during the preceding months.

This year, the list of things to celebrate is longer than ever: We welcomed the most diverse J.D. class in the Law School’s history. We exceeded our fundraising campaign goal, raising $325 million in five years. We recruited an outstanding group of eminent scholars to our faculty, with two more to join us in July. We made new advances in our ongoing commitment to preparing students for public sector careers, while also helping to defray the cost of a Columbia Law education for first-generation students and students from underrepresented backgrounds. We launched the Law Library renovation, one of the most ambitious capital projects ever to take place on our campus.

Like so much of the progress we achieve, our collective accomplishments are the result of collective effort, hard work, openness, collaboration, and a deep-seated imperative to continue to innovate and improve the Columbia Law School experience for all.  

Faculty Excellence and Vitality

An astonishing seven new professors joined our faculty ranks this year—Ashraf AhmedMala ChatterjeeJosh Gupta-KaganMonica HakimiMichael LoveCamille Pannu, and Thomas P. Schmidt—and have now completed their first year of teaching at Columbia Law. They have brought a wide array of experiences and specialties, helping to bolster areas of long-standing curricular need and cementing Columbia’s preeminence in new and emerging disciplines.

I am also pleased to announce that two additional faculty members will join us in July: Clare Huntington ’96, a leading expert in the fields of family law and poverty law; and Dorothy Lund, whose research and teaching focus on corporate law, corporate governance, securities regulation, contracts, and mergers and acquisitions. With these latest appointments, I am proud to report that our full-time faculty is more diverse than ever before—40% of full-time professors are women and 22% identify as persons of color.

Amber Baylor and Kellen R. Funk were both promoted to full professor status this year. Professor Funk was also selected by the Class of 2023 as the recipient of this year’s Willis L. M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching, and Olatunde C. A. Johnson was honored with the University’s Faculty Service Award in recognition of her contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the Law School and throughout the University.

We also marked some transitions this year. Two longtime colleagues, Ronald Gilson and Andrzej Rapaczynski, retired from teaching after distinguished careers at Columbia. And we mourned the passing of Kent Greenawalt ’63, a prolific scholar of constitutional law, legal philosophy, and religion, who taught at Columbia for more than five decades. In the year ahead, we look forward to the return of Lee C. Bollinger ’71, who will rejoin the Law School community as he concludes more than two decades of service as president of Columbia University.

Finally, Philip Genty, who has served as Vice Dean for Experiential Education since 2021, will step down from this post at the end of June. I am grateful to Professor Genty for his steadfast service and unfailing collegiality, as well as to Colleen Shanahan, who will succeed him in this role beginning on July 1.

Intellectual Impact and Service

A core part of the Law School’s mission is to catalyze the creation of new knowledge through research and intellectual engagement. Our faculty are prolific scholars whose work appears in the most prestigious law reviews and academic journals globally, and who publish books that define their fields. This year, some were recognized for particular works of scholarship, such as Eric Talley, whose article, “Cleaning Corporate Governance,” was named one of the top 10 corporate and securities articles of the year. Others received honors for the impact of their work over time, including Kerrel Murray, who was recognized as “Emerging Scholar of the Year” by the Yale Law Journal; Colleen F. Shanahan, who was the recipient of the Stephen Ellmann Memorial Clinical Scholarship Award from the Association of American Law Schools; and Gillian Metzger ’96, who was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Columbia also hosted conferences and convenings on a wide array of subjects including mergers and acquisitions, financial regulation, global human rights, international arbitration, and affirmative action. Our faculty also published opinion pieces, appeared on television and radio, and hosted and launched podcasts (including Through the Gale: A Podcast About Lawyering, Freedom, and DemocracyCritical Race Talks: Critical Race Theory (CRT2)The Cutting Edge: Current Issues in White Collar Crime and Corporate Governance; and Beyond Unprecedented: The Post-Pandemic Economy—Season 3). We also welcomed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who participated in a fireside chat featuring his former clerks who are now members of the Law School faculty.

In a signal of Columbia’s influence at the highest levels of the federal government, Jamal Greene and Gillian Metzger were appointed by President Biden to lead the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice. They join Lina Khan, who continues to head the Federal Trade Commission. This year, we also welcomed back Tim Wu, who concluded a 22-month stint in the White House. In July, Kerrel Murray will return from leave after serving as clerk to Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Ketanji Brown Jackson in her first term on the High Court bench.

Student and Community Life

In support of our longstanding and interrelated goals of expanding access to a Columbia legal education and enabling greater freedom to choose a career, unencumbered by financial constraints, I was thrilled to announce additional enhancements to the Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) last fall. Working with multiple committees over the past several months, we have now also committed to implementing several changes in support of students pursuing careers in public interest law and government, and our work is ongoing.

We made a number of exciting curricular innovations this year. In addition to inaugurating two new clinics (the Family Defense Clinic and the Just Transition Clinic), we expanded our J-Term offerings. Our faculty also helped students contextualize what they learned in the classroom through initiatives such as the Beyond the Casebook lunch series and the innovative “Abortion as a Curriculum” discussion. Our Academic Scholars Program, which offers specialized support to students interested in academic careers, continued to take shape this year. 2023 also marks the five-year anniversary of the creation of the Executive LL.M. in Global Business Law—the Law School’s first accelerated, hybrid degree program for practicing lawyers.

The Law School’s ongoing efforts to advance equity, inclusion, and belonging within and among our community sustained momentum this year. For the first time in our history, a majority of the incoming J.D. class (52%) was composed of students of color. Programs included new cohorts of Racial and Social Justice FellowsAnti-Racism grant recipients, and Clerkship Diversity Initiative scholars; continued anti-bias training for instructors, including a new module for 1L instructors; and celebrations of the one hundredth anniversary of Paul Robeson’s graduation from Columbia Law School, with a special exhibition and programs that featured Eric Holder ’76 in conversation with Columbia Journalism School Dean Jelani Cobb and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker in conversation with Kendall ThomasBayeté Ross Smith concluded his 18-month term as the Law School’s inaugural artist-in-residence, and his work adorned our halls for much of the spring semester.

Planning for and Supporting Our Future

The $325 million contributed by alumni and friends to the Campaign for Columbia Law tangibly advanced our ambitious goals: recruiting outstanding and diverse scholars to our faculty; significantly increasing student financial aid; expanding our experiential education offerings and curriculum; and reimagining the Law Library. Twenty-five new professors have joined our full-time faculty ranks. The median financial aid award for first-year J.D. students, and the proportion of the entering class receiving grants, is higher than ever. Clinical and experiential learning are significantly more robust, both in number of curricular options and range of subject areas and field placements. And, thanks to the generosity of many donors but especially Alia Tutor ’00—whose $17.5 million naming gift is the largest in the Law School’s history—we are now set on a course to fully renovate the Law Library into a marquee space worthy of an exceptional law school like Columbia.

Each and every day, I am reminded of the vibrant spirit and unflagging sense of purpose that drives our community forward. While this letter helps illustrate the sheer breadth of the work we do together, it is impossible to fully capture the efforts that happen day in and day out at Columbia Law School—in offices and workstations, corridors and common areas, classrooms and Zoom meetings. Thank you for helping to move our beloved institution forward, no matter what part you played this year.

I look forward to seeing you over the coming months and in the fall. In the meantime, best wishes for a restful and restorative summer.

All my best,

Gillian Lester
Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law