Columbia Law School Graduates Keep It All in the Family

May 21, 2009

In many ways, law school is a family affair.

There were numerous examples on display at the Columbia Law School Class of 2009 Graduation Ceremony, where more than 680 students received J.D., LL.M., and J.S.D. degrees.

To some extent, this was a day about the children, some of whom were born while the graduates were studying full time. As if Law School wasn’t hard enough. But with a little practice, juggling babies and classes can be done.

“I think it helped that everyone was on the same page,” said Peter Kim ’09, as he held his 6-month-old son Cole. Despite the sleepless nights that come with a new baby, Kim said the timing was right.

“Having a baby now, the hours are more flexible than when you are at a law firm,” said Kim, who starts at Davis Polk in the fall.

Some graduates, including J.D. class speaker Andrew LeGrand ’09, brought their children with them to the stage as their names were called. Melissa Philbrick ’84 remembers not being able to do that with her then-18-month-old daughter Jennifer 25 years ago.

One consolation: getting to see Jennifer receive her own J.D. at the Law School. “It’s great to be able to share this experience with her,” said Jennifer, who had pinned to her gown a family picture from her mother’s graduation day.

To be sure, success in law school can often hinge on having a strong support system on the home front. Not to mention a sense of humor.

Taking time out from posing for pictures, Anna Siemon ’09 said graduating was “very exciting but it’s hard to process,” especially with bar exams looming in the summer.

But her hard work paid off with a job at Debevoise & Plimpton. Her mother Alexandra had a feeling her daughter was destined for a moment like this. “It made total sense to me,” she joked, “she was always argumentative.”

But at least they got to see each other. For some LL.M. candidates, graduation was also a day for reunions. The 200-plus L.L.M. contingent hails from 51 countries, including India, where the brother and parents of Abhinav Sanghi flew in from Delhi. They had not been together since Abhinav left for New York.

“I remember seeing him off at the airport in Delhi,” said his father, Ajay Sanghi, “and now, here we are. It feels wonderful to see him graduate.”

Celine Assaf ’09 LL.M. brought family members from Paris, Montreal, and her home city of Beirut to the Columbia campus. Assaf, the Class Gift co-chair for the LL.M.s, will stay in New York to take the bar and practice intellectual property law.

“The first day of class, everyone is a stranger, and we’ve come from so many different cultures,” she said. “By the end, everyone looks like a brother or sister.”

In other words, just like a family.