Columbia Law School Welcomes Students to Campus for Orientation 2021

The arrival of the J.D. Class of 2024 and the LL.M. Class of 2022 was an occasion for inspirational speeches, campus tours, outdoor yoga, a food truck lunch, and advice from faculty and current students for making the most of the law school experience.

Two women in blue shirts next to blue and white balloons

Beneath the masks, there were smiles.

On the first day of orientation for the J.D. Class of 2024, the enthusiasm was palpable among students, faculty, and administrators as Columbia Law School returned to a full schedule of in-person learning after a 17-month hiatus due to the pandemic. The buzz in Columbia University’s Miller Theatre on August 23 became a roar as first-year students excitedly introduced themselves to one another before the opening program began. (See photos from the event below.)


J.D. Orientation 2021

The class was welcomed first by Associate Dean and Dean of Admissions Nkoyne Iwerebon ’93, who said the assembled students were selected from the greatest number of applicants in the history of the Law School: “There are thousands who would do anything to be in your places at this very moment.” Iwerebon noted that the class’s members had degrees from some 150 colleges and universities; 74% had worked or attended graduate school between college and law school; and 45% are students of color. But numbers don’t tell the full story of the diversity of a class that includes a Hindu priest, a rabbi, and an ordained minister. “Among you are aerospace engineers, Peace Corps volunteers, poets, public servants, food writers, blackjack dealers, and award-winning novelists . . . weightlifters, varsity sailors, and competitive water skiers,” Iwerebon said.

Woman in mask and print dress in front of Columbia Law School podium
Dean of Admissions Nkoyne Iwerebon ’93 welcomes the Class of 2024 at Miller Theatre on August 23.

Iwerebon also recognized that many students faced untold challenges on their road to the Law School. “Some of you have wrestled with more than your fair share of life’s difficulties . . . contending with unspeakable loss or debilitating illnesses, working multiple jobs to support yourselves and your families, acting as the caregiver to your siblings because your parents leave for work long before dawn and return after dusk,” she said. “Nevertheless, you stood your ground with dignity. You persevered and are poised to thrive even more at Columbia Law School.”

The 1Ls then heard from Yadira Ramos-Herbert, associate dean and dean of student and registration services, who acknowledged that the experience of living through an unprecedented pandemic and its aftershocks will profoundly affect the students’ law school careers. “I don’t take it for granted that we’re together,” she said. “You are the group of students that’s going to be with us as we as a society emerge from the ashes of the pandemic.”

Woman in mask and printed sleeveless dress in front of microphone
Dean of Student and Registration Services Yadira Ramos-Herbert applauds the Class of 2024.

Dean Yadira, as she is affectionately called, explained that she sees the mythical Phoenix as the emblem of the Class of 2024. “It’s been a symbol of renewal, reemergence from darkness,” she said. “Over the next three years, you will have the opportunities to engage with legal practitioners and legal scholars to really take risks and learn and study how to advocate and ask questions and create policy as we reimagine what we want society to be.”

The program closed with stirring remarks by Dean Gillian Lester, Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law. “Being able to gather in the same room today makes me feel such exhilaration made all the more meaningful given the constraint we have felt over the past months—all of us, no matter where we are from,” she said. “Today not only marks the beginning of your education at Columbia Law School, it also represents your induction into a diverse cohort of people who have come to share a transformative process of learning and discovery—a community that will be yours for the rest of your lives.”

Dean Lester told students that their Law School education will empower them: “Columbia represents a rich and storied tradition of impact on the world, of students, faculty, and alumni who have risen to lead society in confronting the challenges of their time. And the world today, as you well know, has no shortage of such challenges.”

Woman in sleeveless brown dress in front of podium
Dean Gillian Lester, Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, addresses the Class of 2024.

The Class of 2024, she continued, has awesome opportunities. “As lawyers, as leaders, and as Columbians, you will be society’s best defense against the forces that polarize and divide our society,” said Dean Lester. “You will be called upon to . . . create systems of law and justice that reflect an openness to seeing, and trying to grasp the range of human circumstances, many startlingly different from your own. To pursue truth unflinchingly, and guide our futures through a lens of justice grounded in real-world understanding. This is your charge and your responsibility as a legal professional educated at Columbia Law School.”

A week before, LL.M. students from 58 countries arrived on campus for the first time. (The countries with the largest number of students are Brazil, China, India, and Japan.) Over the next year, students, most of whom have already practiced law for several years, will immerse themselves in studying the American legal system as well as every area of study the Law School offers. In addition to remarks by Dean Lester, Julie Sculli, assistant dean of Graduate Degree Programs, welcomed the class, saying, “You bring all that you are to Columbia Law School, in pursuit of a common goal: growth. And you are in the right place! Here, every unique person can find a place, every perspective is welcome, every dream can find a path to fulfillment. The next right step of your life’s journey begins today, and we are honored and humbled to take it with you.”

Faculty Advice

In person and by Zoom, faculty spoke at panels for new students and offered study tips, shared what they wished they’d known as first-year law students, and told them it’s OK to make mistakes during cold calls (as long as it's clear they've done the reading). Scroll down to read what the professors had to say.

Man in mask wearing light blue shirt and blazer in front of a blackboard

“When students make mistakes in class the first thought in my mind is: Thank God. It allows for follow-up questions, interrogating an issue. When someone gets something absolutely right, I need to tease another way into the issues. What we are doing here is not the search for right answers. Most of the time, the answers are a shade of gray."

Jessica Bulman-Pozen

“Constitutional Law classes can be a lot of reading but with cases, you can’t really skim. But I don’t think taking elaborate notes is necessary; it can take a lot of time away from reading. Always bring the case books with the assigned readings to class. I know they’re heavy, but that’s what the middle-school lockers in the halls are for.”

Man in blazer at podium in front of blackboard

“The lifestyle you adopt now is how you will live for your entire life. Make time for eating, exercising, sleeping, and doing things that make you happy. You are building lifelong habits. You are human beings, and I care about you.”

David Pozen

“What I didn’t realize when I was in law school is that the 1L year offers the gift of time. You are insulated and all that you are asked to do is study. The 2L year is layered with extracurriculars and work on journals and in clinics. The 1L year is the most protected period of time you will have in your legal career.”


“I wish I’d known that the law has built-in contradictions and paradoxes. Law is the face of justice and injustice, and you have to hold onto these contradictions at the same time. And you should know that if you want to go into government or social justice work, you can get your debt covered. Columbia Law School has a very generous Loan Repayment Assistance Program.”

Man in blazer and face mask in front of blackboard

“Be prepared, be engaged, be open-minded! If they all happen, it’s pretty amazing. I am going to cultivate an environment in class where students can argue both sides of an issue. To be an effective litigator or negotiator, you have to be prepared for counterarguments.”