Jane Spinak Honored by the New York City Bar

Professor Jane Spinak smiling and posing with fellow McDonald Award winners at the City Bar
(Left to right) Family Court Administrative Judge Jeanette Ruiz; New York City Bar president Roger Juan Maldonado; award winners Janet Neustaetter, Jane Spinak; Dionne Lowery; and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who presented the awards. Photo by David Handschuh, New York Law Journal.

Columbia Law School Professor Jane M. Spinak received the New York City Bar’s 2018 Kathryn A. McDonald Award for excellence in service to the New York City Family Court. Janet DiFiore, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, presented the award at the May 30 ceremony in midtown Manhattan.

Spinak, the Edward Ross Aranow Clinical Professor of Law, is a renowned advocate of family law and child welfare who co-founded the Law School’s Child Advocacy clinic when she joined the faculty in 1982. During the mid-1990s, while on leave, Spinak served as attorney-in-charge of the Juvenile Rights Division of The Legal Aid Society of New York City.

From 2008 to 2011, she co-chaired the Task Force on Family Court in New York City created by the New York County Lawyer’s Association. She was recently appointed to the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary.

During her tenure at CLS, Spinak has specialized in juvenile justice, child advocacy, and family court reform—teaching, writing, lecturing, and mentoring generations of students interested in public service. She has received numerous honors and awards throughout her career and was named a “Human Rights Hero” by the American Bar Association’s Human Rights Magazine in 2005 for her work on behalf of children. 

Spinak currently directs the Law School’s Adolescent Representation Clinic, which represents adolescents and young adults aging out of foster care.

The late Kathryn A. McDonald ’63 was a champion of children’s rights who served as administrative judge for the New York City Family Court from 1986 until she retired in 1995. The following year, McDonald received the Law School’s Medal for Excellence, its highest honor. In her acceptance remarks, she expressed great humility when she said: "I really should be giving Columbia Law School an award for admitting me as a middle aged woman, with no legal experience, but with an absolute obsession about helping underprivileged children."

When Spinak began her career at Legal Aid, she regularly appeared before Judge McDonald. In her remarks at the City Bar, Spinak noted McDonald’s impact on her career and her generosity in mentoring young lawyers.

Also honored with the award this year was Dionne Lowery, New York City Family Court; and Janet Neustaetter, The Children's Law Center.

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Published on June 5, 2018