A New Way of Thinking

During Orientation, Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, Welcomed New Students, Encouraging Them to Think Critically and to Engage Deeply with the Columbia Law School Community
New York, August 18, 2015—In her welcome address to Columbia Law School’s incoming J.D. and LL.M. classes, Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, told students they are embarking on a new beginning together in the study of law, one in which renowned faculty will challenge and motivate them as they begin their legal careers in one of the most dynamic cities in the world. 
Gillian Lester, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, addresses students during orientation.
She also spoke to them about the importance of forming bonds with one another.
“As individuals, you are impressive, no doubt,” said Dean Lester, who presided over her first orientation since joining the Law School in January. “But, as a group, you have the makings of an unforgettable community of friendship, learning, and personal growth.”
Indeed, the J.D. Class of 2018 and the LL.M. Class of 2016 are unique in their very composition. Dean of Admissions Nkonye Iwerebon ‘93 noted that members of the J.D. class are scientists, ballroom dancers, equestrians, stand-up comedians, religious leaders, professional tennis umpires, and novelists. In addition to English, they speak Swahili, Russian, Vietnamese, and many other languages. And they join the Law School from the U.S., Norway, Pakistan, and everywhere in between. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies Sylvia T. Polo also called out the diversity of the incoming LL.M. and J.S.D. students, who are beginning their studies at the Law School after practicing law around the world in areas ranging from human rights and securities regulation to environmental and entertainment law.
The entering classes arrived on campus for Orientation 2015 this week, kicking off a month-long program designed to introduce them to academic life, the legal profession, and their classmates. They heard from faculty, upper-year J.D. students, LL.M. graduates, and key administrators, and were encouraged to take advantage of upcoming social and cultural events across Manhattan.
Dean Lester’s remarks were filled with anecdotes about her own transition to the city and Morningside Heights from Berkeley, California, where she served as acting dean of UC Berkeley School of Law.
During their first official days on campus, J.D. students mingle and pose with construction-themed props in a nod to the ongoing renovations of Jerome Greene Hall.

She emphasized to students that their legal education will include not only the black-letter rules of the law, but the development of an entirely new way of thinking.
“Many of you probably think you are coming to law school to learn legal rules, and, you figure they’ll probably help you answer some of the most significant practical social problems of our daily life, such as whether you can turn right on red, whether you can take coffee on the subway, if you can park at a yellow curb,” she joked. “And we will teach you many rules—although probably not those. But here’s the secret. The legal rules you will learn are but a minor theme of what you will learn during law school.”
The major theme, Dean Lester said, is learning how to think like a lawyer—how to tease out facts and how to apply laws and principles to those facts.
LL.M. students, wearing Columbia Law School-branded hard hats in honor of the ongoing renovations to Jerome Greene Hall listen to Dean of Graduate Legal Studies Sylvia T. Polo during orientation.
“This method of thinking is half analytics, half craft,” she said. “You will draw upon judgment, morality, policy, and persuasion. This method is very powerful because it can be used in countless contexts, across subject matters, sectors, and industries. This is our true great talent. We are society’s best problem-solvers.”
Graduates of Columbia Law School use their education throughout multifaceted careers in nonprofits, government, global law firms, and many other fields, she said.
Finally, Dean Lester offered four pieces of advice to students, telling them to never lose sight of their values, to pursue opportunities outside their comfort zones, to engage with civil society in the city and around the world, and to participate fully in the greater Columbia Law School community of which they are now a part.
“This community will give generously, but you must also give generously to it—by bringing to it every ounce of your intellectual curiosity and firepower, your kindness, your empathy, and your courage to put yourself out there,” she said.
As for New York City's “intractable problems,” Dean Lester unpacked them on the spot for students: right on red only when a sign says so, coffee on the subway only with a lid, and, as for parking at a yellow curb…

“I’m going to give you an answer that will be handy to have up your sleeve in your law classes,” Dean Lester said. “The answer is: It depends.”