(1942 - )
What makes a good lawyer? As David Rudenstine, [former] dean of Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School
of Law, prepares to answer this question,
he settles himself comfortably into his armchair.
Then he leans forward to pull the listener
into his space as he matter-of-factly presents
the attributes, point by point.
education. Secondly, the innate capacity
to think imaginatively, creatively and analytically.
Third, a strong ethical background, which
functions not just to keep the lawyer honest,
but, in a broader sense, of being alive to
public issues involving public values and
shaping a career tinged with public spiritedness.
And lastly, a commitment to using some portion
of his or her professional energy to advance
the public good.
Lawyers good lawyers,
like the ones Cardozo graduates are
essential to a smoothly running democratic
society, where the peoples' legal rights
all exist in a delicate balance protected
by a power system of checks and balances,
he declares. America has a complicated
constitutional scheme, which respects the
majority while at the same time limiting
the majority in the name of the minority, he
You also have a legal balance of power
among the various branches of government.
And we place great emphasis on our freedoms.
He pauses, just long enough to build suspense, before he continues
to make his case. You can't have that complicated society without
lawyers, he argues. Lawyers are a prerequisite to having
such a liberal constitutional democracy. Lawyers play a very prominent
role in helping the public understand the complicated nature of all
these entanglements. Lawyers are major conductors of our national conversation
about these matters. As often as people have complaints about lawyers,
we would miss them enormously if they were not in our midst all the
time shaping policy, being visionaries and helping us all understand
what is important in these public disputes.
And Cardozo, he says, is playing a significant and prominent role in
shaping the country's future lawyers by recruiting first-rate faculty
members and students. With 8,500 alumni in 44 states, the school, which
was named for the U.S. Supreme Court justice who succeeded Oliver Wendell
Holmes and which was founded in 1976, has more than its share of notable
graduates, who, in addition to partners at major law firms, judges,
and public defenders and prosecutors, include Jeff Marx, who wrote the
lyrics for the Tony-winning Broadway musical Avenue Q; Sandra J. Feuerstein,
who is a federal district court judge in Manhattan; Randi Weingarten,
the president of the United Federation of Teachers, and conservative
CNN commentator Barbara Olson, who died in the 9/11 plane that was hijacked
and crashed into the Pentagon. The nationally acclaimed faculty includes
the top constitutional scholar in law and religion, one who is the leading
authority on asbestos litigation and tort reform, as well as O. J. Simpson
defense lawyer Barry Scheck.
Rudenstine ticks off the school's latest accomplishments with the precision
of a Swiss watch:
The $40-million renovation of the school's Greenwich Village
campus, which includes its first dormitory, a revamped library, a new
world-class conference center, a state-of-the-art moot courtroom and
a lobby, which he declares is the most beautiful public space
on lower Fifth Avenue.
The effort to recruit a geographically and ethnically diverse
student body: 21.8% of the class of 2007 is of color, and the percentage
of out-of-state students rose from 47% in 2003 to 60% in 2004. Students
from 35 states and five countries are represented in the class that
enrolled in fall 2004. Having students from all over the country
brings different perspectives and it makes the classroom experience
more exciting, he says.
The recruitment of higher-achieving students: The median LSAT
test score increased by two points in 2004 to 164. The top quarter
of the new class scored in the top 5% of all test takers, Rudenstine
says. I've told our admissions department that I want to find
people who will make a difference in American life. I want to find students
who will use their legal education to have an impact on their communityin
law, in life, in politics and in art. Cardozo students should have the
fire in their bellies to rise above the normal hum and manage to have
their voices heard.
The recruitment of top-notch faculty: The Cardozo faculty
is the driving force that has made the school great, Rudenstine
effuses. Cardozo is rated as having one of the strongest faculties
in the country.
The establishment of a host of new educational
programs. Under Rudenstine, Cardozo recently has added programs or clinics
in family law and bioethics; Holocaust,
genocide and human rights studies; Jewish
law and interdisciplinary studies. We may be the only law
school in the country to have a genocide clinic, he says. What
sets us apart is that we offer students a balance between the practical
and the theoretical. Cardozo has a special intellectual and distinctive
personality. We offer a variety of clinicson criminal law; on
tax law; on securities arbitration; on mediation and arbitration, as
well as others, and we have a substantial commitment to legal theory
and the role the legal profession plays in larger social issues.
The establishment of a new Center for Public Service Law, the
inauguration of a public-service scholarship program and the strengthening
of summer stipends for students taking unpaid public-service jobs.
But this is only the beginning for the new Cardozo, Rudenstine says,
adding that he wants to add more faculty and increase financial aid
to students. Few people realize how many law students are deeply
in debt by the time they graduate. The class of 2003, which had 303
students, borrowed a staggering $20 million; that adds up to an average
debt of $85,000 per person. A beginning public-service lawyer earns
about $37,000. You couldn't take that job if you had $85,000 in debt,
so we want to enhance our loan-forgiveness program for those who want
to go into public service.
The 63-year-old Rudenstine, who is marking a quarter-century at Cardozo,
knows firsthand about commitment to public service. With a bachelor's
and a master's degree from Yale University and a law degree from New
York University, he became interested in the law in the civil rights
era when he saw the important role that lawyers played in the
social and political changes in American life. I admired what they did;
it touched something deep inside me that I didn't fully understand at
In 1962, before the civil rights riots tore the country apart, Rudenstine,
a history major at Yale, taught school in Prince Edward County, Virginia,
where officials used the desegregation doctrine of separate but
equal to close the schoolsequallyto blacks and whites
rather than integrate them as the law dictated. The white children
went to private schools, the black children were without schools,
Rudenstine recalls. Ten or 12 of us from East Coast colleges went
down to run freedom schools. When I was down there, I witnessed firsthand
the important roles lawyers played in shaping the strategies for what
was to be done. I was truly inspired by them.
After he graduated with a degree in teaching, he signed
up for the U.S. Peace Corps, where he taught high school students in Uganda in 1965 and 1966. It
was then that I decided that I really wanted to use the law to bring
about social and political change.
It was a summer fellowship at the national headquarters of the American
Civil Liberties Union that put him on the career path that led him to
Cardozo. I yearned to do something that had an immediate and direct
impact, he says. And courts issuing orders, basically helping
to restructure events on the dime, was what attracted me.
His next job was at Mobilization for Youth, a national
program started during the Johnson
administration that provided free legal services to the indigent.
For the next 10 years, he practiced public-interest law with a variety
of organizations. I had an itching to do cases that would have
a broader impact. In the trade, they are called class-action cases.
During a stint with Community Action Legal Services, he was tapped
to lead a study of the New York State parole system, instigated after
the notorious 1971 Attica prison riots, which left 43 people dead. A
subsequent report on the riot, the bloodiest jail confrontation in American
history, found that the parole system contributed to the uprising. After
writing the book Prison Without Walls, Rudenstine realized that he wanted
to help put into effect the changes he had recommended, so he set up
a litigation project about parole through the New York Civil Liberties
After a series of jobs with that group, including being named acting
director, Rudenstine turned to teaching, taking a job with Cardozo in
1979 and becoming dean in 2001.
For the last 25 years, his positions at Cardozo have allowed him to
meld his love of researchhe has written on a kaleidoscopic array
of topics, from the Elgin Marbles to the Pentagon Papersand public
service. But regardless of what he studies, he always comes back to
the love of the law.
American life is stronger with the involvement of lawyers in
it, Rudenstine maintains. While we all have an obligation
to ourselves and our families to live a strong and vibrant private life,
lawyers, because they have such special authority in our society, have
a heavy burden to find ways to contribute to the public good.