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Message from the Dean

Message from the Dean

As a law student, nothing interested me less than the historical development of the writ system and its emergence into the modern law of torts, despite the fact I had, in part, been a history major. Today, from the other side of the podium, my view is different. A student simply cannot understand tort law - its past, present, or future - without understanding its historical development. That includes not only the development of legal rules and institutions, but also the social climate of the era and circumstances that produced the cases we read about today.

Law virtually always involves history. Historical and historiographical perspectives are among the most important interdisciplinary lenses through which law is viewed. Under appropriate circumstances, history can help us understand and interpret present law, although it can be a matter of hot dispute in areas of statutory and constitutional interpretation. History (as well as comparative legal study) is also law's laboratory. We have an opportunity to understand the past effects of legal rules, whether statutory or judicial, and can use the knowledge gained in determining the best legal rules for today.

For these reasons and others, Columbia has chosen to reinvest in its preeminence in legal history. At the core of the enterprise, we have hired a small group of legal historians. Equally important, however, is that this group serves to nourish and foster the historical aspects of the scholarship of other faculty members. In addition, our newer legal historians are building connections to Columbia's outstanding History Department. These combined efforts make legal history at Columbia a dynamic part of our enterprise, and one of the premier centers for such scholarship.

Our approach and perspective differ from the legal history our graduates may remember - particularly those who studied Development of Legal Institutions under Julius Goebel. Our two newest scholars focus on recent legal history - namely, the 19th and early 20th century. Areas of historical focus at Columbia include torts, family law, labor law, immigration law, and constitutional law, as well as the relationship of law and literature.

Elsewhere in this issue, we return to the subject of the horrific attacks of September 11th. Professor José Alvarez explores how the issues surrounding 9/11 have affected teaching at the Law School. According to Prof. Alvarez, that singular event sparked a new look at (and spirited debate about) civil liberties, trade regulation, human rights, and the lawful use of force.

In this issue, we also announce the creation of two milestone professorships. With the aid of Robert Lieff '61, a founding partner of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, the Law School received a $1.5 million gift from the firm to endow a chair for a clinical professor of human rights. The amount represented the firm's fees in cases involving Holocaust-era Swiss bank litigation. At the celebration marking the 75th anniversary of the admission of women to the Law School, we announced the establishment of the Barbara Aronstein Black Professorship, and the appointment of Professor Carol Sanger as the first holder. A list of the many donors who contributed to this effort in conjunction with the 75th anniversary is included, as is a short photo montage of the weekend celebration.

All best wishes for 2003,


David w. Leebron
Dean of Columbia Law School and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law