A Note from the Dean
Dear Alumni and Friends:
Every day, it seems, we read about countries around the world turning inward, away from international engagement. In these times, it is more important than ever that the Cornell Law School community reaffirm its commitment to its core values of inclusion and global engagement.
Cornell Law School is a global community made up of students, alumni, faculty, and staff of every conceivable background. We hail from dozens of countries. We are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, and more. I myself am the child of a refugee. My wife, now an American citizen, was born in India. Communities like ours—diverse across a broad range of categories and committed to respectful engagement across that diversity—are all too rare. Our sense of community is a precious achievement in a country that seems so divided across these same categories. But that sense is also a fragile one that requires our constant effort to sustain.
On January 27, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13769, titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. The suddenness of the order and the confusion accompanying its roll-out generated anxiety that reverberated well beyond those immediately affected by it. In the midst of that confusion, Cornell Law School sprang into action.
The LII Was Flooded with Visits Following Executive Order
On Monday and Tuesday, January 30 and 31, as the public scrambled to understand and respond to the executive order many turned to Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII) to inform themselves. To be precise, 323,455 individuals logged onto the LII’s website on Monday and 432,336 visited on Tuesday. These are the site’s second- and third-highest visitor volumes in a 24-hour period, surpassed only by traffic after the Supreme Court decision on Bush v. Gore in 2000.
Read more at bit.ly/LIIvisits
Professor Yale-Loehr Provided Expert Commentary and Opinion
In the wake of the Executive Order, as controversy swirled and protests broke out across the country, Professor Steven Yale-Loehr was in high demand among media outlets worldwide, including the New York Times, CNN, and CBS News. With over thirty years of immigration law practice, teaching, and writing, Yale-Loehr is one of the foremost experts on U.S. immigration law. His even-handed and measured commentary helped inform the national conversation that unfolded.
Legal Representation for Cornell Students
In the days following the executive order, Cornell Law School worked closely with the University to monitor and address the evolving situation.
The Law School arranged to provide free legal consultations to Cornell students concerned about their legal rights under the executive order. Specifically, Professors Beth Lyon, Steven Yale-Loehr, Sital Kalantry, and Estelle McGee agreed to consult with concerned students about their legal options, represent them if they need to seek waivers from the order’s restrictions, and be available by telephone during student arrivals at U.S. ports of entry. In addition, a dedicated team of Cornell Law School faculty also promised to provide legal representation for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students in potential deportation proceedings, should the need arise.
Read more at bit.ly/CUlegal
Embracing Diversity of Viewpoint
With all of the stress and chaos of the recent election season, it is important to remember that Cornell Law School’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes a commitment to diversity of belief and viewpoint. Earlier this semester, I spoke at a Federalist Society event about the need to welcome diverse viewpoints within the Law School community. I assured them that the Law School would never intervene to prevent a student group from inviting a speaker to campus, and I reminded the students that disruption of speakers is both unprofessional and in violation of University policy. (Fortunately, we have had no problems with this sort of conduct at Cornell Law School in recent years.) At the same time, I shared my hope that Cornell Law student organizations would not invite intellectually shallow provocateurs who aim only to shock and offend, but rather would bring to our community intelligent thinkers with diverse points of view who pursue the truth through reasoned discourse. The Federalist Society’s commitment to open debate—which is embodied in its admirable practice of asking liberal commentators to respond to conservative speakers it invites to campus—is one from which we can all learn. Although our student body and faculty includes some Trump supporters as well as many who “feel the Bern,” I am proud to say that Cornell Law School’s culture of civility and collegiality has served us well during these polarized times.
Eduardo M. Peñalver
Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law
Three stories above the corner of 8th Ave. and W. 16th St., in the massive Google building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, a revolution in legal education is underway.
It’s January 26, 2017, the second day of spring-semester classes at the Cornell Tech campus. A low hum of energy turns to a steady buzz as graduate students spill out of their midafternoon classes into the sun-filled open area known as the Studio. Snippets of excited conversation cascade through the loft-like space. Reconnections are made after a long winter break. Surveying the scene, you might never know that among this throng of technologists, designers, engineers, and business students are the twelve pioneering members of Cornell Law School’s and Cornell Tech’s new Master of Laws (LLM) in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship.
These aspiring tech lawyers have come from the United States and around the world, from a diverse array of backgrounds, to form the inaugural class of this first-of-its-kind program. The Cornell Tech LLM, as it’s known for short, was created for practicing attorneys or recent grads who want to acquire the cutting-edge lawyering skills they’ll need to succeed in the fast- moving tech world. As the students, professors, and alumni who are involved in the program will tell you, the Cornell Tech LLM goes far beyond the boundaries of your typical law school experience. It’s not just innovative; it’s downright disruptive.
“The Tech LLM program teaches the law in a way that is just not taught in other law schools or other law programs,” says Charles Whitehead, the Myron C. Taylor Alumni Professor of Business Law and director of the Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship Program at Cornell Tech. “We go a step further. Our law students work together with businesspeople and technologists as part of business and technology teams. They don’t simply learn how to represent clients or work with clients, they actually become part of the client. We think that’s a valuable way to under- stand client needs and pressures, particularly in the tech world.”
The temporary home of Cornell Tech at the Google building in New York City
At the heart of the Cornell Tech curriculum is the Studio experience—Product Studio in the fall and Startup Studio in the spring semester—in which students gain first-hand, real-world experience in the product development process. Every student here participates in these intensive, collaborative, and empowering programs. Students work as part of cross-disciplinary project teams to solve real technology and business problems.
To Leland Rechis, who runs the Product Studio and who’s worked with tech companies from Google to Kickstarter, law students are an essential ingredient of the interdisciplinary brew. He’s been impressed by the leadership role of the new Tech Law students. “A large percentage of them have been leaders in the class and leaders in thinking and really understanding the creative solutions to “How might we …?” questions and product development,” he says. “They’ve really been some of the most engaged students in the class.”
Matthew Stichinsky ’13—the lone Cornell Law alum among the inaugural class. “It’s a great experience that you don’t get in law school at all,” he says. “Understanding more about the overall business and tech world, and not just practice in this bubble of law, is incredibly helpful.”
“I was in a [Product Studio] team with two engineers and an MBA student,” says
It’s the blending of the experiential and multidisciplinary into one curriculum that makes the Tech LLM so revolutionary, says Eduardo M. Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “The reason I think it only exists at Cornell Law School is that no one else has something like Cornell Tech,” says Peñalver. “It enables groups of students from different disciplines to work together on an actual project. You have to have all those pieces, the business piece, the engineering or computer science piece, and the law piece to make it work.”
Whitehead agrees that, although a number of programs at other universities combine technology and the law, there was a real need for a program that could develop a new type of lawyer, with the legal expertise, business acumen and familiarity with technology necessary to lead and support tech companies.
“What we are trying to do is take the students from being lawyers to being tech lawyers,” says James Grimmelmann, the first faculty hire for the Cornell Tech LLM program. For this to happen, notes Grimmelmann, we need to teach them “how to be a problem spotter in advance, how to work out creative solutions to complex problems with a lot of moving parts, and how to develop a comfort with open-ended environments. And it involves some very intensive legal, regulatory, and technological product knowledge.
A Veteran Tech Lawyer Champions the Program
One of the biggest boosters for the Tech LLM is David Schellhase ’90. Currently general counsel for Slack Technologies, Schellhase has worked at five other tech companies, most notably Salesforce.com and Groupon. He was a key figure with whom Whitehead, Peñalver, and others consulted while planning the new Tech Law program. And, as someone who has worked on technology-related issues his whole career, Schellhase says he is not aware of any other program where law, technology, and innovation intersect in this way. “When those come together,” he says, “sparks fly.”
On January 27, Schellhase got to share his enthusiasm with hundreds of Law School alumni. He was the speaker and moderator at an event devoted to the new Tech LLM at the Alumni Association’s New York Annual Luncheon, this year the largest alumni turnout ever. The event featured ten of the twelve Tech Law students, who joined him on stage for an enlightening question-and-answer session. Schellhase told his audience there are three distinct properties that set the program far apart from anything else: energy, enthusiasm, and practicality.
“If you go to the ‘campus’ right now in the Google building, you feel this crackle of energy the minute you walk in and during classes, and in the way people interact,” says Schellhase. “It’s actually fantastic.”
Pioneering student Elizabeth Ragavanis exudes the enthusiasm that Schellhase highlighted. She is passionate about technology and about the program. To her, its most compelling feature is the diversity “in the people, ideas, and experiences we are getting.”
Tech Law student Elizabeth Ragavanis
The Roosevelt Island Tramway, which connects Roosevelt Island to the Upper East Side of Manhattan
Tech Law students (L to R) Mar Moore, Max Paterson, and Alex Felix
A former transactional lawyer for small business owners, Ragavanis adds, “We are connected to the startup scene in a way that can only happen in New York. There is an energy about New York and it is dynamic in a way that being where we are is a huge advantage.”
Classmate Max Paterson can vouch for the practicality of the program. It’s a big reason he applied. A Canadian lawyer who did IP negotiations for the Canadian government, he wanted to transition from public service into the private sector. “Knowing I needed to network a bit more, and I needed an opportunity to work with a wide variety of people,” he says, “there really was no other program out there that is like this one.”
Building the Program
The story of how the Cornell Tech LLM came to fruition is one of convergence and synergy, dogged determination, and daring to try something different.
As Whitehead set out to build a new program and a new curriculum, he consulted with top tech lawyers from around the country. His mission was to find out what subjects would be most relevant to a lawyer practicing in the tech and entrepreneurship areas, including in a company or in a law firm specializing in technology and new businesses. From these early conversations he recruited a small army of some of the leading experts in the area. At this point, he’s had over twenty lawyers from eleven different law firms lecture on a range of issues and documents relating to technology and high-growth corporate transactions. These lawyers also provide valuable mentoring to the student teams in the Product Studio and Startup Studio on legal issues related to their projects. Whitehead notes that roughly half of the adjuncts so far have some sort of Cornell connection.
And there was also a critical need to build-out the full-time IP and internet faculty on campus. “When I got the email from Oskar saying ‘Hey, we’re starting a Cornell Tech law program. Are you interested?’ I just forwarded the email to my wife with nothing more than an exclamation point,” says James Grimmelmann. The “Oskar” to whom he refers is Cornell Law Professor Oskar Liivak, who was part of the team—including Whitehead, Peñalver, and others—trying to build a world-class program at Cornell Tech. One of their priorities was to find a leader in tech law and convince that person to join the upstart program. Fortunately, they found a more-than-willing candidate in Grimmelmann.
When he began teaching a decade ago, says Grimmelmann, his dream job would have been halfway between law and computer science. The former Microsoft programmer notes that he’s always had an interest in technology law, but with an equal emphasis on the technology side. “Unfortunately, such a job didn’t exist when I started teaching,” he says.
“It’s huge,” says Peñalver of having Grimmelmann on board. “He’s a star in the field and one of the very few people who has as strong an understanding of the technology as he does of the law. James is absolutely comfortable in both worlds and is great at translating between those two worlds.”
LeMar Moore made his way to Cornell Tech after taking “one look at the description of the program, the class schedule, and some of the features and thinking ‘Wow, this is the perfect opportunity to be at the forefront of developments in law and tech.’” His choice to attend wasn’t without slight trepidation. “It definitely took a leap of faith,” says the NYU Law grad of his career pivot after nearly five years practicing commercial litigation.
Stephane Levy, a partner at Cooley, who helped ease any doubts he had. “Having people like that go out of their way to support this program,” he says, “gave me a sense that this was something real.”
Matthew Stichinsky’s journey to Cornell Tech began in 2015, when a partner at his firm, Simpson Thacher, bought a table at the Alumni Association’s New York Annual Luncheon. It was there, listening to Dean Peñalver speak about plans for the new program, that Stichinksy had his “aha” moment. He admits to having a little anxiety when it came to applying. “Partly because it was brand new,” he says, “partly because practicing as a lawyer can give you a general sense of caution.” However, Whitehead put him in touch with David Schellhase and
Jaimie Wolman joined the Tech Law program directly from Cardozo Law School in order “to build greater expertise and to distinguish herself as a technology lawyer.” Having developed an interest in fashion and technology—specifically wearable tech—in law school, Wolman was especially drawn to the interdisciplinary offerings of the program.
“I thought this was the perfect place to bridge the gap between all of my interests,” she says. “Then, of course, the Cornell name made it a less of a risk in deciding to come to a brand-new program.”
“Whenever you introduce a new degree, like the Tech LLM, into an existing program, like Cornell Tech, you become a little concerned,” says Whitehead. “Will it integrate well? Will the new students work well with existing students and existing programs? Ours has been as seamless as it possibly could be.”
Leland Rechis, head of Product Studio
Student teams in a Product Studio class
Tech Law student Philipp Fontaine
The launch of the new LLM at Cornell Tech is both groundbreaking and a profound opportunity. Now, for the first time, the Law School has a physical presence in New York City, a winning trifecta that places it at the nexus of a burgeoning tech scene, in the middle of the highest concentration of Law School alumni, and at the center of the legal universe. The possibility of harnessing the synergy of these different forces is what has many in the alumni community excited for the future. After all, Cornell Tech is still in its infancy and has a lot of growing yet to do.
Soon the campus will move from its temporary Chelsea location to its permanent home on Roosevelt Island. From this thin strip of land in the East River, an ultramodern, open-architecture campus is slowly rising to face the skyline of East Manhattan. When it opens in the summer of 2017, there will be new public space, buildings comprising approximately 710,000 square feet, and an academic community that is expected to grow over time to nearly 600 people.
Dean Stewart Schwab, part of the challenge will be managing expectations. “If we do this right, this will be the premiere place in the country to combine law, tech, and entrepreneurship,” says Schwab, who was part of the early planning for Cornell Tech and teaches in the Tech LLM program. “There is a gigantic buzz. A lot of people see how exciting this is. And they’re right. But, people need to remember, it’s still just beginning. You don’t build a whole campus overnight.”
As Cornell Tech moves into this next phase, plans are in the works to expand the Law School’s offerings by allowing JD students to take courses at the new campus. On March 24, the Law School announced the launch of a Program in Information and Technology Law at Cornell Tech. Beginning in the spring semester of 2018, up to twenty Cornell Law School JD students will be able to spend a semester taking courses related to technology law at the Roosevelt Island campus in New York City.
According to Grimmelmann, a semester at Cornell Tech could give a big boost to JD students thinking of becoming tech lawyers. “You start them in that
socialization to becoming tech lawyers before they start off down other paths. You get them introduced early to the professional demands and the needs of their clients. It moves at a different pace. You are really getting them comfortable with how the tech community thinks.”
Peñalver sees Cornell Tech as a model for how law can be taught in other areas. “I definitely think that this experiential, interdisciplinary model is one that has broad advantages. We are exploring ways to do more of it, and I think it is likely to grow.”
How an Art Lawyer Found a Home at Cornell Tech
It was exactly 10:30 a.m. on January 21, 2016, when Liz Weber opened an e-mail that would change the course of her life. The note wasn’t from a long-lost friend or a family member she hadn’t heard from in years. Instead, it was a LinkedIn message about Cornell Tech’s new Master of Laws in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship program, slated to start in August.
The e-mail couldn’t have come at a better time. At that very moment, she was sitting in her Brooklyn apartment trying to figure out the next step in her life.2
“It felt like kismet,” she said.
The Road to Cornell Tech
Weber moved to Brooklyn from her hometown of Miami in July 2015 to pursue a dream of working in art law. A Colorado College art history graduate, she’d spent time after school working in San Francisco at a firm focused on law public relations, linking lawyers and reporters to speak on specialized topics. It was there that she decided she wanted to be a lawyer herself.
“You’d never think a background in art history would lend itself to law, but it does,” she said. “In law, there is always room for interpretation, just like in art.”
She moved home to Florida and enrolled at the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law. During school, she interned in the legal department of a museum, and then at a fitness company, but ultimately “realized that if I wanted to be serious about art law, I had to be in New York City—one of the art capitals of the world.”
So, after graduating, she took the New York bar exam and moved to Brooklyn with the goal of joining a boutique art law firm. When that proved a difficult world to break into, she started writing for the Center for Art Law as part of a postgraduate fellowship.
A Focus on Tech
The fellowship brought to Weber’s attention the challenges that artists and gallery owners regularly confront in the realm of technology. For example, artists who work with new media often struggle to copyright their work—and some contend with major intellectual property issues. Meanwhile, brick- and-mortar galleries that want to break into the online space grapple with how to go about it.
While the lens of technology interested Weber, she wasn’t sure how it applied to her background—that is, not until she received the LinkedIn message from Cornell Tech, advertising a tech-centric program for lawyers.
“It was pretty crazy,” she says. “I felt like my background up to that point was pushing me there.”
Jumping into School
Weber contemplated Cornell Tech for only a few days before applying. Part of the interview process required her to come up with an idea for a start-up that solves a real-life issue. She had just twenty- four hours to prepare.
“I came up with an idea for an online copyright registration and enforcement platform,” she explained. “It can be hard for emerging artists to understand intellectual property and know how to protect themselves. I pitched a company that would help them.
“It was so much fun to pitch [director of Cornell Tech’s LL.M. program] Chuck Whitehead. I felt like joy was flowing out of me.”
Weber was accepted into the program and is now a full-time student. She says she’s deeply impressed with the caliber of students involved, the career opportunities presented, and the depth of the material covered so far.
What’s next? Weber isn’t sure yet.
“I’m trying to focus on my courses and meeting people on campus, then I’ll go from there. Honestly, sometimes I look around campus and I have to pinch myself because I’m so glad I found this place.”
James Grimmelmann Straddles the Law-Tech Divide
Cornell hired James Grimmelmann as a law professor, but it got a translator in the bargain. When the first cohort of students in Cornell Tech and Cornell Law School’s new joint LL.M. program arrived in class this fall, they found in Grimmelmann someone who could speak the language of both students who dream of becoming the Notorious RBG, and those whose idol looks more like Mark Zuckerberg.
Grimmelmann studies the intersections between computers and the law, and what each side has to teach the other. A former Microsoft programmer, he’s currently exploring ways of looking at copyright law through a computer science lens—in particular, figuring out how to quantify the expression in artistic work, and the similarities between different works. Grimmelmann says that tech-industry insiders already think about copyright this way: don’t worry about the aesthetics, just compare the code. “I think it’s helpful for the legal system to bring in the perspective of how people who are actually involved in implementing things work with it,” he says. “This is a general principle for my work, which is that computer science is incredibly pragmatic. It’s about getting computers to do things. That pragmatic approach to deep questions sidesteps the philosophical issues and just says,‘What can we do?’”
The new LL.M. in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship is a one-year interdisciplinary whirlwind that teaches lawyers how to navigate the digital economy. “Looking forward, we see tremendous interest and growth in the intersection of law and technology, both in legal practice on the business side and among current students and scholars,” says Eduardo M. Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “The program really plants us very firmly in this emerging field in a really unique interdisciplinary environment at Cornell Tech that no one else can replicate.” The joint LL.M. program is based on Cornell Tech’s New York City campus, putting it at the epicenter of the U.S. law profession.
One facet of Grimmelmann’s work involves teasing out an analogy between computer code and legal texts. “If you think about a statute that says don’t speed, it’s like a computer program—it’s a piece of text that does something in the world,” he says.
“Even incredibly complicated programs have definite determinate behaviors. That fact seems to suggest that there’s a possibility of language that doesn’t require on-the-spot discretion,” Grimmelmann adds. “This is really interesting as a theoretical matter, about how should we think about judging and writing legal texts, but it also tells us something about which features of the legal system can be delegated to machines. Could you have automated enforcement of rules against market manipulation as simple as an algorithm to spot suspicious trades and automatically declare them illegal?”
Cornell Tech provides the perfect venue for someone wrestling with these liminal questions. “These are law students who are actually deeply interested in technology,” Grimmelmann says excitedly. “These are engineering students who are building things that are going to have massive policy implications. This is a really great moment for doing things that aren’t held back by traditional boundaries.”
“The basic premise of the Law Tech program is to look at the intersection of law, technology, and entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship defined broadly in terms of innovation and different business models, and that’s precisely the area that Professor Grimmelmann focuses on,” says Charles Whitehead, the Myron C. Taylor Alumni Professor of Business Law and director of the new program. “He spans multiple constituencies and he works in multiple spaces within the Cornell Tech platform. He does technology, he does the Internet, he does cybersecurity, and of course he’s focused on the law. And those are all areas that play quite well not only in the law program, but also in the other nonlaw programs at Cornell Tech.”
Law students without a strong technical background shouldn’t be intimidated at the sight of computer code—Grimmelmann says they’re already well equipped to get up to speed. “With lawyers, they learn new areas and new fact patterns all the time for cases,” he says. “Learning tech is no different. It just requires the commitment to do it, and the humility to accept that you have to put in the work.”
When Karen Comstock was a law student, she knew she wanted to use her degree as a tool for progressive change. The obvious paths could have led her to a public defender’s office or a rights watchdog, but Comstock had another idea.
My mentors were community organizers,” Comstock said. “I guess I have more of an organizer’s mentality than a lawyer’s mentality, in the sense of leveraging available resources for a good purpose. And I thought, law schools, especially Ivy League law schools, have a lot of resources, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of smart people. How can I get in that environment and try to implement change?”
She figured it out. When Comstock stepped down on March 1 as Cornell Law School’s first assistant dean for public service, she left a thirteen-year legacy that touched both students and alumni whose hearts were set on public interest work, and the Law School as a whole.
Comstock has spent her entire career guiding law students toward public interest work, although it wasn’t always in her job description: when she graduated from the University at Buffalo School of Law, The State University of New York, in 1989, it wasn’t common for law schools to have dedicated administrators for that job. After spending five years as Brooklyn Law School’s first public interest coordinator, she moved up to Cornell in 1994 to work in career services, eventually becoming the assistant dean in charge of the office. Even as her mandate included the whole range of career services, though, she says she always had “sort of an unofficial partial focus on public service,” bolstered by her pre–law school experience working for the likes of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Office of Senate Legal Counsel.
In 2004, as Stewart J. Schwab was settling in as the new Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Law School, Comstock came to his office with a proposal to make that focus official and create a distinct Office of Public Service. Times had changed: many of the Law School’s peers already had public service deans, and student activists were calling for Cornell to follow suit. Schwab didn’t take much convincing, but wanted to make sure the office didn’t just become a hideout for the relatively few students determined to go into nonprofit or government work.
“My main request to her was that I wanted her to think of herself as serving all of the students of the Law School,” said Schwab, now the Jonathan and Ruby Zhu Professor of Law. “The law is a service profession, and regardless of what job or series of jobs you do, you should view it that way. I think Karen has really done an excellent job of being the assistant dean for public service for all the students, and encouraging the attitude of service regardless of what they’re going to be doing.”
One of Comstock’s highest-profile projects has been organizing the Cornell Law School Public Service Awards. Every year since 2007, in a ceremony in New York City the Law School has honored alumni doing public interest work. Cyrus Mehri ’88, a founding partner at Mehri & Skalet, who has worked closely with Comstock over the years to promote interest in public service at Cornell, was recognized in 2014 for his work winning major racial and gender discrimination settlements against some of the nation’s biggest corporations. “The best part of it was the comradery with the other award winners,” Mehri says. “Everyone is quietly working hard to open doors to those that don’t have access to the legal system. And then to be there with the other award winners, that was a great experience.” The awards, and other annual programs run by Comstock, like the Public Interest Academy and the Cyrus Mehri Public Interest Lecture Series, let students interested in going into nonprofit or government work network with seasoned practitioners and get an idea of the rewards and challenges that await them.
An important part of Comstock’s job has also been making sure students who are interested in public service careers can afford to pursue them. She administered financial assistance programs for students and alumni working to advance the common good, including several fellowships for unpaid summer internships and the Frank H.T. Rhodes Public Interest Law Fellowship, founded on her watch, which annually funds a Cornell Law School graduate’s public interest project for two years after graduation.
She’s also made loan repayment assistance for alumni working in low-paying public interest jobs a priority. “One of the things we worked on right after I became dean, and Karen was really instrumental in this, was revamping our loan-forgiveness program to make it more comprehensive—and from the standpoint of the students more generous and easier to understand—so that students looking forward to their career path could plan around that,” said Eduardo M. Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law.
Despite the demands of her office’s more visible initiatives, getting to know individual students has been a key part of Comstock’s job. “The large programming is nice to impart big-picture information, but when it comes down to a particular individual with their particular interests and issues around where they want to live and what their loan debt is, individual counseling is absolutely the best,” Comstock said.
One alumna who was a regular in Comstock’s office was Amanda
Reynoso-Palley ’16, a Rhodes Fellow who is currently working with the nonprofit group Day One to combat intimate partner violence among New York City high school students. “She made Cornell a welcoming place for me since I started,” Reynoso-Palley said. “I remember being nervous the first time I went to talk to her about the search for 1L summer internships, but she was so kind and welcoming, after that first meeting I knew I could always go to her with problems or simply ask for her advice.”
Even though she’s retiring, Comstock isn’t planning on quitting public interest work altogether. She’ll be sticking around in Ithaca, and plans to throw herself into her work on the board of the Friendship Donations Network, a nonprofit organization that rescues fresh food that would otherwise be thrown away and redirects it to food pantries.
There might be some more overt political activism in her future,
too—the community-organizer instinct dies hard. “With the new administration, I plan to be pretty active,” Comstock says,
“because I just can’t not.”
Immigration law lost one of its greats in December with the passing of Stanley Mailman ’52. Born in 1930, Mailman played a hand in the evolution of immigration practice over more than half a century, as a president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), an incisive legal commentator, and a dedicated champion of pro bono representation.
He was a pioneer in many ways. He did everything,” said Cornell Law School professor Stephen W. Yale-Loehr ’81, who coauthored Immigration Law and Practice, the twenty-one-volume comprehensive treatise in the field, with Mailman. “Everything he did, he tried to do his best. He had a high standard that helped to elevate the immigration bar generally.”
Mailman came of age as an immigration lawyer in the 1950s, when the area was beginning to expand in the wake of World War II and the passage of the first comprehensive immigration law in 1952. He was a disciple of Elmer Fried, an early scholar of immigration law whom Mailman first encountered while earning an LL.M. at New York University. Mailman was subsequently hired by Fried for his first job practicing law, and quickly rose to partner. Over the rest of his career, Mailman practiced business immigration law in New York City, first heading his own firm and then joining Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke. He remained a partner at that larger firm for more than twenty years, and of counsel for a further five, before Mailman’s declining health forced him to stop his practice at age eighty-five.
Mailman’s early years primed him for a lifetime representing people who sought a better life in the United States. His parents were both Eastern European Jews who had emigrated to the United States, and Mary Ann Mailman, Stanley’s widow, said that “as a son of immigrants, he was a lot more attuned to the plight of immigrants.” Mailman was also marked by his family’s experience during the Holocaust, Mary Ann Mailman said, and as a young man he had been troubled not only by the United States’ failure to admit Jewish refugees, but also by the government’s internment of Japanese Americans and the discrimination against Chinese immigrants in the same period.
Mailman came to Cornell as an undergraduate in 1946. In between playing sax in the Big Red Band and participating in the Watermargin co-op, he enrolled in a program allowing students to complete their senior year of undergraduate studies and their first year of law school concurrently, earning both a bachelor’s degree and a J.D. On a campus filled with veterans, Mailman fell in with a group who had been too young to serve during World War II. “He was a lively presence,” said University of California, Berkeley School of Law professor emeritus Richard Buxbaum ’52, who remained lifelong friends with Mailman since their Cornell days. “He was always prepared to discuss in class—it was pretty Socratic in most of the classes, but he was one of the students who was OK with volunteering when there wasn’t someone being called on. He was well known and well liked. He was a very fresh, sparkly kind of guy. And he also had a nice wry way about him.” when there wasn’t someone being called on. He was well known and well liked. He was a very fresh, sparkly kind of guy. And he also had a nice wry way about him.”
“He always talked about certain professors he had at Cornell who helped him develop a code of ethics,” said Mary Ann Mailman. Two of the most influential were the historian and political scientist Clinton Rossiter, whom Mailman encountered as an undergraduate, and the Law School’s Rudolf Schlesinger. A giant of comparative legal scholarship, Schlesinger concentrated on private rather than public law, but his classes gave Mailman a taste of legal issues that touched on the wider world.
During his decades of practice, Mailman threw himself into pro bono work on behalf of immigrants and refugees. Notably, in 1981, his legal team won a ruling in Bertrand v. Sava that federal courts could hear habeas corpus claims on behalf of Haitian refugees who alleged that they had been improperly denied parole.
Allan Wernick, a professor at Baruch College and the director of the CUNY Citizenship Now! project, served on a committee of AILA lawyers assembled to assist the Haitian refugees. Wernick recalled that one of the attorneys expressed concern over the difficulty of surmounting language barriers and other obstacles to serving the refugees. “Stanley gave an answer that guides me to this day,” Wernick said. “He said that though we would be serving these individuals pro bono, we should treat them the same as paying clients, no worse, no better. The ‘no better’ part was a fair guideline. The ‘no worse’ part a high standard.”
“That was just really a life changing experience for Stanley,” said Mary Ann Mailman of Mailman’s work on behalf of the Haitian refugees. “He just felt it was so important for these people who had been thrown into upstate New York prisons far away from their home and family and any legal help.”
Mailman also felt called to serve others in his profession by sharing his experience, coauthoring Immigration Law and Practice for three decades and writing a New York Law Journal column on immigration law for twenty-five years. Colleagues remember Mailman as a gifted writer who valued both precision and style. “He was sort of like E.B. White,” said Yale-Loehr. “He wrote crisply. He was quick to delete the passive voice, to try to find a turn of phrase, and he always made his own writing and that of anyone he worked with better through his collaboration.” Mailman was also an early adopter of the use of female pronouns as a default in his writing.
“He always felt that it was better to share info than to hoard it,” said Yale-Loehr. Mailman was an active mentor, taking under his wing younger lawyers as diverse as Arthur Helton, an advocate for refugees who was killed in the 2003 bombing of the United Nations’headquarters in Baghdad, and Brenda Berkman, who later successfully sued the New York City Fire Department for gender discrimination over its entrance test and became one of the city’s first female firefighters.
“Stanley loved the practice of immigration law because it was focused on people, and he treasured all his life the number of people he met, and how important it was to those people to be able to become American citizens,” Mary Ann Mailman said. “It was an area of law that brought you face to face with the person you were helping. It was for most people a life-changing experience. And as their lawyer, you went through that with them.”