Founded in 1858, Columbia has produced a large number of distinguished alumni including nine Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States; numerous U.S. Cabinet members and Presidential advisers; U.S. Senators, Representatives, and Governors; and more members of the Forbes 400 than any other law school.
Columbia is especially well known for its strength in corporate law and its placement power in the nation's elite law firms.
According to Columbia Law School's 2013 ABA-required disclosures, 95% of the Class of 2013 obtained full-time, long-term, JD-required employment nine months after graduation.
The teaching of law at Columbia reaches back to the 18th century. Graduates of the university's colonial predecessor, King's College, included such notable early American judicial figures as John Jay, who would later become the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Columbia College appointed its first professor of law, James Kent, in 1793. The lectures of Chancellor Kent in the course of four years had developed into the first two volumes of his Commentaries, the second volume being published November 1827. Kent did not, however, succeed in establishing a law school or department in the College. Thus, the formal instruction of law as a course of study did not commence until the middle of the 19th century.
Theodore Dwight and the founding of the law school
The Columbia College Law School, as it was then officially called, was founded in 1858. The first law school building was a Gothic Revival structure located on Columbia's Madison Avenue campus. Thereafter, the college became Columbia University and moved north to the neighborhood of Morningside Heights. As Columbia Law Professor Theodore Dwight observed, at its founding the demand for a formal course of study in law was still speculative:
It was considered at that time mainly as an experiment. No institution resembling a law school had ever existed in New York. Most of the leading lawyers had obtained their training in offices or by private reading, and were highly skeptical as to the possibility of securing competent legal knowledge by means of professional schools. Legal education was, however, at a very low ebb. The clerks in the law offices were left almost wholly to themselves. Frequently they were not even acquainted with the lawyers with whom, by a convenient fiction, they were supposed to be studying. Examinations for admission to the bar were held by committees appointed by the courts, who, where they inquired at all, sought for the most part to ascertain the knowledge of the candidate of petty details of practice. In general, the examinations were purely perfunctory. A politician of influence was not readily turned away. Few studied law as a science; many followed it as a trade or as a convenient ladder whereby to rise in a political career."
The Gothic Revival Law Library on Columbia's Madison Avenue Campus
Indeed, Columbia Law School was one of the few law schools established in the United States before the Civil War. During the 18th and 19th centuries, most legal education took place in law offices, where young men, serving as apprentices or clerks,were set to copying documents and filling out legal forms under the supervision of an established attorney. For example, in New York John Jay, revolutionary founding father and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, read law with Benjamin Kissam, whose busy practice kept his clerks occupied in transcribing records, pleadings, and opinions. Jay was fortunate to have attentive supervision because the quality and time of learning the law varied greatly within the profession. Theodore Dwight, who had been head of the law department of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, believed formal legal education, conducted in the classroom with regular lectures, was far superior to casual law office instruction.
At its founding, four distinct courses of lectures of this class were then established: one on Philology, offered by distinguished scholar and statesman, George P. Marsh; a second by Dr. Francis Lieber, a standard writer upon topics of Political Science and of International Law, then a professor at Columbia College; a third course on Ethics, by Professor Nairne, also of the College; and a fourth on Municipal Law, by Theodore W. Dwight, then Professor of Law in Hamilton College, New York, which at the time already had a flourishing Law School. The original course of study to obtain a degree consisted of just two years, rather than the modern standard of three. The first lecture in the Law School was delivered on Monday, Nov 1, 1858, by Mr. Dwight, at the rooms of the Historical Society. It was an introductory lecture, afterwards printed. The audience consisted mainly of lawyers. It was plain that many of them could be counted upon as friends of a system of legal education. The result was an immediate attendance of thirty-five students, who showed their intention of pursuing a regular course of study by at once paying a tuition fee for instruction throughout the year. Such assurances were given of a future increase of numbers that it was determined to divide each class at the beginning of the coming year into two sections, for their convenience. The next year, the number of students was sixty-two. In the third year there were one hundred and three. Many of these early students were members of the bar. In 1860, in order to stimulate excellence in attainments of the students, a series of annual prizes was established, commencing with $250, and diminishing regularly by $50, until the sum of $100 was reached. These were adjudicated by leading members of the bar upon the combined merits of written answers to printed questions, and of essays upon topics selected by the instructors. None could compete for the prizes except those who had fully completed the two years' course. The questions covered the range of studies for the whole course. Stringent rules were adopted in reference to the answers, so as to secure the absolute fidelity of the candidates in their work.
Professor Dwight believed a course of legal study should focus on the application of basic legal principles, as learned through the study of legal treatises, coupled with frequent moot courts which would permit students to demonstrate their proficiency in applying those principles to new legal problems. In this way, Dwight's method of teaching diverged significantly from the "case method" which had then been popularized by Dean Langdell of the Harvard Law School which focused on the study of individual cases and the use of inductive reasoning to distill governing legal principles from those case with little time spent on the practical application of those principles.
Dwight believed that his method was superior to the case method because it helped to create trained legal practitioners ready to enter the profession rather than academics more suited to teaching. In support of his position, Dwight cited the example of legal study throughout the Western World since the Roman empire: "It is not out of place in this connection to refer to the chosen methods of acquiring the Roman law, both as sanctioned by great jurists and by imperial authority, after an experience continuing through centuries . . .The Roman jurists had "cases" to deal with, precisely as we do. They were not mere legal philosophers, but disposed of practical and "burning" questions of their time. They were, however, in the habit of referring back to a legal principle in disposing of a concrete case, and believed that great principles could be so stated as to win the attention of students and give them a solid basis for future detailed acquisitions.".
By the late nineteenth century, Dwight's method give way to the case method which by the turn of the twentieth century had become the standard curriculum at all of the other premier American law schools at Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1891, in response to Columbia's adoption of the case method, Dwight and a number of Columbia professors left the Law School to found New York Law School in Manhattan's Financial District.
After Dwight's departure, William Albert Keener of the Harvard Law School became Dean of the Law School from 1891 to 1901 when he was succeeded by George Washington Kirchwey. Future Supreme Court Justice Harlan Fiske Stone graduated from the Law School in 1898. While practicing law in New York, he began lecturing at Columbia Law School in 1899 and joined the faculty as a full professor. He subsequently became Dean of the Law School in 1910 and held the position until 1923 when he left to join Sullivan and Cromwell as a partner. Stone became Attorney General of the United States in 1924 and held that Office for almost a year before joining the Supreme Court of the United States as an Associate Justice.
Ever since U.S. News & World Report began ranking law schools in 1987, Columbia Law has appeared in the Top 5 each year, an honor shared only with Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.U.S. News & World Report consistently places Columbia Law among the top four law schools (for both academic reputation and national standing).U.S. News and World Report also ranks Columbia Law #4 in its 2011 Law Firm Recruiters' Ranking of Best Law Schools.Forbes magazine ranks Columbia Law #1 for Best Law Schools for Career Prospects as well as #1 for Highest Earning Law Graduates.
Columbia Law is ranked #1 for "Best Career Prospects" by Princeton Review and is widely ranked as one of, and often the best, law school for job placement nationally. Professor Brian Leiter's scholarly law school rankings placed Columbia #1 for job placement at the nation's "most prestigious" law firms for three years straight (2006–09) and ranked Columbia #3 for student numerical quality (average LSAT/GPA) for the last five years (surpassed only by Yale and Harvard). Columbia ranked #1 in The National Law Journal survey of "Go-To Law Schools" two years in a row (2007, 2008) for having the highest percentage of graduates hired by the nation's top 250 law firms (#2 in 2009; #3 in 2010; #3 in 2011).
Today, Columbia Law's faculty is well regarded for its teaching and scholarship in a number of different areas. Several of the faculty are recipients of the MacArthur Fellows Program "genius grant". The following list of disciplines enumerates some—but not nearly all—of Columbia Law School's notable scholars:
For the year ending December 2009, Columbia Law School's faculty ranked #2 in the nation for the number of academic papers authored and downloaded on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), according to cumulative statistics, exceeded only by Harvard Law School's faculty. In 2007 (the prior such ranking by SSRN) Columbia Law School's faculty also was the #2 most downloaded law faculty in the United States.
Columbia was among the first schools to establish both comparative and international law centers. The Law School also has major centers for the study of international law, including the Center for Chinese Legal Studies, the Center for Korean Legal Studies, the Center for Japanese Legal Studies (the first and only center of its kind in the United States), the Center for European Legal Studies, as well as centers for Corporate Governance, Climate Change Law, Gender and Sexuality Law, Law and Economics, Law and Politics, thirteen other law centers, and numerous law programs. In July 2012, the Law School launched three new centers: i) the Ira M. Millstein Center for Global Markets and Corporate Ownership to "study global financial markets and their diverse, interdependent actors"; ii) the Center for Constitutional Governance to "bring together a dynamic roster of constitutional scholars who are deeply engaged in the study of governmental structure and relationships, including experts on separation of powers and issues of federalism"; and iii) the Center for International Commercial and Investment Arbitration Law to "further the teaching and study of international arbitration, building on the Law School's considerable expertise in this rapidly growing area of legal practice."
In 2006, the Law School embarked on an ambitious campaign to increase the number of faculty by fifty percent without increasing the number of students.
On May 26, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia since 1999, to be a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Sotomayor created and co-taught a course entitled "The Federal Appellate Externship" every semester at the Law School since the fall 2000. Federal Appellate Externships and many other externships, including Federal District Externships, are offered each year at Columbia.
Among other externships, the Law School offers a full-semester externship on the federal government in Washington, D.C., which provides students hands-on experience in government law offices. In addition to their placements at federal agencies, students in the program are also required to attend a weekly seminar and write a substantive research paper. The Federal Government Externship has the following three specific components:
Seminar: Students conduct an in-depth analysis of the roles lawyers play in federal offices. Each seminar is taught by Columbia Law faculty and a Washington-based adjunct professor. Each seminar also features guest speakers and has a substantive writing component.
Supervised Research: Students are required to produce an 8,000–10,000-word research paper on a topic closely connected to their externship and field placement. Externs are encouraged to consult with the agency in which they work to develop their topic.
Jerome L. Greene Hall, home of the law school and the Arthur W. Diamond Library. September 2004
Columbia Law School's Arthur W. Diamond Library is one of the most comprehensive libraries in the world and is the second largest academic law library in the United States, with over 1,000,000 volumes and subscriptions to more than 7,450 journals and other serials.
The Columbia Law Review and other student journals
In December 2010, the Law School announced the addition of an accelerated JD/MBA joint degree program, which allows students to obtain both a JD and MBA within three years. The accelerated program will not replace the existing four-year JD/MBA joint degree program. Interested students will be able to choose between the two programs. A joint degree can prove to be beneficial to law students' career objectives. To enable interested students to achieve this goal, the Law School may approve a joint degree with any of the following of Columbia's graduate or professional schools:
Additionally, in recent years, students have successfully petitioned the Law School's Rules Committee for permission to create a joint degree program with schools that have agreed to grant advanced standing toward their master's degree for work completed in the Columbia J.D. program:
Columbia University law school has one of the largest international alliances with China, and with Peking University, specifically, a joint exchange program that begin in 2006 when students could be exchanged for a semester, which was expanded as a program in 2011 to allow faculty to teach or co-teach courses abroad, and which was expanded as a program again in 2013 when Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer and Peking University Law School Dean Zhang Shouwen signed a memorandum of understanding between the universities, allowing for joint publications and joint seminars between faculty at the respective universities.
The Law School runs nine vigorous clinical programs that contribute to the community, including the nation's first technology-based clinic, called Lawyering in the Digital Age. This clinic is currently engaged in building a community resource to understand the collateral consequences of criminal charges. In April 2006, Columbia announced that it was starting the nation's first clinic in sexuality and gender law. In 2007, Columbia opened a new program in law and technology.
Given that Columbia is well known for its strength in corporate law, the Law School offers, for example, a "Deals" course that includes participants from the Columbia Business School and the Law School. In addition, the Columbia Business and Law Association (CBLA), the Law School's principal student group dedicated to the interaction between law and business, routinely sponsors lectures, workshops, and networking events from traditional areas of interest such as investment banking, management consulting, venture capital, private equity, hedge funds, and entrepreneurship. CBLA also serves as a center for members of the Columbia Law School community interested in many aspects of business law, including corporate governance and securities regulation.
Columbia Law School's main building, Jerome L. Greene Hall (or simply "the Law School"), was designed by Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz, architects of the United Nations Headquarters and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (which for many years served as the site of Columbia Law School's graduation ceremonies). It is located at the intersection of Amsterdam Avenue and West 116th Street. One of the building's defining features is its frontal sculpture, Bellerophon Taming Pegasus, designed by Jacques Lipchitz, symbolizing man's struggle over (his own) wild side/unreason.
In 1996, the Law School was given an extensive renovation and expansion by Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects), including the addition of a new entrance façade and three story skylit lobby, as well as the expansion of existing space to include an upper level students' commons, lounge areas, and a café. In the summer of 2008, construction of a new floor in Jerome Greene Hall was completed providing 38 new faculty offices. Other Columbia Law School buildings include William and June Warren Hall, the Jerome Greene Learning Annex (which Jerome Greene's representatives politely declined to have renamed after the building of Jerome Greene Hall), and William C. Warren Hall (or "Little Warren").
Lenfest Hall, the Law School's premier residence, opened in August 2003. The hall was named for H. F. Lenfest '58 and his wife Marguerite. Lenfest contains more than 200 luxury student residences, including private studio apartments and one-bedroom apartments. In addition to Lenfest Hall, the majority of Columbia Law students live in the University's Graduate Student Housing consisting of single and shared apartments in buildings throughout Morningside Heights. All Columbia Law students are guaranteed housing on campus for the duration of their Law School studies.
Columbia offers a Graduate Legal Studies Program, including the Master of Laws (LL.M.) and the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degrees. The LL.M. Program is considered one of the best in the United States and has been ranked very highly according to private studies. Each year the Law School enrolls approximately 210 graduate students from more than 50 countries with experience in all areas of the legal profession, including academia, the judiciary, public service, civil rights and human rights advocacy, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and private practice. Graduate students are an important component of the Law School community. They participate in many co-curricular activities, including student journals, moot courts, and student organizations. Graduate students also organize and speak at conferences, workshops, and colloquia on current legal issues.
According to Columbia Law School's official 2014 ABA-required disclosures, 93.8% of the Class of 2014 obtained full-time, long-term, JD-required employment ten months after graduation. Columbia Law School's Law School Transparency under-employment score is 1.6%, indicating the percentage of the Class of 2013 unemployed, pursuing an additional degree, or working in a non-professional, short-term, or part-time job nine months after graduation.
The total cost of attendance (indicating the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses) at Columbia Law School for the 2014-2015 academic year is $85,755. The Law School Transparency estimated debt-financed cost of attendance for three years is $313,097.
The current Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, the current Solicitor General, Don Verrilli, and the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer are all graduates of the Law School.
CLS alumni are also notable in the arts, business and elsewhere. For example, Civil rights activist, recording artist, and actor Paul Robeson received his law degree from CLS in 1923. Academy Award-winning lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein II attended the law school. Alumni of the Law School have been the president or founder of more than thirty colleges and universities in the nation. More current members of the Forbes 400 attended Columbia than any other law school.
In Body Heat, Edmund Walker (played by Richard Crenna), the wealthy husband of the film's femme fatale, is a Columbia Law School graduate.
In the film Old School, Dean Gordon Pritchard bribes the student body president by guaranteeing her admission to Columbia Law.
In the film Just Cause, Law Professor Paul Armstrong, played by Sir Sean Connery, is a Columbia Law graduate.
In the film Two Weeks Notice, Howard Wade, played by David Haig, asks for a lawyer trained at Columbia Law School.
On the television show How I Met Your Mother, the character Marshall Eriksen is an Environmental Law graduate of Columbia Law School.
On The West Wing (S5), Angela (the new head of legislative affairs at the White House) meets Leo to talk about the President's high popularity in polls during the time of his daughter's kidnapping. When Leo says that the President's temporary self-removal from office was a constitutional necessity, Angela comments on the negative political ramifications and tells Leo, "If you want a Constitutional debate, call the Dean of Columbia Law."
On the television show Raising the Bar, the character Judge Trudy Kessler is a Columbia Law alumna.*