This inaugural address was delivered on Sept. 10, 2015, at Albany Law School
Toward a New Tomorrow
Chair Nolan, Judge Levine, Dean Mayer, Jessie, thank you for your kind words and generous introductions. Distinguished guests, fellow presidents and deans and their delegates, Mayor Sheehan, Assembly-Members McDonald and Fahey, members of the board of trustees, judges, esteemed members of the faculty, the law school staff, our amazing students, graduates of this school, friends, and family. It is my great honor to welcome you to this celebration of our beloved Law School.
Robert Frost said, “A poem begins with a lump in the throat.” When my colleagues and members of the alumni community suggested this day, I have to tell you, an enormous lump formed in my throat. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that this community has placed so much trust in me. I owe so much to all of you. And as I thought about the idea of this day, an expression started to form, not unlike a poem, that however uncomfortable I may feel with pomp and circumstance, however much I prefer to have my sleeves rolled up getting work done, that this is a
perfect moment for us to celebrate Albany Law School. This great school deserves a little pomp and circumstance, a party to celebrate our history and traditions, and a
collective moment to look forward, together, to a transformative future.
So, today I will reflect on who we are, and where we are going. It is a good story. But before I start, I want to thank the people who made today happen -- our organizing committee Tammy Weinman, Rosemary Queenan, David Singer, Connie Mayer, and the incomparable Barbara Jordan-Smith. Please join me in thanking them.
I also want to thank all who have nurtured and supported me, my teachers along the way. Margaret Mead said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” That has been true of so many of my teachers. Judge Levine, Jessie, Dan, you are among them. Kathy Katz and David Siegel, who are no longer with us, are two others. And my law school professors, I am unusually lucky to work with them as colleagues. They pushed me to ask questions, think clearly, and speak up. I would like to recognize those who are here today: Dale Moore, Ira Bloom, Jim Redwood, Pam Armstrong, Mike Hutter, Steve Gottlieb, Mary Lynch, Dan Moriarty, and Vin Bonventre. Those deans and presidents who came before me – the deans while I was a student, Marty Belsky and Jack Welsh; Tom Sponslor – who hired me back to the law school; Tom Guersney, who led this place for nine years, and Penny Andrews, who broke the gender barrier, brought the world to the law school, and taught me an enormous amount about leadership. I am grateful to all of them.
And my beloved family. Mom, Dad, Jacob, Molly, Sam, Janet, Pete and all the rest. I’ve learned more from you than a lifetime of formal education could impart. Thank you.
Our tomorrow has a strong foundation in our past.
164 years ago, Albany Law School was founded to shake up the status quo. At that time, people became lawyers by studying at the elbow of a practicing lawyer – the traditional clerkship method. Our founders, Amasa J. Parker, Ira Harris and Amos Dean thought there was a better way. They favored a formal program of legal education, one that stressed knowledge, theory and practical application of both. The school they formed, this school, was in the vanguard -- and set the stage for the school we would become.
We are a school that leads and inspires others. That was true:
We have produced a postmaster general, a Secretary of the interior, a secretary of war, US Senators and congressmen, a Maine governor, an Iowa governor, an Oregon governor, and a Vermont Governor, and of course, our own N.Y. Governor, Andrew Cuomo. We’ve graduated two Supreme Court Justices and a U.S. President. Not bad for a small independent law school in upstate N.Y.
- In 1875, when Albany Law published the nation's first student-edited law review.
- At the turn of the century, when we pioneered a series on legal ethics – the precursor to the course now required in professional responsibility.
- In 1974, when an Albany Law Clinic founded by Professor Dan Moriarty gave birth to Prisoner’s Legal Services for all of N.Y. state.
- In the 1990s, when we launched an innovative lawyering curriculum that is now standard fare across the nation.
- And just this year, when we held the first in the nation LGBT Law day, providing free legal services to hundreds of people who needed them.
This creativity, this change and movement and constant improvement works to benefit our students and our community.
Our graduates go on to do extraordinary things:
- We have produced a postmaster general, a Secretary of the interior, a secretary of war, US Senators and congressmen, a Maine governor, an Iowa governor, an Oregon governor, and a Vermont Governor, and of course, our own N.Y. Governor, Andrew Cuomo. We’ve graduated two Supreme Court Justices and a U.S. President. Not bad for a small independent law school in upstate N.Y.
- In the past decade, our graduates have served as the Secretary of Agriculture, CEO and Chairman of Citigroup, congressmen, judges, judges, judges – we have some 300 sitting judges today in at least 7 states at every level of court imaginable.
- We have 234 attorneys in district attorneys offices across New York.
- We have 140 city and town attorneys.
- We have the mayors of Rochester and Albany.
- Thousands upon thousands of law firm partners and associates.
- The NY State bar president is ours. In the past 10 years, 3 bar presidents have been Albany Law graduates.
- We’ve even had greatness here in this gym, Barry Kramer, class of 1968, played basketball here after he retired from the NY Knicks following law school. He was here recently for his reunion, and noted that Madison Square Garden was just a bit more exciting than playing in our gym, but the Knicks had nothing on the Socratic method.
- We had pioneers, like Kate Stoneman, the first woman to be admitted to the bar in N.Y. State. She had to petition the legislature to pass a law allowing women to practice as attorneys.
- We had an elite generation fight in the Civil War then, go on to achieve amazing things. Since then we’ve had generations of veterans come to law school after serving our country, and generations more who went into military service following graduation.
These are just some who have helped shape the world we live in. And there are so many more we never get to mention. Don’t worry. I won’t try to name them all now! Just a couple more stories that illustrate how our graduates help shape our world: There was Fred Emery (’57) Director of the Federal Register, who briefed President Carter on the Federal rulemaking process.
Legal education serves the common good. Law schools cultivate creative and talented students who will lead us and solve problems for men, women, and children from every walk of life.
Richard Cureri, class of ’76, served as mediator for 29 hours of mediation between New York City’s public transportation system and its unions. The transit system was stopped for days before Christmas 2005. He would sneak out the back of his hotel to avoid throngs of media, his face on every NY tabloid and across the world.
From the you-never-know-what-you-can-do-with-a-law-degree file:
- James Kimball Gannon '34 wrote more than 100 songs for Broadway and radio, including “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” a hit by Bing Crosby in 1943 that jumped ahead of “White Christmas” that year.
- Charles Converse, class of 1861, wrote “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”
I bet you didn’t know that.
We have an Alumni base so committed that they send generations upon generations of family here: sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, great grandchildren. They understand the value of an Albany Law School education. Trustee J.K. Hage who is here with us today representing my alma mater Hamilton College, is a fine example. His father, James, was Class of 1930, JK was class of ’78, his daughter Heather was Class of 2006, and his son Gabriel is currently a student in the class of 2016. J.K. is now a grandfather and we have a spot saved in the class of 2023.
Collectively these and dozens more make up the story of Albany Law School. And the story is ongoing. We continue to make history, to make change.
Despite our strengths, despite the proven power of our education, we face challenges ahead. In a rapidly changing world, we have to adapt and grow to ensure our relevance and the value of legal education. That requires imagination and a deep understanding of the potential value of legal education. Nurturing that growth -- that is the fun part of this job. We are just getting started with the new tomorrow that is Albany Law School.
When the stakes were high, when the issues got complicated, we turned the cases over to the lawyers. The lawyers were the change makers. I went to law school to become a change maker, and I believe in legal education because it equips our students with the tools they need to make change.
Legal education serves the common good. Law schools cultivate creative and talented students who will lead us and solve problems for men, women, and children from every walk of life. We produce scholarship that enlightens us and ideas that promote justice. Behind a course in business organization, a “skills class”, or clinical training, our goal is not just to impart knowledge – it is to train students to think analytically and creatively, to consider social problems from a diverse array of perspectives, to problem-solve for and with people, and to understand how to navigate in an increasingly global and technologically driven world.
If we meet that goal, we will have prepared the next generation to change lives for the better, in a world we cannot even imagine today.
Before I came to law school, I worked in a shelter for homeless families. My title was “family life specialist.” My role was to make sure that the children who lived in the shelter were enrolled in school, that they had the support services they needed, and that they had access to medical care. It was good work, but hard. Schools had policies against enrolling children who didn’t have addresses. While I could make a difference in some cases, I found myself frustrated. When the stakes were high, when the issues got complicated, we turned the cases over to the lawyers. The lawyers were the change makers. I went to law school to become a change maker, and I believe in legal education because it equips our students with the tools they need to make change.
To make change, our students need jobs. Of course, we work for that. We want our students to find rewarding, challenging and, if all goes well, well-paid jobs. And we want the people who hire our students to be happy that they did so. That’s a given. We have always done a better job preparing students for the profession than other law schools, and we will continue that work.
also prepare our students to take on the job of making a difference -- in traditional law careers and in new innovative pathways — in the ways that best express their own values and their own aspirations. Like the generations before them, our graduates will influence the administration of justice, financial and political systems. They will affect race relations, climate change, and access to health care. They will help individual clients in their darkest hours and celebrate with them through their greatest triumphs. They will affect how we understand concepts of duty, liberty, justice, due process, equality, and access. And they will drive the innovation economy, wrestle with big data and cybersecurity, and resolve other issues we have yet to even name. And they will do this with an uncanny ability to think analytically, to write effectively, and to communicate clearly. They will make a difference in the lives of their clients, their communities, and their worlds.
Emphasis on this educational mission is especially important at this moment in the school’s history.
We are in the midst of a sea-change in teaching and learning. How we respond — how we stay true to our best traditions while pioneering new pathways — this is the challenge before us.
New technologies are stimulating changes in how we teach. Acting thoughtfully, we will use them to advance our mission. We can, for example, use technology to amplify the words of Albany Law’s great teachers so that our lessons can enlighten and inspire more people in more places. Technology will allow us to touch a broader range of students, opening education in the law to students of other disciplines and working professionals.
We are pursuing online efforts that are consistent with our strategic vision, recognizing the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of law practice, and the benefits to our student body that flow from access to specialized knowledge – whether that specialization is in health, business transactions, criminal justice, cybersecurity, or the innovation economy.
We are building for the future with our eyes on our mission and a commitment to our values.
You come to us from across the country, some from across the world, with a rich, diverse array of backgrounds. Some of you carry the hopes and dreams of a mother or father who is also a lawyer. Just as many, perhaps more, are the very first in your family to graduate from college, much less law school. You inspire us and keep us focused on our mission. You are and will always be the lifeblood of this Law School.
As we turn to the future, I want to tell you a little more about the past. Russell Conwell graduated from Albany Law School in 1865. He taught a lesson that guides us as we navigate ahead. In the years after law school, Russell Conwell founded Temple University. He gained a national reputation for a speech he was asked to make around the country known as “Acres of Diamonds.” Essentially, he told true stories of people who left their homes to search for diamonds, or oil, or gold, only to learn that these fortunes were discovered, literally, in their home towns, in one case, the backyard, of the homes they left.
His lesson is obvious and instructive: opportunities abound in our own community. All the resources we need are here. As a side note, Temple’s football team wears diamond decals on their helmets in reference to his speech -- their founder and first president.
So where are the diamonds in our community?
First, they are you. Our loyal, vibrant and talented community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and supporters. Our faculty members are deeply engaged in the law through study, teaching, clinical practice, service, scholarship, and legal reform efforts. They are ready to change and adapt. We have faculty members who have been teaching here for decades are trying new things in the classroom – experimenting with real time- text messaging and new methods of Socratic discourse, flipping classes, adding practice modules, using multiple assessment. Faculty from across the institution are joining forces to build innovative courses to meet our students’ needs. Our faculty puts our students first -- making phone calls to potential employers, meeting weekly, even daily, throughout the summer to provide bar coaching. This faculty is all in. A clear source of treasure.
Our students: You impress us each day with your talent, your smarts, your persistence, and you commitment to what is no easy task. You come to us from across the country, some from across the world, with a rich, diverse array of backgrounds. Some of you carry the hopes and dreams of a mother or father who is also a lawyer. Just as many, perhaps more, are the very first in your family to graduate from college, much less law school. You inspire us and keep us focused on our mission. You are and will always be the lifeblood of this Law School.
Our alumni excel not only in law, business, public interest, and public service but in their loyalty and affection for Albany Law. We have the best alumni. Really. It is you who are helping us shape a curriculum for the 21st century. It is you who are helping us build new programs and maintain our traditional strengths. It is you who mentor our students, offer internships, give guest lectures, hire our graduates, and support scholarships that allow the next generation the opportunities you were afforded.
Our staff, donors, and trustees as well as our community justice, business and government supporters work tirelessly for the success of our institution and its people. Staff: We have people on are staff who have been with us for 20 and 30 years. They stay, despite opportunities elsewhere, out of love and respect for this place. That is a tremendous asset.
And to a person, every member of our Board of Trustees is personally committed to growing and supporting this law school.
We are rich with community. And we are counting on the creativity and talents and generosity of all of you, so that future generations will benefit from Albany Law School.
We also have diamonds in our local partners in education. Many of you are represented here today. We have long-standing relationships with Union College, RPI, Siena, UAlbany, St. Rose, Sage, Pharmacy, Albany Med, and more. We are committed to strengthening these relationships for the benefit of our mutual students. We know that in an increasingly complex, global, and technology-driven world -- and in a market in which we have made the wise decision to keep our class small to maintain its quality -- we need to find smart ways to grow. To make one plus one equal three – joining forces where possible.
In some cases, we believe the partnerships we form will transform us and our partnering institution in incredibly exciting ways. Stay tuned for news on this front.
As we do this work of strengthening our partnerships, we are staying true to our mission and to our community. We are also discovering treasure in our own back yard.
Another of our diamonds is the backyard itself. Our location in the powerful State Capital of New York has provided unparalleled opportunities for our students for 164 years. The capital is our classroom. We have more internship and field placement opportunities that we ever fill – even after we required experiential placements for all our students. We continue to build on that.
At the same time, we recognize that our success is intertwined with the fortunes of our local community, just as it has been for the last 164 years. For decades, our Law Clinic and Justice Center has provided free legal services to support our community. Our pro-bono program is rich and deep, serving veterans, the elderly, people with disabilities, and more than a dozen other community groups. My hope is that Albany Law’s investments in education and service and research in the coming years will create plentiful opportunities for growth, through thoughtful collaborations with our partner schools, with our city and with our state.
These commitments — to keep Albany Law School vital, to engage our community, to build productive partnerships with our neighbors, and to commit to the growth of the capital region — will ensure that Albany Law continues to flourish in a way that is consistent with our highest purpose, our values, and our mission. We don’t need to go far to find treasure.
Now is the time for Albany Law School. Let’s roll up our sleeves, and get to work together.
View photos from the Inauguration of President & Dean Ouellette.