Questions for Dean Stewart Schwab, Former Dean of Cornell Law School

Published July 2009

TLS: Dean Schwab, thank you very much for this interview. I have a few questions for you about Cornell Law School.

Future of the Law School

TLS: What are your main goals for the law school?

We want to continue Cornell Law School’s legacy of educating lawyers in the best sense; men and women committed to justice in every sector of society. Whether our graduates go into law practice, government service, business, or public interest, our continued goal is to equip each one of them with the education, values, and ideals necessary for leadership in law. We also want to support and encourage legal scholarship and research of the highest caliber. We do this by recruiting and retaining top faculty and by facilitating their ability to work collaboratively. This creates a dynamic classroom experience for our students because at Cornell great scholars are also great teachers.

TLS: Do you intend to hire new faculty with certain specialties?

We are always expanding the depth and breadth of our faculty. As a general matter, we try to identify prospective faculty who have established themselves as leading legal scholars and teachers, or who we believe have the strong potential to do so in the future. Our newest faculty hires include Charles Whitehead, an expert in corporate and financial law. He will begin teaching courses on business organization and securities regulation this year. Professor Whitehead brings his extensive experience and expertise from private practice and business to the Clarke Business Law Institute at Cornell Law School. Also joining us is Aziz Rana, who has a Ph.D. in political science as well as a J.D. He will teach constitutional law and national-security law. Lara Freed is joining us as a clinical professor in our lawyering program. These new faculty continue our recent success in hiring outstanding faculty in constitutional law, evidence, criminal procedure, and international law.

TLS: Could you briefly discuss your international law program, especially the dual degree with French and German universities?

We are very proud of Cornell Law School’s fine reputation in international law. It has always been the mission of the Law School to prepare students to succeed in a rapidly growing global environment. The result has been the development of a very rich international and comparative law curriculum, combined with a broad array of exchanges, overseas partnerships, and other programs around the world. Currently, we offer the opportunity to earn a Cornell J.D. and graduate law degree from three European partner institutions:

  • A J.D./Master en Droit is offered at The University of Paris I (Sorbonne). This is a four-year program that prepares graduates for admission to the bar in both the U.S. and France.
  • The other program offered in France is a J.D./Master in Global Business Law at the renowned Paris Institute of Political Studies (“Sciences Po”). This is a three-year program that offers a multi-disciplinary, European perspective on international law and business.
  • The J.D./Master of German and European Law and Practice (M.LL.P.) is offered at The Humboldt University of Berlin. This three-year program provides knowledge of German and European law at both an academic and practical level.

TLS: Could you briefly discuss your partnership with the School of Industrial and Labor Relations?

The ILR School (as we call it here) is one of the colleges that make up Cornell University and is one of the premier schools in the world in industrial and labor relations. The law school has formal and informal connections with the ILR School and many students take advantage of the possibilities. One of the formal relationships is through the Labor Law Clinic at Cornell Law School, which is directed by Professor Angela Cornell, who has held a joint appointment with the ILR School. As a former labor commissioner who has worked in international human rights, Professor Cornell brings real-world experience to the class room. Another important joint initiative is the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. Among its many activities and research projects is the training of mediators for both Law and ILR students.

TLS: Could you discuss your placement into corporate firms in the Midwest and the West Coast?

Cornell Law graduates can be found in every part of the U.S., and the Midwest and West Coast are no exception. The detailed statistics we publish on this are available on our website at Suffice it to say, our focus is less on what region they settle in (they literally spread out around the world), and more on what opportunities they pursue. While many of our graduates end up working for some of the best law firms in the nation, others pursue work for government agencies, not-for-profits, business, or in academia. Wherever they decide to live and work, they bring with them the values, skills, and ideals honed at Cornell Law School.

TLS: How does the law school plan to adjust to the recent economic crisis?

While I don’t want to minimize the current economic conditions, it is important to point out that Cornell Law School has been around since 1887. This law school and this university have weathered more difficult economic conditions than we find ourselves in today. What’s more, there is a proud tradition of philanthropy among Cornell Law School graduates. Like other top schools, we have had to tighten out financial belts in some ways, but we are fortunate that we have not had to take any steps that compromise the superb legal education we are known for. We are grateful to our graduates for their generosity and continued investment in Cornell Law School.

TLS: Could the recent economic crisis result in lower scholarships and grants being offered?

We have made a commitment that scholarships and grants for our students will not be affected. We want to continue our long tradition of attracting the very best students to Cornell Law School regardless of their financial situation.

TLS: Are there any new initiatives that you plan to undertake in the near future?

As always at a place like this, there are multiple initiatives underway. Allow me to tell you about two projects in particular that I believe will have a real impact on a national and global scale. The first is the Cornell E-Rulemaking Initiative which brings together faculty and students from several disciplines to consult with U.S. government agencies about how they research and formulate regulatory policy. Encouraged by the Obama administration’s openness to making governmental decision-making more transparent and accessible, several key government agencies are looking to the Cornell E-Rulemaking Initiative to help transition them into a 21st Century e-government model that likely will incorporate aspects of social networking as tools for gathering input from affected constituencies. I am very proud that Cornell Law School is helping lead the way in this groundbreaking endeavor.

Another project I’m very proud of is the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School. Through a grant from the Avon Foundation, Cornell Law School has established this new center to assist judges in enforcing international laws and national protections aimed at ending violence against women and children. The Center for Women and Justice will provide free legal research to judges around the world and provide online access to laws which protect women and children against violence. This center is part of a proud legacy at Cornell Law School, promoting justice, equality, and human rights.

Advice to Students

TLS: Could you elaborate upon what qualities Cornell is looking for when selecting its student body?

Cornell Law School attracts exceptional students with diverse backgrounds from throughout the U.S. and around the world. Beyond academic achievement, we look for well-rounded students who have pursued life outside the classroom in extracurricular, community, and volunteer activities. Cornell Law School prides itself on educating lawyers in the best sense. These are men and women passionate about the law, and equally passionate about serving and engaging with their communities. They are the kind of students we attract and cultivate at Cornell Law School.

TLS: Could you offer general advice to law school applicants?

When considering law schools, look for those schools whose programs match your academic goals and whose philosophy, academic culture, and values are in sync with your own. Law school is one of the biggest investments you will ever make. Take time to learn about the academic offerings, programs, faculty, students, and the environment of every law school to which you apply. Your overall goal is to find the school that will bring out your best as a student and as a person.

TLS: Why do you think students should choose Cornell over other top law schools?

Cornell Law School has some great advantages among the top law schools. Our Law School is part of Cornell University, a major research university with outstanding opportunities for inter-disciplinary study. Cornell University has the largest and most diverse academic offerings of all the Ivy League universities. What’s more, Cornell Law School has some of the most prolific scholars in legal education. Students enjoy exceptional access to these faculty, as Cornell Law School boasts one of the lowest faculty student ratios (10 to 1). We are one of the smallest of the top law schools, so you will get to know your fellow students and professors well. Finally, I believe that our emphasis on collegiality and quality of life sets Cornell Law School apart.

TLS: What qualities do you think students most appreciate about Cornell?

The campus itself is a draw for many students. It has often been said that Cornell University is one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. Students appreciate the beautiful surroundings and take advantage of the many outdoor opportunities. For many students, the lifestyle possibilities afforded by being in Ithaca will truly be a once in a lifetime experience.

As already mentioned, students are drawn to the collegial atmosphere of Cornell Law School. While the teaching is rigorous and challenging, students are encouraged to work and study as colleagues rather than competitors. This collegial environment also extends to student/faculty relationships. Students enjoy unusual access to faculty, enhancing their education and overall experience at Cornell Law School. The friendships that students make at Cornell often last a lifetime. Many students stay in touch with each other and with the law school long after they graduate and pursue legal careers in every corner of the globe.

TLS: What are your thoughts about the US News rankings?

I think you can only put so much weight on rankings. They can serve as a rough guide to students choosing a law school, but they ought not be the only guide. So much of the law school experience can’t be captured in rankings. Collegiality, access to faculty, and excellent teaching cannot be easily measured. When a student is deciding on an investment of this magnitude, he or she should not rely on rankings alone; but should carefully research each law school for themselves. Find out what programs are offered; learn about the faculty; visit the law school; talk to students, faculty, and graduates. Rankings may play a factor in determining which law school to attend, but I would counsel a prospective student to make an independent judgment, based on his or her own research and goals.

TLS: Is there any final advice you could give to members of the

This might surprise you, but my advice to incoming students is to enjoy law school. The intellectual puzzles of the law are fun. It goes without saying that you will study hard and spend many hours in the library. I would counsel you, however, to also make time to engage in the community of fellow students and faculty. Much of your education comes from intellectual and social engagement with colleagues and teachers. These relationships will enrich your law school experience, provide needed support, and often prove to be invaluable throughout life.

TLS: Dean Schwab, thank you once again for your time.