Dear Alumni and Friends:

Whenever I meet alumni, I try to ask about the faculty members who had the greatest impact on their lives, and time and again, people want to talk about Faust Rossi. Faust, who passed away in March, was a giant in legal education, famous for the sharpness of his intellect and the depth of his commitment to Cornell Law students (see article).

In an era when other schools relied almost exclusively on the Socratic method, Faust and the equally legendary Irving Younger quietly transformed the pedagogy of law. They humanized the teaching of trial advocacy, pioneering new, more compassionate ways to bring the courtroom into the classroom and establishing Cornell as a model for law schools around the world.

All these years later, that tradition is alive and well in Theodore Grossman, Thomas Heiden, George Higgins, Keir Weyble, and Michelle Whelan, teachers and practitioners who are using their real-world expertise in litigation to educate the current generation of Cornellians. With a solid foundation in the work of Rossi and Younger, the trial advocacy program remains one of our greatest strengths, teaching time-tested techniques that translate theoretical knowledge into compelling legal arguments.

Along with preparing students for successful careers in practice, and in the day-to-day craft of lawyering, these courses prepare them for success at trial, which requires a different skillset, one that’s part art and part science. As you’ll see in the cover story, Cornell Law excels at both, offering a broad-based trial advocacy program that balances hands-on, actionable skills—taking depositions, creating narratives, direct- and cross-examining witnesses, delivering opening and closing statements—with empirical research into judges, juries, and the psychology of judicial decisionmaking, all taught by indisputable leaders in their fields.

That kind of mastery, that passion for innovation, transforms every student who attends the program, and whether or not they choose a career in the courtroom, Trial Advocacy teaches them to communicate succinctly, listen deeply, structure arguments as stories, and think well on their feet. Reaching beyond the pages of a casebook, it trains them to put knowledge into action, take risks in their role as actors, and make the most persuasive, effective case on behalf of their client.

The trial advocacy program is just one of the ways we’ve supercharged our curriculum—not because hands-on learning is new and fashionable, and not because other schools are trying it, but because experience and innovation have always been the heart of our Cornell Law tradition. You’ll see that in the faculty essay by Valerie Hans and Jeff Rachlinski, who write about the ways psychology data can inform lawyers’ best practices at trial, and in the recollections of Stewart Schwab, who writes about hosting a pair of campus visits by his mentor, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

You’ll see that same commitment to tradition and innovation bearing witness in an article about Menachem Rosensaft’s new course on antisemitism, the Law School’s response to a growing crisis, and in a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Cornell Pro Bono Scholars (see article), the first program of its kind in the nation, which has become an enormously meaningful part of a Cornell Law education. You’ll see it in a memorial tribute to Rossi and in the return to campus of Greg Barnhart, who studied with both Rossi and Younger before launching an extraordinarily successful career as a plaintiff’s attorney (see article).

There’s a story about Irving Younger, who had terrible stage fright, getting ready to give a speech in front of a full house. Clearly, public speaking didn’t come naturally to him, but as he rose from his seat and strode to the front of the room, he willed himself into becoming the person we think of as Irving Younger, a brilliant speaker with complete command of his material and of the audience.

In that moment, Younger transformed into the person he needed to be, just as he’d taught his students to do in court, and just as we still do. It’s a lesson that continues to resonate, and as we approach another Commencement, I look forward to celebrating the transformational power of a Cornell Law education.

In community,

Jens David Ohlin
Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law