The Next Generation of Legends: Endowed Chair Positions Attract Top Talent to the Law School

by Eileen Korey

For most scholars working in law, a named professorship or endowed chair position represents a momentous professional achievement, the culmination of decades of study, research, publication, and teaching. “For an academic, it’s the coin of the realm, and its importance cannot be overstated,” says Jens David Ohlin, Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law.  

These positions can be just as valuable for law schools, enabling them to attract and retain the highest-profile scholars and classroom instructors—leaders in their fields.

Furnishing Cornell Law with a diverse and exemplary suite of these endowed positions is one goal of the Law School’s participation in the To Do the Greatest Good capital campaign. Inspired by founder Ezra Cornell’s desire “to do the greatest good,” this university-wide effort seeks to maintain and develop Cornell as an educational beacon, a source of solutions, and a bridge to the world.

“Alumni generosity is making a tremendous difference, not just today, but in ways that will endure for decades to come,” says Shawn Gavin, associate dean of Alumni Affairs and Development. “Faculty chairs are an important example. These extraordinary gifts enable us to recruit—and keep—the very best faculty, worthy successors to the giants of legal education who taught generations of great Cornell lawyers. Can anything be more fundamental to the excellence of this institution?”

Endowed chairs occupy a special place in his vision for the Law School, as they will be the essential building blocks of an expanded curriculum and scholarly profile in important areas of study like environmental law, intellectual property, and tech law. Cornell is poised to become a recognized leader in these areas, just as it is in empirical legal studies and business law.

A slate of endowed chairs added since the start of the campaign has already begun to fulfill this vision.

On the horizon are a planned five more over the next five years.

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Ohlin says the most exciting aspect of the upcoming chair positions is that they provide “the ability to establish leadership in new areas of the law while continuing our excellence in traditional fields of law where we have always excelled. There is an important legacy for us to live up to—the legacy established by the prior generation of Cornell ‘giants’ who taught our students over the last sixty years.”

His vision includes recruiting leaders in immigration law, First Amendment Law, environmental law, Native American law, and election/voting rights law. “These are fields that I have identified as important areas of scholarly growth for the Law School faculty,” he says, “either because they are currently underrepresented on our faculty or because we have strength in that area but would like to upgrade our offerings to obtain national leadership in that field.”

He adds that he’s also enthusiastic about general-interest professorships designed to recognize excellence in any field. “These are essential as I continue my work to attract and recruit the next generation of Cornell legends in the classroom.”

Chairs Created in the To Do the Greatest Good Campaign

In Fall 2018, Valerie Hans became the inaugural holder of the Charles F. Rechlin Professorship, endowed by long-time friend of the school Charlie Rechlin, A.B. ’67, J.D. ’71. Hans conducts empirical studies of law and the courts and is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the jury system. Trained as a social scientist, she has carried out extensive research and lectured around the globe on juries and jury reforms as well as the uses of social science in law.

“Becoming a chaired professor is the very top of the professional ladder for those of us in academia,” says Hans. “I am honored and thrilled to receive this position and deeply grateful to Charles Rechlin for the generosity that made this chaired professorship possible.” Hans is coeditor of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, past president of the Law and Society Association, and a member of the American Law Institute. She is the author or editor of ten books and over 150 research articles.

In June 2019, Hans joined other law professors and social scientists in submitting an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on jury unanimity (Ramos v. Louisiana). The Court’s 2020 Ramos decision cited her work.

Rechlin is a former partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, where he built a distinguished career in corporate and securities law spanning more than thirty years. The Rechlin professorship, effectively an advance on a bequest, is the latest gift from Rechlin. In 2000, he established the Charles F. Rechlin Scholarship, awarded annually at the discretion of the dean, with preference given to students who have demonstrated an interest in business and financial law.

Saule Omarova, a leading expert in regulation of financial institutions, banking law, international finance, and corporate finance, became the inaugural Beth and Marc Goldberg Professor of Law in 2019. She is the director of the Jack Clarke Program on the Law and Regulation of Financial Institutions and Markets at the Law School and a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

“Being the inaugural Beth and Marc Goldberg Chair is both an incredible honor and a great responsibility,” says Omarova. “I am very grateful to Beth and Marc for their generosity and support, which made my work more meaningful and joyful.”

She adds, “I love that I am always learning new things, engaging with new ideas, and interacting with young minds. This job keeps my mind sharp and my heart hopeful.”

Before joining Cornell Law School in 2014, Omarova was the George R. Ward Associate Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Prior to joining academia, she practiced law in the financial institutions group of Davis, Polk, & Wardwell, a premier New York law firm, where she specialized in a wide variety of corporate transactions and advisory work in the area of financial regulation. During 2006–07, she served at the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a special advisor for regulatory policy to the under-secretary for domestic finance. Omarova earned a J.D. at Northwestern University School of Law and a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Wisconsin.

“The standard view of finance is that it is an area where statistical modeling and high-level economic theories define the right outcomes,” says Omarova. “I wish more people realized that, in practice, finance is not simply a technical area: it is an inherently political and deeply normative matter.”

In addition to her teaching, Omarova is currently working on a series of articles exploring, from a systemic perspective, the regulatory challenges posed by the new financial technologies, known as “fintech.”

Marc Goldberg LLB ’67 and his wife Beth have been among Cornell Law School’s leading donors for more than two decades and continue to support a range of funds in addition to the Goldberg Professorship, including a Dean’s Scholarship, the Stewart and Norman Schwab Scholarship, the Law School Class of 1967 Scholarship, the Law School Annual Fund, and the Frederic H. Weisberg Prize for Constitutional Law. Marc Goldberg is formerly senior advisor to Wasserstein & Company and was previously senior vice president at Phillip Morris Companies.

Chantal Thomas, a leading scholar of international law and political economy, was named the inaugural Radice Family Professor of Law in 2019. The professorship was established by gifts from Anthony “Tony” M. Radice A.B. ’66, J.D. ’79 and his wife, Patricia Crown.

Thomas, whose research explores how international law and trade can lead to global social justice, teaches in the areas of law and development and international economic law. She is also vice dean and director of the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa.

Prior to joining Cornell, Thomas chaired the Law Department of the American University in Cairo and also served on the University of Minnesota and Fordham University law faculties. She has been a visiting professor teaching international economic law at institutions such as Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, the Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London, and Soochow University in China.

Thomas has consulted for the USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Affairs, and she has served on the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Law, and as vice president and a member of the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law. She received her Ph.D. in law from the University of Cambridge and her J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Thomas focuses her scholarship on the relationship between international law, political economy, and global social justice in a variety of contexts, with a focus on international trade and international migration. Through the Clarke Initiative, she organized numerous interdisciplinary meetings on some of the most challenging issues of the day, from human rights to modernization, post-colonialism, global legal education, and competition for natural resources.

Tony Radice was a longtime partner of Morrison & Foerster in the firm’s New York City office and practiced intellectual property law. He argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the patent-antitrust case that determined the limits of patent jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit. He also served as an adjunct professor for the Law School for many years. Patricia Crown was a solo practitioner in entertainment law, with a particular focus in theater, film, publishing, and copyright.

In 2017, James Grimmelmann was hired as the first full-time professor for Cornell Law School and Cornell Tech’s new Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. In 2020, Grimmelmann achieved another first, becoming the inaugural Tessler Family Professor of Digital and Information Law. The new professorship is the gift of Frances G. Tessler, A.B. ’59, and Allan R. Tessler, A.B. ’58, LL.B. ’63, among Cornell Law School’s greatest benefactors.

“Holding an endowed chair has helped me to work with computer scientists to build an interpreter for future interests, draft a copyright license for NFTs, and host a workshop on generative AI and law,” says Grimmelmann.

A former Microsoft programmer, Grimmelmann studies how laws regulating software affect freedom, wealth, and power. He helps lawyers and technologists understand each other, applying ideas from computer science to problems in law and vice versa.

“What we are trying to do is take the students from being lawyers to being tech lawyers,” says Grimmelmann about the Cornell Tech LL.M. For this to happen, he notes, “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.”

Prior to joining Cornell, Grimmelmann served as a professor of law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. He previously taught at New York Law School and the Georgetown University Law Center. After earning his J.D. from Yale Law School, he served as a law clerk to the Honorable Maryanne Trump Barry of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and then as a resident fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale.

Grimmelmann is the author of the casebook Internet Law: Cases and Problems, now in its thirteenth edition, and of over sixty scholarly articles and essays. He has written for Slate, Salon, Wired, Ars Technica, and Publishers Weekly. He is also a regular source of expert commentary for major news media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and All Things Considered. He and his students created the Public Index website to inform the public about the Google Books settlement.

Named Foremost Benefactors of Cornell, a title reserved for the most transformative of the university’s alumni, the Tesslers have contributed abundantly to the Law School over the years in time, counsel, endowments, and sponsorships. Allan Tessler is one of just two Life Members of the Law School Advisory Council.

Richard Cole ’76 and Lois Cole established this professorial chair in 2020. The Cole Professor is a distinguished member of the Law School’s faculty, or a prominent teacher-scholar to be recruited externally, with a preference for expertise and distinction in the field of Anglo-American legal history. The inaugural chair holder was Aziz Rana, a leading scholar of constitutional law. The process of appointing his successor is underway.

Richard Cole was a partner at Mayer Brown, with a practice focused on international banking and capital markets. He worked in the firm’s London office for twenty-five years and served as managing partner of that officer for a decade.

Cole recalls that when he spoke to then-dean Eduardo Peñalver, the dean “… explained the significance of chairs at law schools (including Cornell Law) and how it is different from tenure. He noted that recruiting and retaining the kind of people we want at the Law School required not just tenure but also chairs, which are understood to be an important public acknowledgement of those who are distinguished in the legal profession and expected to be long term leaders at the Law School. This was a revelation to me and I knew then that I wanted to help the Law School by establishing a chair.”

Also arising from the To Do the Greatest Good campaign is the Gearns-Russo Family Faculty Fellowship, created to help recognize, recruit, and retain up-and-coming junior faculty. The fellowship is currently held by assistant professor Eleanor Wilking.

Wilking studies the intersection of tax policy and employment law through the lens of law and economics. Her research interests include tax administration, particularly questions concerning individual income and consumption tax structuring, distribution, and compliance.

Her current research focuses on tax compliance questions raised by the proliferation of digital platform firms and accompanying changes in self-employment earnings of independent contractors. She received her J.D. (2015) and Ph.D. in Economics (2018) from the University of Michigan.

Mary Gail Gearns ’85 and David Russo, A.B. ’82, J.D. ’85 are longtime leaders and benefactors of Cornell Law School. Among their many involvements, Mary Gail chaired the Law Dean’s Advisory Council from 2019 to 2023 and David co-chaired the Dean’s Special Leadership Committee for over five years. Mary Gail recently retired from the firm of Morgan Lewis, where she was co-leader of the litigation practice in the New York office. She is now a director and chair of the Wahl Clipper Corporation. David’s career spanned a variety of legal practice settings. He is currently president of Ajax Investors.