Dean Limelight: Anthony Crowell, New York Law School


Anthony-CrowellAnthony Crowell often refers to New York Law School as “New York’s law school.” The moniker is derived less from location than from a history of educating some of the city’s most influential citizens. The school’s president and dean since 2012, Crowell himself has long been a quietly influential figure in New York City government.

From 1997 to 2002, he served as assistant corporation counsel in the city Law Department’s Tax & Condemnation and Legal Counsel Divisions handling complex litigation, advising on constitutional questions, and drafting legislation and regulations for the mayor and city agencies. He turned in 2001 to assisting the families of the 9/11 attack victims as he directed the World Trade Center Death Certificate Program and was counsel at the city’s Family Assistance Center. He later served Mayor Michael Bloomberg as special counsel from 2002 to 2006 and counselor until 2012.

After sitting steps away from Bloomberg for more than decade, Crowell traded one of the toughest public sector lawyering jobs in America for what has become one of the toughest jobs in higher education – dean at a small independent law school. Speaking in a telephone interview and emails, Crowell said he came well prepared.

“Working at a high level of city government and closely on the ground with the city’s legal community gave me an informed set of perspectives on the economy and legal marketplace,” Crowell said. “I also came with strategies learned from helping to build the mayor’s hybrid government and business management model, and a network of contacts willing to help me reintroduce New York Law School as New York’s law school.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a J.D. from American University, Crowell managed the government affairs and policy committee at the Washington-based International City/County Management Association from 1992 to 1997. He began his formal association with New York Law School as adjunct faculty in 2003.

Crowell still is an active member of the city’s civic community.  He serves as a mayoral appointee on the city’s ethics board, known as the Conflicts of Interest Board; the executive committees of the Boards of the Brooklyn Public Library (where he was previously the chair) and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; and the board of the Citizens Union Foundation, a good-government advocacy organization.

LAWDRAGON: What drew you to legal academia and to New York Law School?

ANTHONY CROWELL: This job is challenging, but it has been incredibly fulfilling at the same time. I have the opportunity to lead, teach, strategize, coach, manage and mentor. And that’s what drew me here. Before becoming dean, I was involved with New York Law School for almost a decade as an adjunct professor. I hired, managed and mentored many of its graduates in my previous role as Counselor to Mayor Bloomberg and, before that, in my other roles in government. This law school’s grads are among the best lawyers and leaders I’ve worked with, so going from working for what I consider the greatest city in the world to working at one of New York City’s greatest law schools was a natural progression.

It also presented an opportunity. I believe it is critical that our profession begin to place equal value on traditional and what I call neo-traditional jobs performed by those with legal educations. Lawyers are a driving force in business, government and the nonprofit sector, and we need to ensure that our law schools prepare students for these roles, and that our profession values these contributions. Law schools generally and this law school in particular can help teach these skills through project-based learning, clinics and other experiential offerings.

The profession and law schools are undergoing historic and exciting changes. The ability to be on the cutting edge of designing innovative programs, supporting extraordinary scholarship, and working with a great faculty to shape the next 125 years of New York Law School’s role as a leader in legal education — that drew me here.

LD: What distinguishes New York Law from other law schools?

AC:  I believe we have an educational program that is second to none in equipping students with the substantive legal knowledge and skills that are critical to becoming a good lawyer. What puts us heads and shoulders above other schools, however, is that when our students leave here they have the qualities and real-world experiences that employers are craving: leadership, professionalism and the ability to contribute to a team, to manage and deliver on projects, and to communicate effectively. Our project-based learning, clinics and other experiential offerings enable us to do this like no other because of our location in the heart of New York City’s legal, government, technology and financial districts.

We say “We are New York’s law school” for a number of reasons. Most significant is the incredible and rich diversity of our student body and our commitment to ensuring a diverse profession by supporting every member of our school’s community. That’s what we pride ourselves on at New York Law, where we have been recognized as having among the most diverse law school communities. Indeed, a culture that supports and celebrates diversity allows us to appreciate our differences and acknowledge our commonality while helping us work together to attain shared goals.

We all benefit from an inclusiveness that is fundamental to society. That’s why this past year we issued a new Institutional Diversity Plan that embraces this commitment and sets out a bold path to achieve these ends throughout the school, starting with our new Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Our enviable location also distinguishes us from other schools. The school has always leveraged its prime location and its long history of being a place that has graduated some of the city’s most influential leaders. Our connections to the city’s legal, government, technology and financial sectors – which are driving the economy locally and globally – run deep. This city is our campus and we’ve built a first-rate learning facility at the center of it all. Cited as one of the 50 most impressive academic buildings in the world, it takes advantage of everything our location has to offer. It is a physical representation of the standards and philosophy we’ve established for teaching and collaboration.

This building’s express purpose is to encourage student engagement with each other and the community around us. The building reflects our vision that the physical environment plays a huge role in learning, whether in the classroom, library or spaces for meeting and collaborating. It’s a privilege to walk through the front doors every morning. There is a great energy coursing through the place.

This summer we will complete our construction by opening a new Center for Clinical and Experiential Learning. Just steps away from the courts, 26 Federal Plaza, city and state agencies and Legal Aid, it will house all of our clinics and will be located at ground level so that clients can easily access it.

We have six flourishing Academic Centers, including the Impact Center for Public Interest Law, the Center for New York City Law, the Innovation Center and the Center for Business and Financial Law, all of which combine legal studies and real-world opportunities. They are designed to align with practice areas that are major areas of economic growth in New York City and beyond, and serve as valued resources to all these key sectors.

I can’t say enough about our incredible faculty, who are deeply committed to the success of their students. We have Nadine Strossen, who was the first woman to head the American Civil Liberties Union and was twice named one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” by The National Law Journal. She has written, lectured and practiced extensively in the areas of constitutional law, civil liberties and international human rights for four decades. We recently appointed her John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, a chair named in honor of the Supreme Court Justice, an alumnus. Also in the forefront of international human rights law is Ruti Teitel, whose scholarship on the topic of transitional justice has garnered widespread acclaim.

There’s Ed Purcell, one of the foremost authorities on the history of the Supreme Court, who was recently honored with the Outstanding Scholar Award by the American Bar Foundation. Deborah Archer, our dean for diversity and inclusion, is the co-director of the Impact Center for Public Interest Law and founder of our renowned Racial Justice Project, which has been a leading voice on critical constitutional and civil rights issues.

As for Lenni Benson, she’s just a dynamo. She is the founder and director of the Safe Passage Immigration Project, which provides representation for unaccompanied minors in the immigration process. She is a passionate leader in the field of immigration law, and dedicates an enormous amount of time and energy – inside and outside the classroom – to pro bono efforts aimed at helping immigrant youth.

Art Leonard is a pioneer in the struggle for LGBT rights, who has been instrumental in chronicling the legal victories and setbacks for the lesbian and gay community with his publication of the widely respected Lesbian/Gay Law Notes. That’s just to name a few of the many talented scholars and teachers with whom I’m fortunate enough to work.

As the economy diversifies, we are adapting curricula and experiential learning opportunities in ways that prepare students to enter new fields with the skills, innovative thinking and the confidence they need to succeed. To support this goal, we doubled our clinical opportunities and now provide 26 different program choices. The National Jurist recently ranked these practical training programs No. 1 in New York and No. 13 in the nation. It also ranked our clinical year program as one of the most innovative.

The clinical year draws its strengths from the medical school model, placing students in three full-time placements, each lasting nine weeks, over the course of the academic year. We place nearly 100 students a year in judges’ chambers as part of our judicial externship program. We place nearly 200 students a year with non-judicial legal employers, offering them the opportunity to receive credit and invaluable practical experience. I believe New York Law School does this as well as any school around.

The school has innovation in its DNA. Throughout our history we’ve always been forward thinking, anticipating the needs of the legal marketplace and the direction of legal education. At our founding nearly 125 years ago, we started one of the nation’s first evening programs for people who were working and raising families, a program that has been part of our core legal offerings and a highly desired option for those who otherwise would have been unable to get a law degree.

This year we took the next step in the evolution of legal education, launching one of the nation’s first accelerated two-year programs to give students an extraordinary academic experience in a shorter amount of time. Our innovation goes even further than other schools, as we’ve structured this as an honors program allowing us to reduce the cost of tuition by at least a third through a guaranteed $50,000 merit scholarship for every student.

We welcomed the inaugural class on Jan. 5, 2015. We have students with undergraduate degrees from Columbia, New York University, Harvard and the University of Michigan. Several come with postgraduate degrees; some also have professional experience as entrepreneurs, in government and on Wall Street.

LD: What are your main challenges and how are you meeting them?

AC: I like to think in terms of inputs and outputs. The quality of the input is critical and drives our success and that’s why we put a great deal of strategic thought, care and effort into the education we provide, and are constantly working to refine and evaluate how we do that. Indeed, our new Strategic Plan and annual Outcomes reports are being held up as models by other law schools that are using them as they plan their futures.

At the end of the day, every one of our outputs has to enable our graduates to think consciously and critically, and to compete in today’s job market. When I talk to employers, they tell me that they are not only looking for bright and talented go-getters, but that they also have more specific traits in mind. They want team players, people who hit the ground running, communicate effectively – in other words, people who demonstrate certain competencies from the start.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen how lawyers bring a great deal to the table across every sector of the economy. Opportunity is a big theme in my mentoring conversations with students. I want them to see opportunity every place they look. This is New York City. There isn’t a sector of the economy that isn’t represented here and many are set to grow over the next several decades. We are focused on those areas: intellectual property, media, technology and the applied sciences; business and financial services; government and public interest. This drives the framework for our curriculum and instills an understanding of the interrelated and interdependent nature of these areas of law, thus providing students with a truly unique perspective on the diverse and rich playing field of opportunities out there.

It’s my job to help them figure out who they are as leaders and professionals, to help them uncover all the places where they can take their talents and contribute, and to be indispensable in all they do. Our alums are succeeding in firms of all sizes as well as in government, financial services, technology firms, pharmaceutical corporations and leading nonprofit organizations and we have a laser-like focus on continuing to provide pathways to all these industries.

LD: Do you see trends in the jobs your students take?

AC: Yes. There is a clear trend that is moving the “lawyer” away from the historic roles in law firm or government and nonprofit settings, and creating many diverse opportunities that again I define as “neo-traditional.” Not only do we have more graduates working in businesses, financial services, health care and the tech and IP fields, but we also have more graduates who are entrepreneurs, using their legal education as they start businesses.

LD: What do you do when you’re not being dean?

AC: I don’t get a lot of free time away from the school. I do work hard to keep up with exercise, however, as I did when I was at City Hall. I’m up early to read the papers, tend to e-mails that came in overnight and then hit the gym by 6:30 most mornings.

Exercise maintains a healthier mind and body, and can be an important, productive outlet to channel daily stress. That’s why I’ve tried to bring this ethos to the law school. We’ve introduced healthier options in the cafeteria and vending machines. We offer fitness, health and wellness counseling, and build groups for runs and walks. Balance and taking the time to recharge is important; I admit that I don’t always succeed, but I don’t stop trying. And for me personally, as I am a bit of a foodie, working out allows me to enjoy all that New York City has to offer.

Being engaged civically is very important to me and has been invaluable in helping me grow as a leader and broaden my perspectives in every facet of my work. It also has been a way for me to get out there and go to New York City’s amazingly diverse neighborhoods. I never tire of the incredible cultural offerings found in every corner of the city.

Contact Margot Slade at (914) 396-4248 or