Women in Law at NYLS and Beyond
Women have played a profound role in shaping New York Law School’s program of legal education for decades—especially since the School became coeducational years before most other law schools. With deeply impactful women as faculty leaders, extremely influential alumnae who are at the top of their profession, and a student body compromised of 62 percent women—the most of any private school in New York State—it’s clear why Princeton Review named NYLS as a go-to school for women.
“Women at NYLS are leading in every conceivable way. They are advancing bold ideas through innovative scholarship and teaching, creating change through strategic advocacy, and serving as an engine of inspiration to new lawyers everywhere dedicated to justice each day,” says Dean and President Anthony W. Crowell. “They distinguish our School and have a groundbreaking effect on the world around us.”
Look no further than the work of our distinguished faculty.
Ernst C. Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law Ruti G. Teitel authored the path-breaking book Transitional Justice and is the founding co-chair of the American Society of International Law, Interest Group on Transitional Justice and Rule of Law. Professor Teitel is also a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the International Law Association Human Rights Law Committee. John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, Emerita Nadine Strossen was the first woman to serve as President of the American Civil Liberties Union (1991–2008). She is a leading expert and frequent speaker/media commentator on constitutional law and civil liberties who has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. She serves on the advisory boards of the ACLU and several other human rights organizations. Professor Rebecca Roiphe, Joseph Solomon Distinguished Professor of Law and Co-Dean for Faculty Scholarship, is a frequent voice in national media, where she discusses her many areas of expertise and scholarship, including the role of prosecutors in American democracy and the President’s relationship to the Department of Justice. Professor Ann F. Thomas, Otto L. Walter Distinguished Professor of Tax Law and Director of the Graduate Tax Program, does critical work as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the African American Policy Forum. Professor Penelope Andrews, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law and Director of the Racial Justice Project, received an honorary degree from Franklin University in Switzerland in recognition of her work and commitment to social justice and human rights and is currently writing a book on the #MeToo movement.
Professor Lenni B. Benson, Distinguished Chair in Immigration and Human Rights Law and Founder and Senior Advisor of the Safe Passage Project leads the project to recruit, train, and mentor attorneys to assist unaccompanied youth who are facing deportation. She works with Afghan and Ukrainian refugees to assist them with their legal processes. Professor Kris Franklin, Wallace Stevens Professor of Law; Director, Academic Initiatives; Co-Director of the Initiative for Excellence in Law Teaching; and Co-Advisor of the Dispute Resolution Team is an expert in legal pedagogy and experiential learning and a national leader in the field of academic preparedness. Her scholarship focuses on the rhetoric of legal decision-making and on legal pedagogy. Professor Molly Guptill Manning was recently appointed Associate Professor of Law and is a New York Times bestselling author of three books: The Myth of Ephraim Tutt: Arthur Train and His Great Literary Hoax, When Books Went to War, and The Best-Read Army in the World. Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Information Services, and Director of the Mendik Library Camille Broussard leads our robust research services, and as a dedicated member of the law librarian community, was honored by the American Association of Law Libraries. Lester Martin Professor of Law Tamara C. Belinfanti’s scholarship focuses on corporate governance system design and the relationship between corporations and communities. She co-founded the Ethical Shareholder Initiative, a nonprofit that seeks to revolutionize share voting to create a more sustainable corporate system.
The list of distinction goes on.
Professor Kim Hawkins, Stephen Ellmann Director of Clinical and Experiential Learning and Co-Director of the nationally recognized Housing Justice Leadership Institute, leads our robust experiential learning programs, which include externships, clinics, simulations courses, and so much more. Professor Lynn Boepple Su, Professor of Law, is a tireless leader in our advocacy and writing programs and is pioneering work in mindfulness and mental health in the legal profession. Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Asylum Clinic Claire R. Thomas ’11 was awarded a Fulbright Garcia-Robles U.S. Scholar Grant in Law to conduct research in Mexico in the 2020–21 academic year. As a Visiting Professor at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO) in Guadalajara, Mexico, she researched long-term solutions for asylum-seekers from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East who became stranded in Mexico due to changes in U.S. and Mexican migration policies. Professor of Law Gowri J. Krishna is an expert on immigrant-owned worker cooperatives and leads the Nonprofit and Small Business Clinic, which is currently advocating for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, among other clients.
Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Civil Rights and Disability Justice Clinic Britney Wilson is a fierce advocate and lauded writer. Under her leadership, the Civil Rights and Disability Justice Clinic secured a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. Associate Professor of Law Lisa F. Grumet directs the Diane Abbey Law Institute for Children and Families of the Wilf Impact Center for Public Interest Law and works with students and American Bar Association (ABA) officials as Faculty Editor in Chief of the Family Law Quarterly. Associate Professor of Law Anna G. Cominsky ’05 is the supervising attorney for the New York Law School Criminal Defense Clinic, where she works with students to protect the rights of indigent defendants. Among her other duties, she teaches Advocacy of Criminal Cases and is an advisor to the Jewish Law Students Association. She recently traveled to the Frei University of Berlin to present on American criminal law and procedure. Professor of Law Susan J. Abraham is pioneering restorative justice at NYLS—she created and teaches restorative justice courses, is a trained Circle Facilitator and Peacemaker, and is the faculty advisor of the NYLS Restorative Justice Law Student Association.
Professor Susan H. Joffe, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, is an expert on employment law and serves as a judge for the American Society of Legal Writers’ Brief Writing Contest for Scribes. Visiting Professor of Law Victoria Eastus practiced employment and labor law for many years before joining NYLS, including representing the plaintiffs in Hartman v. Duffey, the largest Title VII class action lawsuit against the United States. Assistant Professor of Law Melynda Barnhart’s scholarship focuses on ground-level responses to human trafficking in the United States. A tireless advocate, she previously served as the Director of Anti-Trafficking Initiatives for the International Rescue Committee, where she oversaw a national service program that assisted more than 200 trafficking survivors in rebuilding their lives. Professor of Legal Writing and Faculty Publisher of the New York Law School Law Review Michelle Zierler was previously an entertainment attorney and journalist. Since 2010, Professor Zierler has served as the Director of the Program in Law and Journalism and edited Legal As She Is Spoke (LASIS), a lauded blog written by NYLS students.
Gaynor Cunningham, Acting Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic, represents a number of clients on post-conviction claims of innocence. Before joining NYLS, Professor Cunningham represented clients charged with all classes of felonies and misdemeanors as a public defender, and joined the Legal Aid Society to litigate Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment issues. Prior to entering academia, Elizabeth Valentin, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Elder Law Clinic, centered her practice primarily on assisting clients preserve their right of self-determination in the face of disability and advanced age. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the New York State Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Planning Section. The teaching of Anne Goldstein, Professor of Law and Director of the First-Year Legal Skills Program, emphasizes pro bono legal service. She received the Connecticut Bar Association’s 2007 Pro Bono Award and the University of Connecticut Public Interest Law Group’s first annual Cornelius J. Scanlon Award for her work “encouraging the practice of public interest law.”
Assistant Professor of Law Salihah R. Denman focuses her practice on Appellate Advocacy in the areas of general family law, child welfare, juvenile delinquency/PINS, and civil litigation. Professor Denman is certified as an Attorney for the Child in the First, Second, and Third Judicial Departments and as Assigned Counsel in Family Court in the First and Second Judicial Departments. Assistant Professor of Law Larken Kade worked as an Assistant District Attorney at the New York County District Attorney’s Office (DANY) for almost 15 years, where she handled a wide range of criminal cases, including street crimes, identity theft cases, sex crimes, and domestic violence cases.
Professor Samantha Pownall ’11, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Education Law and Policy Institute, focuses her scholarship and instruction on administrative hearings, advocacy campaigns, special education law, school liability, holistic client representation, juvenile justice, civil rights and constitutional issues in education law. Assistant Professor of Law Claudine Caracciolo served as an Assistant District Attorney at the New York County District Attorney’s Office (DANY) for over 10 years, where she handled a wide range of criminal cases including street crimes, domestic violence cases, sex crimes cases, and economic crimes cases.
This list—while by no means exhaustive—showcases a slice of the work women are doing at NYLS and beyond.
Spotlight on NYLS Alumnae
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we spoke to NYLS alumnae to hear their experiences.
Meryl R. Lieberman ’81
Meryl R. Lieberman ’81 is a founding partner at Traub Lieberman, NYLS trustee, and NYLS adjunct professor. She has had major impact in insurance law and has been a tireless advocate of her clients over a decades-long career. She is also the Chair of the Litigation Section of the NYLS Venable Summer Simulation Program. Lieberman works with the School’s First Generation Professionals student organization, and she plays an critical role in the School’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
“While working closely with NYLS’s First Generation Professionals student organization, I was able to see the ways in which underrepresented individuals can be valued in legal education,” she says. “As a woman in law, I was fortunate to have experienced the excellence of NYLS as a student and trustee, and I now serve on the adjunct faculty. Under the leadership of Dean Crowell, NYLS provides not only quality education and training of our law students but fosters the community of spirit that leads to successful and rewarding careers for everyone—regardless of their identity.”
Marylee Jenkins ’91
Marylee Jenkins ’91 is one of only a handful of senior female intellectual property (IP) lawyers in the New York market. She is a partner at ArentFox Schiff, where she manages an ever-growing book of business representing numerous clients from diverse industries around the world regarding IP litigation and strategy, portfolio enforcement and management, and technology development, licensing, and protection. In recognition of her IP expertise, Jenkins is continuously named a leading lawyer by Chambers USA, Legal500 US, and World Trademark Review. She also received a “preeminent” rating from Martindale-Hubbell again this year for being peer-rated for maintaining the highest level of professional excellence.
In the IP legal field, Jenkins has been a longtime champion and continues to act as a forerunner paving the path toward greater gender equality. She continues to set an example and open doors for other women lawyers by leading diversity initiatives across multiple organizations, boards, and businesses. Of special note, she was the second woman named Chairperson of the USPTO’s Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) as well as the second woman to be elected President of the New York Intellectual Property Law Association (NYIPLA). She was also the third woman to serve as Chairperson of the American Bar Association’s Section of IP Law (ABA IPL) and is now serving a second term as Chairperson of the Section’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force. She was also recently named a Trustee for the Foundation for Advancement of Diversity in IP Law and is serving a second year as a committee member of 50/50 Women on Boards’ New York Committee.
“As someone who joined the profession when there were very few women in the IP law field, I’ve seen first-hand the direct benefits that women and other diverse individuals bring to the table,” Jenkins says. “That is why I have dedicated so much of my time to mentoring and supporting women and people of diverse backgrounds—together, we will build a stronger future for those of us in IP law and the legal profession.”
Terri L. Adler ’96
Terri L. Adler ’96 is Duval & Stachenfeld, LLP’s Managing Partner, where she oversees one of the largest real estate industry-focused firms in New York City. In addition to founding the firm, she served on the management committee and as the chair of the real estate department for many years before moving into the Managing Partner role in 2019. Adler also founded the firm’s women’s initiative and the DEI initiative, and she serves as a mentor to women both inside and outside of the firm. She was named one of the top 100 female lawyers in New York City in Crain’s New York’s 2018 and 2022 lists, which recognizes women for illustrious careers, civic dedication, and philanthropy. She is regularly featured on other lists, including New York’s Super Lawyers in real estate and Top 50 Women Attorneys in New York.
“Working in a law firm is a challenging job, but I never had an issue with the actual legal work,” she says. “What took me a while was developing the soft skills. I was always putting my head down and plowing through walls. It wasn't until I had children that I gained a real sense of how impactful I was to those around me (as foolish as that sounds)—and I saw the importance of slowing down, listening more, and making room. Even as a managing partner, I still devote significant time to transactional work, but the time I spend on other activities—from managing to mentoring to business development—is where I get the most personal and professional fulfillment. What I love the most is helping someone else both figure out and reach for their best and highest purpose.”
Lydia Payne-Johnson ’96 Evening
Lydia Payne-Johnson ’96 is a security and privacy expert currently serving as the Director, IT Security, Identity Management, and Risk at the George Washington University. She also is an adjunct professor at NYLS teaching Privacy Law. She has held C-level security and privacy positions at Freddie Mac, CIT Group, Verispan, and Morgan Stanley, among other leadership positions. She has published ample scholarship about privacy-related topics, including AI, regulatory compliance, and data.
“When you get into law, you have a tendency to be very narrowly focused: I want to go to a law firm. I want to be an associate one day, make partner, I want to practice real estate law. I want to practice tax law. I don’t knock that,” she says. “But I do think that we shortchange ourselves by not looking at what is the world out there. What are you bringing to the table that might enhance where you go? These days, with new technology, there are so many more opportunities, and you can be so creative with it. You can be a pioneer in your field. You can be the first.”
Julie Muniz ’97
Julie Muniz ’97 is a Partner at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, where she practices immigration law. She particularly enjoys helping companies leverage innovative immigration strategies to advance their business goals and objectives. Muniz is also on the Board of Directors for Neighbor’s Link, an organization committed to building stronger communities through immigrant empowerment and integration. She was honored by Crain’s New York in 2022 as a Hispanic Business Leader and by NYLS at its 2018 annual gala as a leader in immigration.
“I often reflect on how much the legal field has changed since I started practicing law over 25 years ago,” she says. “Women now make up over 50% of law school students, so law firms must promote women to every level of leadership in order to attract and retain top talent. In addition, COVID-19 has enabled remote working on a scale and at a speed that would have been unthinkable prior to 2020, and this has a particularly positive impact on women in the legal field. There is tremendous opportunity for women to grow and lead in law, so we must strive to hire, mentor, and promote women of all backgrounds. I am fortunate to work with incredibly smart, funny, strong women who support and encourage women at all levels. Together, we continue to challenge and change the legal profession for the better.”
Holly R. Lake ’99
Holly R. Lake is a Partner at DLA Piper, where she specializes in employment practices and employment litigation. She is also currently a faculty member and program director at the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. Lake previously held positions at the Miller Law Group, Paul Hastings, and Foley & Lardner LLP. She was honored by the Los Angeles Daily Journal as a Top Labor and Employment Lawyer in 2022 and 2021, the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of 2020’s Top Minority Attorneys, and the Century City Bar Association as 2020 Labor and Employment Lawyer of the Year.
“Women, especially Black women, are still a very much underrepresented group in the legal field. As a litigator, I am reminded of this fact every time I enter a courtroom,” she says. “As a partner in a large international law firm, I’m reminded on a daily basis. So what do I do with this? It can be disheartening if you just live with it and accept it as a fact. Instead, it motivates me. It motivates me to find and embrace different networking strategies, engage with other women to develop and refine leadership skills, be creative in identifying business development strategies, and continuously recognize that enabling the success of another woman takes nothing away from my accomplishments. Therefore, I remind myself and remind other women that we should all be working together to get more women—more Black women—in positions of leadership in the law.”
Kevon Weekes ’20 Evening
Kevon Weekes ’20 is an Assistant Corporation Counsel at the New York City Law Department working in tort litigation defense. She previously held positions in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and at Greenberg Law P.C. and Herzfeld & Rubin P.C. In 2021, Weekes was nominated for Legal Rookie of the Year and won Tort Rookie of the Year at the Law Department.
“Because of my name—Kevon—everyone assumes I’m a boy, even though it’s unisex,” she says. “I’ll get email responses addressed to ‘Mr. Weekes’ or ‘Kevin.’ I know how to spell my own name! When I get on the phone and correct them, the tone shifts. When you add the layer of being a minority woman—being Black, being queer—it can be obstacle after obstacle. But I want to remind women: We are lawyers, too. We are not less than. We deserve to be here.”