Congratulations to Frost Brown Todd, winner of the Law Firm Challenge!
Returning the 'naked Brandeis' trophy to its rightful owner

Justin Fowles and Colin Crawford
Justin Fowles (left), Frost Brown Todd managing associate, and Dean Colin Crawford.

Last Friday, March 9, I had the distinct pleasure of returning the “naked Brandeis” to its rightful owner, namely the firm of Frost Brown Todd. The “naked Brandeis” is in fact a small replica of Rodin’s “The Thinker” statute — the very same that sits in front of the university’s main administration building, Grawemeyer Hall.

Why the name, why the “naked Brandeis”? The story is that one of my predecessor Dean Susan Duncan’s children endearingly referred to the replica — our trophy for the winner of the annual Law Firm Challenge — as “naked Brandeis,” logically enough associating the school’s name with the unclothed statue. And the moniker stuck.

The Law Firm Challenge is one of the law school’s signature fundraising events. Thirty law firms and more than 400 Brandeis School of Law alumni compete in different categories to achieve the highest percentage of alumni giving during a fiscal year. Gifts of any size qualify for the challenge and toward a firm’s participation rate.

In Spring 2017, Frost Brown Todd outpaced its rivals with an innovative campaign that tapped new donation sources. Under Frost Brown Todd’s leadership, they firm raised more than $16,000 for the law school. In a perfect world, it seems, the trophy would have been theirs by the summer. But at about that time, Dean Duncan bid goodbye to head south to lead the law school at Ole Miss. My colleague Lars Smith then took over as interim dean and I did not start until January. Somehow, in all of the tumult, the “naked Brandeis” was lost. But our interim director of development, the intrepid Justin Leighty, tracked it down and I was, finally, able to present it to Frost Brown Todd partners and associates, and to share thoughts about the future of the law school and the legal community here.

For now, then, the naked Brandeis is at home with Frost Brown Todd. But just for now — the Law Firm Challenge will soon be underway anew. This time, I hope, we will keep tabs on our prized trophy!

Dean Crawford reflects on the 'ideological complexity' he has encountered among students and alumni.
Common ground across the aisle

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mitch McConnell
Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mitch McConnell

“There is no such thing as Brooklyn bourbon!” insisted U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to a packed room at UofL’s McConnell Center recently. The senator had just been given a bottle of Widow Jane bourbon made in Brooklyn, New York, by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who said the spirit was produced just blocks away from the senator’s New York home. It was a great moment — not least because the personal chemistry the two men shared was palpable. They truly appeared to enjoy one another’s company.

(Schumer was on campus to give a talk at the McConnell Center.)

Since arriving in Louisville, I find myself constantly thinking about and confronted by politics — and having my assumptions upended time and again. We are told by the media that we have never been more divided as a country politically, that we cannot get along, cannot work with one another. But the encounter I watched on stage at UofL suggested a different, more complicated, reality. This was confirmed further when one of my guests at the McConnell Center event — my distant cousin, former U.S. Representative Ben Chandler, whose politics bend more toward Senator Schumer’s than Senator McConnell’s — bounded backstage and joked warmly with both men.

I have had similar, powerful experiences with some of our students and younger alums and have been impressed by the political involvements of them all.

For example, I was on a mock interview team for 1L students with Brandeis Law alumnus Alex White (2012). Alex has established himself as a leading young member of the plaintiffs’ bar in Louisville. For him, representing personal injury clients is almost religion. Alex himself was in two accidents and has battled insurance companies personally. He clearly takes this zeal into his battles on behalf of clients. Alex spoke movingly to me of his desire to protect the interests of those most vulnerable, including those clients who did not speak English well (he even tried to hire as a law clerk a Spanish-speaking 1L following the interview).

Alex told me he is running as a Republican for state Senate because of his strong commitment to this issue and to others, like the separation of powers. For him, I could see, politics rises above party loyalties.

Alex showed me that our supposed political divides can be less important than a shared commitment to the issues that matter to us all. Alex and I disagree on almost every “hot button” national issue, but his obvious integrity and commitment to serving the interests of all Kentucky citizens moved me so much that I soon sent him a check for his campaign.

I was similarly impressed at a Louisville Bar Association event where I met Ronnie Mills, a second-year student who told me that he went to law school to enter politics — he wants to be president of the United States one day. I had to admire that kind of self-confidence!

Soon thereafter, Ronnie and first-year student Alixis Russell came to my office and proposed a discussion series for the 2018-19 academic year co-sponsored by the Federalist Society for the right and the American Constitution Society for the left. The drive for finding common ground was clearly important to them.

At the same LBA event, I ran into graduating student John Weber, who continued to share his deep knowledge of and interest in Kentucky and national politics, with views markedly free of partisan rancor. Once again, my conversations with Ronnie, Alixis and John showed me that the stark left-right divisions we hear from the media were not being played out in my experiences with our law students and alums, and that mere fact gave me hope.

This kind of ideological complexity is a quality I associate with Justice Brandeis, and it made me think that in ways large and small we are serving his intellectual legacy at the law school.

The pundits are telling us that 2018 will be the Year of the Women in politics. And while Kentucky has one of the nation’s lowest percentages of women in elected office (at about 17 percent), Brandeis women graduates are well represented in the state legislature.

State Representative McKenzie Cantrell (2012), who represents House District 38 is said to have knocked on every door in her district three times during her first election. And State Representative Sannie Overly (1993), representing House District 72, became the first woman in House leadership in the history of the commonwealth when she was elected House Majority Caucus Chair. I have not yet met McKenzie or Sannie but look forward to meeting them and other members of the Metropolitan Caucus after the legislative session. In the years ahead, I expect that some of our current female students will follow them into politics. I certainly hope so.

In his first two months in Louisville, Dean Crawford has met several interesting people, including alumni and current students.
A whirlwind entrance to Louisville

Robert Brown (far left) participates in a traditional Japanese ceremony at the Governor's Mansion.

I have now been in Kentucky for just a little over two months. And what a whirlwind it has been!

In January, I was invited to the annual celebration of Japanese-Kentucky cooperation at the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort. At the event, our alum Robert Brown (1974) was honored with the Japanese government’s highest award given to a non-Japanese, the Order of the Rising Sun, bestowed on him by the Japanese Consul General. There, I chatted with Robert and Gov. Matt Bevin and several of his cabinet secretaries.

Then, in the first week of February, I welcomed Attorney General Andy Beshear to the law school, where he delivered an impassioned defense of the #MeToo movement, which has raised awareness about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in our society.

Dean Colin Crawford (left) and Ben Chandler

And in between, I met a kaleidoscope of equally impressive people. One memorable lunch was with Ben Chandler, the former U.S. representative and now president of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Ben’s grandmother, two-term Governor A.B. "Happy" Chandler, was from Corydon, in Henderson County, Kentucky. My father was born in Corydon too, and when I arrived at lunch, Ben told me that in our grandfathers’ generation, two Chandler women married two Crawford men — so I can now claim Kentucky cousins.

Above all, I have been impressed by the dedication and ability of our students.

One Saturday, I spent a morning as a mock interviewer for 1Ls  at an event hosted by Frost Brown Todd. The variety, quality and achievement of the students I interviewed was impressive.

Many of our students, I learned, have had different careers, including challenging tours of military duty. Others are parents — one law review editor manages to do that and take care of four children! And he is not alone.

At Student Bar Association, the mother of two who had started her day at 8 a.m. showed up at a meeting at 8:30 p.m. to present an argument in defense of the creation of a Diversity Chair within the SBA. That sort of dedication to her beliefs comes at a short-term cost to family, I know. But it also speaks to someone who will bring great integrity and ability to the practice of law. In short, I am thrilled to be a part of this community, where healthy debate is encouraged and alive, in a welcoming city and at a dynamic, friendly law school.

I look forward to meeting more members of the Brandeis community in coming months. Please feel free to contact me at if you would like to connect.