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Robin Charlow: Professor of Law at Hofstra University School of Law

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<<But Charlow's aspirations extended beyond these short-term jobs. And after spending many of her post-graduation years in New York City and the San Francisco area, she settled in at Cornell Law and graduated with her degree in 1981.

"After law school I clerked for Judge Richard J. Cardamone, just as he began his tenure on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit," says Charlow. "Every month we 'commuted' from rural Upstate New York, where I rented a house on a working farm, to New York City, where we would read about the cases we were working on on the front page of The New York Times. It was wonderfully exciting and lots of fun. Judge Cardamone taught me, among other things, that law should never be viewed as divorced from life, from consideration of the human interactions that it governs."


And it was there that her journey really began.

Today, Charlow teaches law at Hofstra University School of Law; however, before her "serendipitous" arrival there ("a friend of my husband was on the faculty [at Hofstra] and just happened to mention that they had a number of openings, so I applied"), Charlow worked several "practice experience" jobs.

"I joined the Federal Defender Appeals Unit. This was then a division of the New York Legal Aid Society that handled indigent criminals' appeals in the federal courts. We had to prepare a new case about once every couple of weeks, which meant I was filing briefs in an arguing before the Second Circuit regularly. This job taught me both to think on my feet and to be supremely prepared before speaking, in addition to a lot about criminal law and appellate advocacy that I use in my teaching position today."

Next, she took a position as a senior legislative analyst with the New York City Office of Management and Budget. There, she analyzed bills pending before the federal, state, and local legislatures, she says, to see how they would impact New York City.

"My areas included municipal tort liability, sanitation, the environment, the city's infrastructure and capital budget (water, power, sewer, construction), and elections...What I took from this experience was a keen sense of how law and politics interact, in both directions."

What followed would be her last non-teaching stint: working as a full-time consultant to the Legislative Subcommittee of the National Advisory Committee of the Federal Public and Community Defenders, researching and consulting "on formulating the defense position on various proposed guidelines schemes and to keep the federal defense organizations around the country briefed on guidelines developments."

Now, discussing her current position at Hofstra, Charlow says, "I usually teach Criminal Law to first-year students, Constitutional Law to second-year students (this is a year-long course), and an upper-class seminar."

Other courses Charlow has taught over the past 20 years have included Advanced Appellate Advocacy, Mass Media and the First Amendment, Sex-Based Discrimination, Religion and the Constitution, and Special Problems in Constitutional Law: Equal Protection. She has also co-taught a course called American Constitutional Law in Comparative Perspective with a Supreme Court justice for Hofstra's summer-abroad program in Italy.

Known for her "tough but fair" attitude in the classroom, Charlow admits, "Students do not often find me warm and cozy in the classroom, and sometimes comment that I'm a lot nicer out of class than in it."
 
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Travel, read, cook, play with my kids, collect pottery from around the world. I used to love to hike but have had to cut back for a while.
Q. What CD is in your CD player right now, or what kind of music is on your iPod?
A. Right now I have a Books on Tape biography of Andrew Jackson in my CD player. When it comes to music, I most enjoy three kinds: baroque classical music, rock from the 50s through the 80s (I lost track after that), and bluegrass — we're big bluegrass fans in my house. There's very little music I don't like.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. A science journal (can't recall the name) that someone gave me with an article about receding glaciers. We'd just been to Alaska, the land of glaciers, so I was intrigued.
Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. I'm a big fan of Masterpiece Theatre and Law & Order (in all its incarnations). But I have a tendency to fall asleep watching TV, so I miss the endings.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. My professional role model is probably my first husband, a lifelong criminal defense attorney who ran the federal defender offices in the greater New York area. He loved what he did, and he did it so well. He kept his cool no matter what, gave every case his all, mentored those who worked around him with excellent advice and guidance, and treated every client as though he really cared, because he really did.

However, she continues, "what I care about most is that my students learn two things: the law and how to think. I'm always surprised at the number who come back long after the bar exam or years of practice and tell me they knew the subjects I taught them so thoroughly that they didn't have to study them for the bar or immediately noticed the first constitutional issue that came their way in the course of some other area of practice. That's what makes it worthwhile for me."

And as students continue to give accolades to their professor, Charlow offers her own:

"I had a fabulous mentor who has remained a close friend. She was one of the early women in law teaching, very thoughtful, very knowledgeable, and thoroughly engaging. She taught me not only how to teach but how to think about constitutional law. She used to provide me with weekly briefings and debriefings before and after my classes. I'm so indebted to her that I have a difficult time imagining how I would be as a teacher without that early guidance."

As someone who grew up in a small town, knew no lawyers, and lived with parents who "were not college graduates," Charlow was guided to success by perseverance and passion.

"Follow your heart," she says. "I know how hard that is to do these days, with the mounting burden of college and law school debt. But if you can, and to the extent you can, do what you enjoy, even if it pays less or seems less prestigious. In the end, you'll have a happier life to look back on and enjoy getting up in the morning and facing the day."
Hofstra University School of Law

    


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