The Yale Law Journal

YLJ Honors Shirley Adelson Siegel

Rachel Wilf
02 Oct 2016

Last spring, the Yale Law Journal had the honor of hosting Shirley Adelson Siegel at our spring banquet. Ms. Siegel is the namesake of one of the three new Yale Law Journal Public Interest Fellowships, which are intended to strengthen the ties between legal scholarship, practice, and service. 

Ms. Siegel graduated from Yale Law School in 1941. She was the only woman in her law school class and an editor of Volumes 49 and 50 of the Yale Law Journal. After graduating, Ms. Siegel forged a career that is a model for any law student interested in public service and public interest lawyering. Her legal experiences ranged from advocating for affordable public housing to assisting the ACLU in drafting an amicus brief challenging Japanese internment to heading the newly-created New York State Civil Rights Bureau. In her remarks which can be found below, she recalled her interactions with professors and students at Yale and the difficulty she faced finding a job after graduation because of her gender and religion. She also described the "two models" of her public service career: providing pro bono legal services while in private practice, and serving in the government.

We hope you enjoy reading Ms. Siegel's remarks and join us in celebrating her extraordinary career.


Yale Banquet – April 16, 2016

Remarks by Shirley Adelson Siegel

April 16, 2016 

First I wish to thank the Journal Board for honoring me and the memory of Justine Wise Polier and Jane Bolin by dedicating to us the Journal’s new public service fellowships. My participation in public service continued throughout my legal career as it did for them. I believe that our lives, as well as the causes we served, were richer for it.

Naming the fellowships for us surely served the values that, as you say, we and the Journal share: the advancement of women lawyers, the promotion of public service, and also, the promotion of civil rights since the judges and I are members of minorities in America, two Jews and an African-American.

Before going further, I want to thank Mike Clemente for his extraordinary graciousness in inviting me to join you today, and I want to congratulate the inaugural fellows – Kate Huddleston, Lee Miller, and Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza.

I also congratulate the Journal on having adopted such a well considered program that will not only address some of the great unmet need for legal services, but will enrich legal scholarship to the ultimate benefit of legal practice.

Judges Polier and Bolin were family court judges. Their public service credentials are clear. As for me, my public service career was divided into two models: For about 20 years after law school I was an associate in a private law firm providing pro bono legal services after hours. After that, like the judges, I practiced law in government. I had been lured into government by an offer to head the civil rights bureau newly created by the New York State Attorney General.

Thereafter, as you know, I served in other public roles in New York. General Counsel to New York City’s Housing and Development Administration, handling litigation and appeals for the State during the fiscal crisis of the ’70s; then State Solicitor General. In retirement I served for ten years on the City’s Conflict of Interest Board while employed “Of Counsel” by a law firm. There about half my time involved matching associates or partners in the firm with public service opportunities. I briefly returned to handling pro bono cases for the City Bar at the time of the foreclosure crisis.

Mike, you suggested that the people here tonight might be interested in my experience while in Yale Law School.

I entered Yale in 1938 after a year of graduate work at the London School of Economics to study European programs for affordable, decent housing for low and moderate income families. President Franklin Roosevelt was pursuing his “New Deal” to lift us out of the Great Depression; embarking on a housing program enriched by European experience was part of the New Deal.

I was very warmly received at Yale. My real property professor, Myres McDougal, shared my interest in housing and promptly announced a seminar, which was attended by me, another student, and Charles Abrams, a New York housing expert whom I had invited.

My professor in civil procedure, J.W. Moore, hired me to assist him in editing new editions of his books and other legal work; the salary of this 20 hour a week job covered my living expenses in New Haven through graduation.

For you modern-day listeners, the fact that I was the only girl in the class of 1941 may be of some interest. This was before co-education was common in the private universities.

Occasionally the Yale Daily News carried a story about “the girl in the class of 1941”, or just “the girl in the class.” I have left out for your viewing a couple of examples of these articles. Perhaps because the presence of a girl was odd and a bit provocative, these stories tended to exaggerate the facts. No, I did not cause a classmate to faint during Moot Court!

Another story that provides insight on my life at Yale involves an exchange I had with a colleague on the Board of the Law Journal. As a member of the Board, I was a credible candidate for appointment as editor-in-chief. One day, he asked me to take a short walk with him around the campus. On the walk, he stated firmly his belief that a woman’s place was in the home – “Kinder, Kochen und Kirche”, he said, meaning children, cooking and church. Shortly afterwards, one of the men was appointed to the editor-in- chief position. I suspect that my colleague’s homily was intended to warn and discourage me.

Finally, because of my gender and also religion, securing a job after graduation proved elusive. When I returned from job-hunting after Christmas Week without a job offer, Professor Arthur Corbin, my contracts professor, acting on his own, wrote a letter on my behalf to former students of his who were in the large Manhattan firms, urging them to give me serious consideration. I was interviewed, but none hired me. This is a wonderful letter, the best recommendation I ever received. My interviewer at one of the firms gave me a copy of Professor Corbin’s letter when he learned I had not seen it.

I finally did obtain a job offer from Proskauer, Rose, the first and only woman in the firm. I had a very active life “after hours” in pro bono service, largely between the New York Citizens Housing Council and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

So, I am delighted that Kate Huddleston, the first fellow chosen for the fellowship named for me, is starting her legal career at the ACLU. My own ACLU experience began with my accepting a paid assignment from one of the job interviewers I met to write a legal memorandum on democracy in trade unions, then an issue before Congress. This experience drew me to ACLU work a few months later, when I was recruited to draft an amicus brief for ACLU in the US Supreme Court in support of the case brought by Japanese American citizens challenging their internment upon the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States. I worked with distinguished civil rights lawyers of the time and their names were carried on the brief though the text was mine. But the next ACLU amicus brief I prepared for the US Supreme Court, this one in Tunstall v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Fireman et al., proudly bore the name of “Shirley Adelson” on the brief cover. When the Secretary of the ACLU Lawyers Panel left for military duty (it was now wartime), I took over this volunteer service for the duration of the War.

Kate, I can imagine that your ACLU experience will be just as exciting and meaningful as mine. Enjoy it, and you will carry the experience with you whatever you do next.

(By the way. I also have here for your viewing the World War II newsletters that I circulated to my Yale classmates based on penny postcards they sent me from wherever they were worldwide.)

In closing, I want to thank you for your attention. It is a great pleasure and satisfaction to be here and to celebrate the passage of the next generation into public service!