Few professors experience the thrill of holding an endowed chair at their institution, but still fewer are fortunate enough to hold one endowed by a former student. Earlier this year, Cornell Law School faculty member Kevin Clermont experienced this rare honor when former student Robert D. Ziff ’92 established the Robert D. Ziff Professor of Law, with Clermont appointed as the first holder of the chair.
“We who write letters of recommendation tend to throw around the term ‘star student’; but Robert is a man for whom the term was truly devised,” said Clermont. “Surely, he was the most vocal student I have ever had. Comfortingly, he was also one of the few I would describe as most brilliant. As a teacher, I am honored to have this student's name appear in my title.”
Ziff studied undergraduate electrical and computer engineering at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude. He then attended Cornell Law School, where he graduated first in his class. Ziff also served simultaneously in two student leadership roles, as editor of the Cornell Law Review and an officer of the Moot Court, a rare achievement among Cornell Law students. “I came of age at Cornell Law School,” Ziff said, “and I will always be grateful to my professors who taught me how to think sharply and critically, and to understand that there are multiple sides to any interesting issue, including business issues.”
After law school, Ziff clerked for Chief Judge Monroe G. McKay of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was vice president of strategic planning at Ziff Communications Company. Ziff is currently a Managing Partner of Ziff Brothers Investments, and while most of his work does not involve the practice of law, Ziff proudly notes that he remains a member of the bar and keeps up with his Continuing Legal Education requirements. “Every day in business I implement the training I received at Cornell Law School,” he said. Mr. Ziff and his wife, Michelle Locher J.D. ’91, live in Manhattan and are parents of twin sons.
In creating the Ziff professorship, Mr. Ziff sought to recognize the importance of educating law students in the infrastructure of the law and to recognize faculty who are passionate about that infrastructure. In recognizing Professor Clermont, Mr. Ziff notes that “he was a master of showing the beauty of the law. The foundation he provided was the best in the world.”
Stewart J. Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, said, “We are exceedingly proud and grateful to Robert for this generous gift to Cornell Law School. In Robert we have a graduate who recognizes the value of quality teaching, and I can think of no greater way to acknowledge this than by appointing Professor Clermont to the Robert D. Ziff Professorship.”
The first Robert D. Ziff Professor of Law, Kevin Clermont specializes in the procedural aspects of litigation. His coauthored casebook, Materials for a Basic Course in Civil Procedure, is regarded as a model of careful legal craftsmanship and also a thoughtful introduction for students. Before joining Cornell in 1974, he clerked for the late Hon. Murray Gurfein of the Southern District of New York, and then spent two years in private practice as an associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton.