Alumni Short

Philip Eisenberg '64: Helps Urban Centers Flourish

Ithaca, NEW YORK, Spring 2014 FORUM

"I wanted to attend a law school that was small enough to allow personal interactions between student and faculty as well as a rigorous curriculum that would prepare me to make a meaningful contribution to my community," says Philip Eisenberg '64. "Although accepted to larger law schools in urban settings, I fell for Cornell on my first visit (even though it was snowing and cold). It turned out to be the perfect environment for me."

Fifty years later, Eisenberg still recalls several formative experiences during his years at the Law School. "Who could not be influenced by Professor Schlesinger's brilliant and only one required to prepare to take the bar on both the Sales Act and the UCC?" Eisenberg also remembers the academic rigor of working on the Cornell Law Review, where he served as editor, and the practical experience of participating in the Legal Aid Clinic, which prepared him for his many years of pro bono work as a practicing lawyer.

After graduation, Eisenberg worked as a law clerk at the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, and then served in the U.S. Army as a captain in the infantry. From 1968 through 1982, he practiced law and was a partner at Javits, Trubin, Sillcokcs, Edelman & Knapp, where he worked in real estate and banking law.

In 1997, he forged into new territory, founding Urban American Partners to acquire, renovate, manage, and ultimately sell workforce, multifamily properties. He says, “The transition from the practice of law, advising large developers and financial institutions, to the founding of a real estate company that grew to own many thousands of apartment units required a significantly different skill set that had to be developed through some trial and error (meaning I survived lots of mistakes).”

 Eisenberg notes that his responsibility for the welfare of thousands of tenants and the buildings in which they live “is constantly present. But what always excites me and gets me up in the morning is the acquisition of buildings that are under-maintained, rehabilitating them, and turning them around to create a better environment for their tenants while making a fair return on investment for the institutions and pension funds that have invested the capital that the buildings so desperately needed. We know that, while billions must be spent to develop additional and affordable housing for the country’s workforce, unless our existing housing stock is rehabilitated and preserved, our urban neighborhoods will not flourish.”

Even though Eisenberg’s career has shifted from law to real estate, he has continued to make use of the foundation laid by his experience at the Law School. “My Cornell education taught me how to learn; how to acquire knowledge and use it productively. It taught me to realize that one’s first solution to a problem or a challenge may not be the best and that the task is to stay with the problem and revisit it until the right solution is achieved, whether in an individual or a collaborative effort,” he says. “Substantively, I was exposed to areas of law and society about which I had no previous knowledge but which I still draw upon in the conduct of our business.”

Through the years, Eisenberg has maintained his ties to the Law School and the university, serving as a seminar speaker for the Cornell University Master’s Degree in Real Estate Program and as member of the Cornell University Council. He currently serves on the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning Advisory Council. His three children are all Cornell graduates, as are his two daughters-in-law. In fact, Eisenberg’s twin sons, Joshua and James, are principals at Urban American and have helped build the company into the success that it is today.

Eisenberg’s advice to current and incoming law students? “You have chosen a magnificent environment for learning and personal development. Experience the wonders of the entire university and understand that you are not there to receive a great legal education but to earn it through hard work and sacrifice on many levels. And that achievement is what Judge Joseph T. Sneed (who taught us contracts and tax and many other valuable things) referred to as ‘of greater worth than the coin of the realm of the kingdom of gratuity.’”

~ Owen Lubozynski