On June 30, Robert J. Reinstein, the first Jewish dean in the 113-year history of Temple University's law school, officially stepped down from the post that he's held for 19 years. In addition, he also relinquished his title as Temple's vice president for international programs, though he has no immediate plans of retiring.
Instead, the 63-year-old resident of Chestnut Hill will, after a sabbatical, return to his former life as a professor and constitutional scholar. He's been teaching the ins and outs of constitutional law at Temple since 1969.
Pausing for a few minutes so he could read up on the just-announced landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on handguns, Reinstein noted that, regardless of one's political outlook, it's a very exciting time to be studying actions of the high court. He said that, after years of being somewhat predictable, the Supreme Court, because of its two newest justices, is very much in flux.
Reinstein's successor is JoAnne A. Epps, who had served as associate dean since 1989, and is an expert in criminal procedure. She is the second African-American to head the law school.
In his role as dean, Reinstein has been credited with helping revamp nearly every facet of the James E. Beasley School of Law. During his tenure, the school increased its endowment from $4 million to $57 million, and expanded its faculty by 20 percent. Applications more than doubled: for the incoming class, 4,800 applicants competed for 300 seats.
The school is noted for producing graduates who pass the Pennsylvania bar at high rates.
"Probably my most lasting accomplishment is the endowment, because that is going to provide resources for the law school for as long as it exists," said Reinstein as he sat in his new, smaller office, where boxes shared the floor with framed art waiting to be rehung.
According to Reinstein, Temple's law school has been at the forefront of an effort to reform the established curricula, which is focused on analysis and legal theory. He's advocated a more balanced approach that emphasizes teaching the practical tools of the profession, like courtroom procedures and techniques.
"Teaching legal theory is really important. If you can't do rigorous legal analysis, you can't be a good lawyer," but that's still not enough, said Reinstein. So the school has poured substantial resources into its Trial Advocacy Program and created a mechanism for third-year students to counsel real clients under the guidance of a licensed attorney.
Reinstein's goal as dean was to prepare students for the real world — one that's being defined by globalization and where international law is a subject U.S. attorneys can no longer ignore — and that drove his work in building Temple-affiliated international programs around the world.
In addition to overseeing the expansion of Temple's programs in Tokyo and Rome, and facilitating numerous study-abroad opportunities for law students, including in Israel, Reinstein established a law program in Beijing. This partnership allows Chinese lawyers and judges to pursue a master's degree in American law. Most of the program is completed in China, but there is also some study at the school's North Philadelphia campus.
In 2002, the prime minister of China presented Reinstein with the National Friendship Award in recognition of Temple's contributions to the development of the rule of law in that country.
A member of the Reconstructionist Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough, Reinstein was raised in an Orthodox home in Baltimore. While no longer strictly observant, he still refers back to traditional thought.
"Studying the Talmud really prepares you for legal studies," he noted. "The religion expresses the best values of the legal system, especially the obligation to serve people. The obligation, of course, is to do justice. You read Isaiah, and you want to become a lawyer."