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Penn Law Mourns the Loss of Professor Alan Lerner W'62, L'65

October 09, 2010

Professor Lerner's teaching and practice impacted the lives of countless students and clients.


Alan Lerner, practice professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School whose teaching and practice impacted the lives of countless students and clients, died Thursday of complications arising from cancer. He was 68.
“Alan was an exceptional lawyer, an inspiring teacher, and a devoted member of the Law School community,” said Penn Law Dean Michael A. Fitts. “He was also one of the most humane people one could meet, with a strong commitment to justice and to using the law to help the most vulnerable members of society.”
Professor Lerner was a recognized expert in labor and employment law, family law, and legal ethics, and brought that expertise to bear as he also became a leading expert in clinical teaching. He joined Penn Law’s faculty in 1993, after 25 years of successful private practice at the law firm of Cohen, Shapiro, Polisher, Shiekman and Cohen. He said at the time that his decision to become a clinical professor was spurred by a desire to pursue his passion for teaching and for deeper academic inquiry and creativity than the pressures of private practice allowed. Years later, Professor Lerner wrote to Dean Fitts that his experience proved he made the right decision; he found teaching and supervising students, and watching them grow as individuals and lawyers, deeply gratifying.
Professor Lerner also found the creative outlet he had sought at the Clinic, becoming an innovator in clinical pedagogy. He directed the Law School’s Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic, bringing law students together with medical students and social work students to advocate for disadvantaged children. He also co-directed the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research, a collaboration of experts from across the University of Pennsylvania that combines the efforts of multiple disciplines and perspectives to address critical issues facing the child welfare system. Dr. Cindy Christian, who taught the child advocacy clinic and co-directed the Field Center with Professor Lerner, recalled him as “a fierce advocate for the vulnerable children he and his students represented” and a dedicated teacher whose “commitment to his students was extraordinary.”
Professor Lerner wore an ever-present bowtie, showed a quick but gentle wit, and had a great love for baseball. As a lawyer and clinical teacher, he was “a model for what it means to be dedicated to a case and, especially, to a client,” said Douglas Frenkel, Morris Shuster practice professor of law. “He defined ‘supportive’ and was as generous of spirit as he was with his time. He believed strongly but was no ideologue and did not preach. He was mature in the best (and the many) senses of that word yet always seemed younger than his years. He never stopped growing, as a lawyer or as a person.”
Louis S. Rulli, practice professor of law and clinical director, recalled Professor Lerner as “the embodiment of all that we aspire to teach in the classroom and practice in the profession.
“With Alan's passing, abused and neglected children have lost a powerful advocate; the civil rights bar has lost a skilled litigator; generations of law students have lost an amazing mentor; the Phillies have lost an ardent fan; and the entire Penn community has lost an inspirational teacher, scholar, and role model.”
Professor Lerner was twice recognized as one of the "Best Lawyers in America” and was named a Bellow scholar in 2007 by the Association of American Law Schools, Committee on Lawyering in the Public Interest. His recent scholarly contributions to the field of clinical pedagogy include Teaching Law And Educating Lawyers: Closing The Gap Through Multidisciplinary Experiential Learning, Int’l J. Clinical Legal Educ. 96 (2006); and Using Our Brains: What Cognitive Science and Social Psychology Teach us About Teaching Law Students to Make Ethical, Professionally Responsible, Choices, 23 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 643 (2004). He received his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1965 and his bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School in 1962.
Professor Lerner is survived by his wife, Adelaide Ferguson, children and grandchildren, and two brothers.
Philadelphia Inquirer: "[H]e believed that helping people achieve civil rights was the right thing to do. His belief became a lifelong passion."
Legal Intelligencer (login required): "Alan M. Lerner was one of those rare individuals people could truly look up to."  

Memorial Service: A service to honor and remember Professor Lerner will be held at the Law School's Levy Conference Center on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 5pm. 
Alan Lerner Memorial Fund: To continue Professor Lerner’s work, a fund to provide summer stipends to Penn Law students working in child advocacy has been established. Donations to this fund may be made via check to the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania Law School Clinical Program, 3400 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19104 or via an online form.