Jethro K. Lieberman

Jethro K. Lieberman

Means of writing today

A typewriter for books, 1964-1979: the SCM Portable Electric

The old Royal, 1957-1964, in college and before

A bygone era: The John de Pol woodcut of the Kelmscott/Goudy Press

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Biographical Highlights

Family and whereabouts
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1943. Grew up on the west coast, mainly in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Graduated from high school in White Plains, New York, in 1960. Over the years, lived in ten states and the District of Columbia. Moved to Bethesda, Maryland, in September 2014, with my wife Jo Shifrin. Two children (and a son-in-law) and two grandchildren.

Education
Graduated from Yale University in 1964 with a B.A. in politics and economics, from Harvard Law School in 1967 with a J.D., and from Columbia University in 1995 with a Ph.D. in political science.

Career so far
I've had a varied career in law, journalism, and teaching. I practiced law for six years, including three years on active duty with the U.S. Navy JAG Corps (1968-1971), first as discipline officer at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent River (Maryland), and then as an administrative law attorney at JAG headquarters. Thereafter I was briefly an associate (in the antitrust and trade regulation department) at the Washington, D.C., law firm now known as Arent Fox, and then vice president and general counsel of Stein and Day Publishers, a New York trade book publishing company.
        In 1973, I returned to Business Week Magazine, where I had worked as a staff writer immediately after taking the bar exam (and as an intern while in law school), to become the magazine's first Legal Affairs Editor. I stayed for nine years and left in 1982 to teach, first at Fordham University Law School and since 1985 at New York Law School. From 1982 to 1985 I was also vice president of the Center for Public Resources (now known as the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution) and founding editor of its monthly newsletter, Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation. For several years I taught the undergraduate constitutional law course at Columbia University, where I was adjunct professor of political science (1998-2003).
        In 2013 I became Martin Professor of Law at New York Law School, where I also served as publisher and editorial director of Tribeca Square Press, the School's publishing arm. I also was director of the Writing Program (1985-2007) and associate dean for academic affairs (2000-2007, a role I reprised during spring semester, 2012). I taught Constitutional Law, Freedom of Speech, Writing Skills, Military Law, Law and Society, and many other courses. I retired on July 1, 2015, becoming Martin Professor of Law Emeritus.

Writing career
The writing bug bit early. Just before my 12th birthday a classmate and I had bylines reporting school news for the year in the town paper, the Menlo Park (Cal.) Recorder.
        My first book came a decade later. It materialized from a chance remark to my father when I was home sometime during my first year of law school. I mused how odd it was that our subject was available only in law schools. Until then I knew almost nothing about the law, which was so obviously connected to the subjects I studied in college, politics and economics. Why, I said impetuously, there ought to be a book. My father suggested I visit an acquaintance, David Boehm, a neighbor who happened to own Sterling Publishing Co. It was not a well-known publishing house, but Mr. Boehm obviously knew what he was doing: he had the rights to a book he retitled The Guinness Book of Records and was profiting handsomely. He asked for a chapter. I wrote one. He played along and asked for another. We went on like that into my second year of law school until the book was finished, and then one day an envelope arrived with a contract and a check for $150, my advance for the book he titled Court in Session. It appeared in September of 1966, just as I was entering my final year of school. It may not have been much of a book, but it earned me about $3,500 — a very tidy sum in those days (more than a year's tuition). I was a month shy of my 23rd birthday. I was an author.
        In July 2015, on retiring from teaching, I finally became a full-time writer.

Letterpress
I have been a letterpress printer for more than 60 years (I began setting type by hand at the age of 9), and during the past several decades have been the proprietor of a private press, now called The Press at James Pond. Until late 2013, my wife and I were owners (by inheritance) of the Kelmscott/​Goudy Press, the Hopkinson & Cope Albion No. 6551 iron hand press used by William Morris to produce his world-renowned Kelmscott Chaucer in 1896. The press had been in my family for 53 years. In December 2013, we auctioned the press through Christie's. It was sold to the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a major center of research and instruction in printing technology. The auction and press were featured in a New York Times story on December 6, 2013. My parents acquired the K/​G press, as it is nicknamed, in late 1960. They were much involved in the world of printing and private presses; I have not been. And of late I confess that the power, speed, and flexibility of electronic production have made the old implements, for me, more a matter of nostalgia than utility. I once knew my way around a California job case; now I am learning to navigate InDesign. But there's still a Chandler & Price Pilot Press in the house, along with some composing sticks, a few drawers of type, and a rainbow of ink.

Selected Works

New
A retort to friends who thought it was time to thin out the bookshelves.
A critique of hypotheticals as a tool for judging the thought of others.
For students studying constitutional law: what it's about, how to learn it, in language easy to grasp.
Political Theory, Government
Resuscitates liberalism as a practical political doctrine.
Writing
On writing clear, readable, and persuasive prose. 3d edition published January 2016
An article on the sins of scholarly writing — and a video to boot.
Constitutional Law
The meaning of the Constitution, and how it has changed over time, on the eve of its bicentennial.
Law and Society
The first book to seek the underlying causes for, and consequences of, America’s growing urge to sue.
A searching look at the moral disarray of the post-Watergate lawyers' code of ethics.
Fiction
Terrorists take over the United Nations and commit a series of atrocities to free their imprisoned soldiers. An Israeli agent to the rescue. Sounds familiar, but this appeared in 1978, before some of the things imagined had ever played out.
Miscellany
Edited anthologies.
Articles in the popular press, pamphlets, and more.