Howard Lesnick, law professor

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Howard Lesnick, long-time Chestnut Hill resident and the Jefferson B. Fordham Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania Law School died on Sunday, April 19, 2020, in hospice care after a brief illness at Foulkeways in Gwynedd, Pennsylvania.

Howard Lesnick was born into a Jewish family in New York City in 1931, the grandson of immigrants. He was raised in the Bronx, New York and Bangor, Pennsylvania. He earned a BA in History from New York University in 1952 and an MA in History from Columbia University in 1953. He served in the United States Army from 1953 to 1955 and returned to graduate from Columbia Law School in 1958 as Editor in Chief of the Law Review. He practiced as an attorney for a year, then served as a U.S. Supreme Court law clerk for Justice John M. Harlan in 1959.

Howard Lesnick began his career as a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1960. Over the course of his career he inspired three generations of lawyers and law students to join in struggles against oppression and economic dispossession, and to view their work as an occasion to aspire to justice. During 1967-1969 he served as the founding director of the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship program, and as supervising director of Penn Law's clinic he expanded its work to encompass the emerging field of prisoners’ rights. 

In 1982, Lesnick left the University of Pennsylvania Law School to become the founding academic dean at the City University of New York’s Law School at Queen’s College. Under his leadership, CUNY Law established a course of study to prepare lawyers for careers in the service of human needs. Lesnick returned to the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1988 and helped to found the school’s Center on Professionalism and the Public Service Program. Under his guidance and advocacy, Penn Law established a requirement that every student undertake 70 hours of public service before graduation.

A great many students, colleagues and mentees have been inspired by Howard Lesnick’s life and work. In addition to his professional accomplishments, A lifelong drive to integrate skepticism with wonder led him to appreciate many philosophical, spiritual, and aesthetic modes of inquiry. Howard greatly enjoyed literature, live music, nature, and the life of the city, and was part of the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting community since 1988. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Carolyn Schodt; his brothers and their spouses, Irving and Sheila Lesnick and Alan and Molly Lesnick; his children and their spouses, Alice Lesnick (daughter of Natalie Lipson Lesnick Schweitzer) and Robert Goldberg, Caleb Schodt and Carolyn Ingram, and Abigail Lesnick and Jonathan Marvinny; and four grandchildren, Lillian Goldberg, Lowell Nottage, June Goldberg, and Dylan Schodt. 

A memorial gathering will be held in Philadelphia at a later date. Contributions in memory of Howard Lesnick are welcome; the family suggests Community Legal Services and The Miquon School.
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