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Q&A Series

Michael A. Simons, Dean and John V. Brennan Professor of Law and Ethics, joined the St. John's faculty in 1998 and was appointed Dean of the School of Law in 2009.

Dean Simons teaches in the areas of criminal law and evidence, and he has been a frequent lecturer to the bench and bar on both topics. He was selected by the students as "Professor of the Year" in 2000 and 2011. From 2005 through 2008, he served as Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship. His own scholarship has focused on sentencing, prosecutorial decision-making, and punishment theory. His articles have appeared in the New York University Law Review, the Vanderbilt Law Review, the George Mason Law Review, the Villanova Law Review, the St. John’s Law Review, The Catholic Lawyer, the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development, and the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review.

Dean Simons graduated magna cum laude from the College of the Holy Cross in 1986 and magna cum laude from the Harvard Law School in 1989, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, Dean Simons clerked for the Honorable Louis F. Oberdorfer of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (1989-90). He later served as a staff attorney for The Washington Post (1990-91), as an associate at Stillman, Friedman & Shaw (1991-95), and as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York (1995-98).


Q. St. John’s School of Law has made a significant shift in the past two years toward emphasizing global perspectives in the study and practice of law.  Why do you think it is important that St. John’s law students are exposed to international or comparative law topics?

A.  There’s no question now that the practice of law – like almost everything else – has become globalized.  I hear from our alumni that law students need to be prepared to embrace the global dimensions of legal practice.  No lawyer can claim to be purely local or regional in a globalized world.

Many of our alumni whose practices involve business counseling are now counseling clients with offices or deals in other countries.  Many St. John’s alumni are also working in the field of international litigation, where they arbitrate cases on behalf of clients all over the world.   

Several alumni have served as prosecutors in cases involving transnational criminal syndicates, and one even works at the FBI specializing in interrogation of pirates captured off the Coast of Somalia.  Some alumni in private practice are finding that international treaty issues are affecting areas as diverse as family law and estate planning.  And still others are involved in human rights work, national security issues and other areas of international and national government service.  Globalization has deeply affected the ways St. John’s alumni practice law.  

Q. How do you think students can best prepare for this globalized practice?  Are there particular courses or programs that you recommend?

A.  At St. John’s, we have always been focused on training each and every student to be the best possible lawyer.  In any area of practice, a lawyer needs to have a firm command of the building blocks of U.S. law and the core professional skills – particularly good writing and oral communications skills.  

Beyond that, though, we are increasingly focused on putting students on particular paths to the profession.  In particular, we’ve created a “Pathways to International Legal Practice” plan, which guides students on how best to prepare to be, for example, an international litigator, or a government lawyer working on national security or international issues, or a corporate attorney with a focus on cross-border transactions.  To be sure, students interested in global practice should take International Law as a start.  But there are many opportunities, both in and out of the classroom, for students to develop global professional competence.

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Lawrence M. Kaye, a member of the law firm of Herrick, Feinstein, LLP, and Co-Chair of the Firm’s Art Law Group, is engaged in the practice of all facets of art law and represents a wide range of domestic and international clients.  He is noted, in particular, for his representation of foreign governments, victims of the Holocaust, families of renowned artists and other claimants in connection with the recovery of stolen art and antiquities.  He was a lead attorney in the landmark case of Federal Republic of Germany v. Elicofon, in which two masterpieces by Dürer, stolen at the end of the Second World War, were recovered and returned to the Weimar Art Museum. Among other notable matters, Larry and his colleagues have successfully represented the heir of the noted pre-war Dutch dealer, Jacques Goudstikker, whose large collection of Old masters was looted by the Nazis under Reichsmarshall Herman Goring, in recovering 200 Nazi looted works in the custody of the Dutch Government and more than 70 other works held by collectors and institutions around the world; the heirs of the famed Russian artist, Kazimir Malevich, in connection with their successful claims to recover Malevich works from the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, the City of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and the Guggenheim Museum, and the heirs of Lea Bondi Jaray in their continuing efforts to recover Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally from Vienna’s Leopold Museum.  Mr. Kaye  writes and lectures extensively on the repatriation of cultural property, international art litigation and complex art transactions.


Q: You were a front-runner in developing the field of art litigation. Can you tell us about your practice?

Our practice started out as a litigation practice involving the recovery of art and cultural treasures that were stolen from sovereign nations. Today it is a full-fledged art and cultural property practice. We still do recovery litigation and lots of it. We also do all kinds of international and domestic art litigation, from contractual disputes to representing sovereigns. We have a transactional practice, in which we help collectors, museums and auction houses buy and sell art. We work on consignment agreements, loan agreements, exhibition agreements, and option agreements, among other things. We also have an active art lending practice where we represent both banks and borrowers. So it has become a very full practice.

We have two full time partners who are the co-chairs of the group, four full-time associates, and a full-time paralegal. We also partner with many other lawyers in the firm in litigation, corporate, taxation, intellectual property and other disciplines, so we probably have the largest art group in the world.

Q: How did you become involved in this niche practice area?

I was involved initially in a landmark case that dealt with the very famous theft of two portraits by Albrecht Dürer from the Weimar Art Museum at the end of World War II. We represented the museum which was attempting to recover the paintings from a young lawyer in Brooklyn.

After depositions were taken in Europe, the Court ruled that the Weimar Art Museum was an arm or instrumentality of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). And because the United States did not recognize the GDR as a de jure government, the Court ruled that, under the non-recognition doctrine, our courts could not entertain a lawsuit by the Republic. We fought the decision for more than ten years, from the District Court up to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and then had our petitions for certiorari and rehearing denied by the United States Supreme Court. However, during that long period of time, the United States finally recognized the GDR in 2005. That concept is retroactive, and because the case was still alive, we were able to apply for reconsideration in the District Court under Rule 60 (b)(6). We got back into the case and moved for summary judgment against the GDR and the Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, who claimed the paintings belonged to the private collection of the hereditary Grand Duke. We ultimately won on summary judgment, and the paintings were returned to the GDR. They hang to this day in the Weimar Art Museum.

My personal involvement with that case and in the field of international art litigation began when I was still a student at St. John’s Law School. As a summer associate following my second year, I was asked the question, with respect to the Dürer paintings case, whether a suggestion of interest by the United States government was binding on the court. The government stated that it did not want the court to recognize our suit because of the non-recognition doctrine. It turns out that it was not binding, but it was persuasive, and the courts will usually follow what the U.S. government says, and they did in that case. It was interesting that the Assistant U.S. Attorney on the case at that time was Ray Dearie, now Judge Dearie, the Editor-in-Chief of the St. John’s Law Review the year before me. So they asked me that question in the summer of 1969; the case went on until 1983, and in the process I became an international art lawyer.

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