Professor Aaron Twerski Honored at Symposium as Scholar and “Lion” of Faculty and Field
Aaron Twerski, the Irwin and Jill Cohen Professor of Law, is recognized as one of the most distinguished living scholars in the field of tort law.
On April 20 and 21, the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial & Commercial Law Annual Symposium celebrated his contributions to the Law School and the academy. Bringing together scholars from around the country, the symposium, titled “Professor Aaron Twerski and the Law of Torts: Duty, Design, and Conflicts,” honored Twerski through the presentation of papers that explored duty, product liability, mass torts, immunity, and conflicts of law—all areas where Professor Twerski has made lasting contributions. The papers will be published this fall in a “Festschrift” volume of the Journal.
“This Festschrift is a celebration of both Aaron and his career,” said Edward Janger, Brooklyn Law’s David M. Barse Professor of Law and Co-director of the Center for the Study of Business Law & Regulation, who organized and led the symposium. “Festschrifts are traditionally prepared in honor of a valued scholar’s 70th birthday. We are a bit late. These papers are ambitious and do a wonderful job of engaging with Aaron’s work, but also advance the discussions in which Aaron has participated.” He added, with a laugh, “I’m hoping that Aaron is going to be taking notes, because we’ve set aside some time at the end for him to tell us all why we are wrong.”
Professor Twerski is “a lion of our faculty and of his field,” said then-President and Joseph Crea Dean Michael Cahill in his welcoming remarks. “He has been and done everything that one can over the course of his distinguished and illustrious career,” said Cahill, who has returned to his role as professor at the Law School.
Twerski’s career as teacher and scholar began more than 50 years ago at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1967. His scholarly work, as the co-Reporter of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Product Liability (American Law Institute, 1998) along with numerous articles and casebooks, has covered the entire landscape of tort law, and his contributions have been noted for their combination of wisdom, pragmatism, and a prudent and principled sense of justice. The American Law Institute designated Twerski the R. Ammi Cutter Reporter for his work on the Restatement. He was also awarded the Prosser Award by the Torts Section of the American Association of Law Schools for his outstanding contributions to the scholarship and teaching of torts and compensation systems. Twerski joined the Brooklyn Law School faculty in 1986, after serving as interim dean at Hofstra University School of Law, where he taught for many years and where he was dean from 2005-2007 before rejoining the faculty at Brooklyn.
In presenting their papers, participants also shared their thoughts on Twerski and his importance to their own lives and work. Among them was Brooklyn Law Professor Lawrence Solan, who, during the panel discussing tort duties, recalled Twerski visiting one of his classes and making a concise, no-nonsense comment from the back of the classroom during a discussion of empirical work on punitive damages. “Aaron made the point without using a lot of legalese,” Solan said. “The problem of punitive damages is not one we’re going to solve by reasoning. We’re going to solve it by making moral and other judgments about what they should be, if anything. And that is typical of what it's like to work with Aaron. He is not only an expert on torts and product liability law, but an expert on what the law can do and cannot do.”
In the first of two panels on product liability, Ellen Bublick, Dan B. Dobbs Professor of Law and Faculty Research Fellow at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law, saluted Twerski’s pedagogical skills.
“Professor Twerski is a teacher of teachers,” Bublick said. “I have long admired his commitment to the common law, to working with it, to understanding it, to improving it, and not wavering from that commitment.”
Douglas Kysar, Deputy Dean and Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law at Yale Law School, spoke of being initially intimidated to meet Twerski, whose product liability articles and successful early teaching days preceded him.
“Aaron seemed to be the embodiment of wisdom and penetrating insight,” Kysar said.
Benjamin C. Zipursky, Professor of Law, and James H. Quinn ’49 Chair in Legal Ethics at Fordham University School of Law, spoke for both himself and John C. P. Goldberg, Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence at Harvard Law School, his co-author of a symposium paper on product liability and duty law within New York State.
“John and I identify most strongly as torts professors who want to shed light on the law so that lawyers and judges can do their best to get the law right and make it the best it can be,” Zipursky said. “Aaron’s clear intellectual and moral commitment to these goals and his excellence in reaching them have been an inspiration to us.”
Neil B. Cohen, 1901 Distinguished Research Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, called Twerski “my great friend and mentor for close to 40 years.”
“In the area of conflict of laws, Aaron has been my tutor, co-teacher, and casebook collaborator,” Cohen said. “I learned from Aaron the importance of a strong theoretical framework, but also that ultimately most choice-of-law rules are highly imperfect. They work better in some contexts than others and, as a result, application of conflict-of-laws theories has to be tempered with recognition of how they work on the ground, with both a sense of their economic impact and a sense of human compassion. Without Aaron, there would be no Neil in conflict of laws.”
Harking back to her own days in Twerski’s classroom, Hon. Claire R. Kelly ’93, Judge, United States Court of International Trade, called herself “an expert witness” on Twerski’s teaching style. “Once you take one Twerski class, you tend to sign up for them all. As a first-year student, to have him as a torts professor was nothing short of magical. And in case you think I am exaggerating, I will tell you a true story. A classmate of mine once brought a date to his class and she wasn’t even a law student or a lawyer. But his class was that good that his pedagogical skills were something that someone chose to use to impress the object of his affection.”
At the close of the panels, a humbled Twerski thanked Festschrift participants.
“My head is swelling from all of this praise—much of it is undeserved. And that's not false humility,” Twerski said. “It has been a high for me, and I hope that I can continue to earn your respect and your praise. And I hope to continue to be able to do scholarship and to teach. I'm very grateful for the opportunity that was given to me. I love to teach, I love to write, and then I get paid for it, which is also something. Through all the years at Brooklyn Law School … that group of colleagues that could not be matched anywhere else in the world. They are great colleagues, great friends, and great human beings. I'm grateful to all of you for all your interactions with me, and I just pray to God that we can continue.”