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Vermont Law School to Honor Former Dean Maximilian W. Kempner

September 9, 2009

Photo of Max Kempner.

Former Vermont Law School dean Max Kempner.

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT—Vermont Law School will honor former dean Maximilian W. Kempner, who headed the school from 1991–1996, in a 4 p.m. ceremony on Saturday, September 12.

Current dean Jeff Shields will unveil a portrait of Kempner by Middlebury artist Kate Gridley that will hang in Waterman Hall.

In his five years as dean, Kempner led Vermont Law School's progress on many fronts. The school's endowment increased four-fold; study-abroad opportunities multiplied; women became fully integrated into the faculty, staff, and student body; and VLS became an active partner in the life of the town. Kempner also initiated a master plan of VLS's campus and programs, resulting in a new classroom building and enhanced access to technology.

R. Allan Paul, who headed VLS's board of trustees during a portion of Kempner's deanship, recalls, "Max was clear in his vision of what VLS should be doing as a leading Vermont institution, and he had the respect of all with whom he dealt, including the faculty, student body leaders, fellow members of the board and political leaders from the Governor on down. He had a vast knowledge of what a legal education would require in the current practice of law."

Kempner's guiding motivation as dean was to promote the highest standards of professionalism and service in the law-standards his own professional life has long exemplified.

A recipient of law degrees from both Harvard and Columbia law schools, Kempner joined the New York City firm of Webster & Sheffield in 1957 and became an authority on the law of nonprofit organizations. He used his skills as a volunteer in the causes of justice, legal education, and international relations, serving as a director of the Legal Aid Society, cochairman of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and as counsel to such organizations as the United Nations Development Corporation and the United States-Japan Foundation.

During a pivotal time in the relationship between law schools and the bar, Kempner chaired the American Bar Association's Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. When he and his wife, Paige, a sculptor and writer, and their family moved to South Royalton, Kempner became legal advisor to numerous Vermont nonprofits.

He says of nonprofit work, "You're surrounded by people who want to do the right thing." In 1996, VLS honored his achievements by establishing the Maximilian W. Kempner Award, presented to the VLS student representing his civility, integrity, fair mindedness, and public service.

Artist Kate Gridley, whose work hangs in public and private collections in the U.S. and Europe, says about painting Kempner, "I wanted people to see his great warmth and humanity." Coincidentally, during their sittings, Kempner and Gridley discovered that her father and Kempner had been grade school classmates in New York City.

Kempner is especially pleased with the portrait because it is set outdoors on the VLS campus.
He says, "It's a physical manifestation of my relationship with Vermont Law School, South Royalton, the White River, and the nearby mountains. Others will have to judge if the portrait captures my likeness, but my relationship with the landscape it depicts goes very deep."

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