A Conversation with Alum Diane Penneys Edelman
Stroock alum Diane Penneys Edelman spoke with us about her interesting and varied career, from district court law clerk to law firm litigator to professor and director of Villanova Law’s international law programs. She talked about making connections, teaching abroad, and how she got to where she is today. Diane also offered helpful career advice for those considering a career in law.
Q: After clerking for the Honorable I. Leo Glasser of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, you came to Stroock as a litigator. What made you choose Stroock?
DPE: I knew the firm and its reputation, and I had friends who worked there while I was clerking. They were very happy at Stroock. When I interviewed, I really liked the variety of the firm’s practice and its warmth. Despite Stroock’s size, it was even more friendly than I expected. I’m still in touch with friends there. A fun fact—three of us in the litigation department were pregnant with our first children at the same time, and I’m still friends with those moms!
Q: It sounds like you loved working at the firm. What made you move to Philly?
DPE: My husband is a doctor. He trained in New York, but when it was time for a fellowship, we went to Philadelphia, which is where I’m from. It was a natural place to go and to be around family, especially with a growing family of our own.
Q: Tell me about your time at Stroock. What did you like most about working at the firm?
DPE: I liked my work and my colleagues and the opportunity to grow as a lawyer. Both the training that I received and the firm atmosphere were excellent. I also enjoyed working on pro bono cases and was glad that the firm encouraged that kind of work.
One thing that stands out is that Stroock had a lunchroom where we were able to connect with each other, which fostered a great sense of community. I loved litigating international matters. I’d been interested in international matters since I was in high school. When I was in college, I majored in Middle Eastern studies. I was very interested in all of this but didn’t know how I could incorporate it into a career. I was able to bring those interests together at Stroock and at my current job.
Q: Is there a case that stands out in your mind as your favorite?
DPE: Definitely! While at Stroock, a Haitian refugee lawyer working for the firm as a paralegal had a connection with the new regime in Haiti, and we took on a case against Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former president of Haiti, and others. When I heard about the case, I ran into Burt Lipshie’s office and told him that I had to work on it. I was just a year or so out of law school. Still, he made me a member of the team. I met with people from the Haitian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and worked with others abroad. We brought federal actions and conducted international discovery.
In the course of conducting discovery, we sought access to certain documents we needed in tribunals in Haiti and other countries. We needed to find out where Duvalier and his associates hid money. We strategized as a team on these cases. It was so exciting, and great that I could work on such an amazing multifaceted case that confirmed my interest in international lawyering. No one at the firm had handled this type of case before. It was an incredible learning process. I also worked on an international matter at the firm I later joined in Philly.
Q: Turning to your current job, did you always want to teach?
DPE: No. In fact, I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than standing in front of a classroom!
Q: So you decided to become a litigator instead? I’d think that would be far more terrifying for you.
DPE: Right, and the terror began the very first day of law school when I got called on in my real property class. I still remember what my professor asked me. But I got over it. While in law school, I became the editor-in-chief of the Journal of International Law, so I did follow my heart and pursue the study of international law there. I also wound up liking appearing in court!
Q: You said you had been terrified of teaching, so how did you go from practicing law to teaching?
DPE: During the second year of my clerkship, Brooklyn Law asked me to teach legal writing as an adjunct professor. I did so that year and during my first two years at Stroock. When I was a student at Brooklyn, the law school offered an “international law version” of legal writing, and after I graduated, the person teaching that course left and I had the opportunity to take over the class. I really enjoyed it. When we moved to Philly, I continued to practice for several years and had two more children. With six law schools in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, I decided to apply for a teaching position to have more flexibility. Villanova hired me for what was then a two-year position. I’m still there 28 years later!
Q: Tell me about your roles at Villanova.
DPE: I started out as a Legal Writing professor. I later directed the Legal Writing Program for nine years. I was also able to teach the international version of the Legal Writing course at Villanova, and even took some of my ideas from cases I worked on at Stroock to create scenarios for assignments. That helped to make the theoretical into the practical. The dean saw how much I loved international work and offered me the opportunity to run an international program with the University of Montréal. I didn’t call my husband, I just said, “Yes!” I developed and ran the program in Montréal for two years and then ran one in Rome for 10 years. It was awesome! I have developed other international opportunities for law students, such as our JD/LLM International Studies Program and externships abroad.
Q: What do you find the most challenging about your work?
DPE: Balancing everything— having enough time to teach and grade student work and to develop international programs. I advise several student organizations, supervise externships, and am active in the Philadelphia and American Bar Associations, as well as in organizations that focus on law and the arts.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?
DPE: What I love the most is hearing from my students that participating in our international programs changed their lives. It makes all the difficulties and challenges worth it. And I love guiding students on how to network.
I’m very proud of the international program I established where students can earn a master’s degree abroad during their third year of law school. We’ve had 37 students complete the program and more than a dozen schools worldwide participate. It’s exciting to see what the students do when they complete the program. Some work abroad, while others settle into practice in the U.S. and do international private and/or pro bono work.
I also enjoy bringing in Villanova alumni as guest speakers for legal writing to show students what others from Villanova have done with what they learned. The guest speakers connect their work with the importance of strong legal writing skills, which makes what I teach “real” for the students.
Q: Where are some of the more unusual places you’ve taught?
DPE: Recently, through the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative Program, I taught virtually in Moldova and Uzbekistan, and I helped to develop a handbook for the Uzbekistan course. I also taught in Lithuania on a Fulbright grant, and taught oral advocacy in Moscow. Recently, law students in Lithuania saw an article I wrote on legal writing and reached out to me to hold a legal writing seminar for them, which I did virtually as well. It’s thrilling to connect like this. I’m all about networking, connecting people, and building relationships. I call myself a “law yenta” (matchmaker)!
Q: What led to your interest in cultural heritage law?
DPE: It started in law school. One of the cases I read in my international law course at Brooklyn Law focused on a GI who brought back art stolen during WWII. The new government in Germany wanted to get the art back and a legal battle ensued. That case was all about cultural heritage law, which is the law related to people’s heritage—art, language, music, writings, and so much more. This case stayed in my mind, so when I was asked to develop, direct, and teach in Villanova’s Rome summer program, I decided to teach cultural heritage law. It’s a fascinating field, and Rome was a great setting to teach it in. I incorporate those issues into my legal writing courses as well.
Q: How did you prepare to teach the course?
DPE: I reached out to Patty Gerstenblith, then-president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, who is a professor and Director of the Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul College of Law in Chicago and an expert in this field. I used Patty’s text in my course, soon joined the LCCHP board, and later served as president and vice-president. I got to know and work with others in the field, including practicing lawyers and folks involved with the FBI’s art crimes squad!
Q: What does the practice of cultural heritage preservation law entail? How do you see that area of law evolving now that DEI has become such an important global societal concern?
DPE: I think that DEI has been embedded in cultural heritage law for ages, but perhaps not recognized in that way. Cultural heritage issues now appear regularly in the news. For example, there was the controversy involving Bill Cosby in a mural in Philadelphia, which is home to more than 3,500 murals. There’s litigation regarding removing statues, names of schools, and more. It’s a big topic. There’s also quite a lot of discussion of race, diversity, and representing cultures as members of those cultures would like to be presented.
Q: You’ve clerked, litigated, taught and directed law school programs. Did you have a career path in mind?
DPE: I didn’t. My love of everything international has been there all along. Clerking was fabulous because I gained exposure to what goes on in court, drafting decisions, and learning about different areas of law and effective advocacy. I got an incredible view of practice. Then at Stroock and the other firm I worked at, I put what I learned into practice. Teaching and the international program and my pro bono work enable me to put the various skills I developed to good use, and to impart them to my students.
Q: What advice do you have for those considering a career in law?
DPE: Take time off before law school to gain clarity, perspective, and make an intentional decision to go to law school. Then, reach out to your professors, alumni, senior classmates, and others. Make connections. You may get ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have had, or you may get an internship, a summer job, or a clinic opportunity because of a connection.
Work hard during your first year, go out for law school activities, really get the most out of clinic and other experiential opportunities. Take classes that turn you on. I think that’s really crucial. Don’t just stick to classes covering what’s on the bar exam. You’ll be taking a bar exam course covering that. You never know what will click for you, so try new things and follow your passions!