Louis Stein, ’26, whose legal education provided a solid foundation for his successful career in the food industry, lost track of his alma mater for close to 30 years. Then, in the mid-1950s, Stein decided to share his growing fortune with law students struggling to meet their tuition bills. He turned to Fordham Law School, where Dean William Hughes Mulligan embraced his proposal. Mulligan nurtured the relationship between Fordham and Stein, which deepened until his death in 1996, and lives on with the programs he endowed. What began as a small-scale scholarship program for needy law students developed into one the nation’s foremost institutes involved both in the ethics of legal practice and the practice of public-interest law.
Stein, who began his career as general counsel to Food Fair Stories and rose to become the supermarket chain’s CEO and board chairman, turned his focus to the legal profession soon after his retirement in 1972. By 1976, he founded the Fordham Law School’s Stein Institute of Law and Ethics as part of his efforts to establish Fordham as a center for the study of ethics within the legal profession and the advancement of ethical values in society at large. In the wake of the Watergate scandal in Washington, D.C., Stein wanted to encourage lawyers to take a leadership role in assuring that our society would be governed by the rule of law in a legal system that was efficiently administered. He also wanted an institute that would take a serious look at the ethical issues involved in law, and the practice of law. That same year, the law school awarded the first Fordham-Stein Prize, designed to honor a member of the legal profession whose work exemplifies outstanding standards of professional conduct, promotes the advancement of justice and brings credit to the profession.
The first recipient, US Judge Henry J. Fielding, chief judge of the US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, was viewed as one of that era’s preeminent appellate jurists. Over the ensuring 32 years, honorees have including seven Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Warren Burger and William Rehnquist; three lawyers who served as US Secretary of State; Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox; and children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman.
By the early 1990s, Stein expanded his association with Fordham. That year he established the Stein Center for Ethics and Public Interest Law and created the Stein Scholars Program for law students considering a career in the field. Since its inception, Stein Scholars graduates have worked in a variety of settings: criminal prosecution and defense, family law, poverty law, as well as positions as policy analysts for advocacy groups, government agencies and research institutes. Others have gone into private practice and devoted time to pro bono work or bar association activities. The three-year program, which includes a special ethics curriculum, includes stipends for students to pursue summer jobs in public-interest law firms during summers following their first and second years at Fordham. The Stein Center for Ethics and Public Interest Law was set up to promote a dialogue between lawyers engaged in public interest law and students and faculty at the law school. The success of these meetings sparked further involvement by Stein. By 1995, Fordham University Law School united these three programs under the umbrella of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics.