Alan M. Klinger ’81
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan
Selecting the kind of law to practice is a career-defining decision for any aspiring attorney. For Alan M. Klinger ’81, the decision was clear: Choose all of them.
Mr. Klinger, 52, believes specializing in just one type of law would have taken the fun out of being a litigator. Working on a wide variety of cases, he says, offers endless opportunities to learn, and to dig deeply into different industries and issues. “With every new case, you have to figure out what went wrong and why there was a dispute,” says Mr. Klinger.
Indeed, he has represented an exceptionally diverse collection of clients—from teachers and universities to nightclub owners and hospitals—during his almost 27 years at New York law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, where he currently is co-managing partner. He has handled collective bargaining issues for labor unions and engaged in legal tussles with state agencies, and has published papers on topics from RICO strategies to commercial litigation. These days he spends nearly half his time handling the day-to-day business of running a 360-lawyer (700 employees in total) law firm.
Mr. Klinger decided well before he enrolled at NYU Law in 1978 not to tie himself to just one aspect of the law. In fact, he says he was attracted to NYU Law because the school itself wasn’t specialized: “It balanced an interest in both the public and private sectors. I wanted a place that offered first-rate courses and training in both spheres.”
At the time, he says, NYU Law had a strong reputation as a collegial program where students shared and compared notes. “That was very different from what we were hearing about other law schools in the late ’70s,” he says. “It wasn’t cutthroat like other places.”
Courses such as family law with Professor Joan Wexler and constitutional law with Professor David Richards proved formative. Professor Richards’s use of the Socratic method—putting Klinger and his classmates on the spot in defending their positions, and usually doing it in a humorous way—left a lasting impression. A labor law course with Professor Thomas Christiansen helped spark an interest in labor issues, which Mr. Klinger says has become his “sub-specialty.”
Mr. Klinger graduated from NYU Law more than 25 years ago, but he routinely runs into classmates in court and at events put on by the New York Bar Association and other groups. Many of those classmates are more than just occasional colleagues. “People who were in my first-year section have remained life-long friends,” he says.
The ties to NYU Law extend home, too. Mr. Klinger met his wife, Susan Wagner, when they were both classmates in the first-year program. The couple lives on Long Island in Great Neck with their high school-age daughter, and has two college-age sons—one at Princeton and one at Cornell. Following NYU Law, Ms. Wagner worked for a variety of city departments, including the Corporation Counsel’s office, the New York Police Department and Mayor Ed Koch’s Office of Housing Coordination. From 2002-07, she served as the deputy comptroller of Nassau County, and currently is enrolled in a master’s program at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
Mr. Klinger for years has maintained a close relationship with NYU Law, helping conduct mock interviews for current students and identifying students for Stroock’s summer associate program. He recently was elected as a director of the NYU Law Alumni Association.
His affiliation with NYU Law also includes the courtroom. In the early 2000s, Mr. Klinger, along with classmate Elise Wagner ’81, helped represent the Law School during its campaign to build Furman Hall. The building, unveiled in 2004, nearly saw its construction blocked by community groups that objected to NYU’s purchasing and tearing down existing buildings on the site because Edgar Allan Poe had lived in one and another was part of the Judson Church complex.
Mr. Klinger worked alongside NYU President John Sexton, NYU Law Dean Richard Revesz and Professor Brookes Billman—associate dean of NYU Law’s graduate division and a former teacher of Mr. Klinger—to move the project forward. Mr. Klinger argued that the buildings were not entitled to landmarks or other protection and that the New York Attorney General’s office was right to approve the sale. In the end, the judge agreed, paving the way for Furman Hall’s construction.
These days, Mr. Klinger’s role as Stroock’s co-managing partner—he shares managerial responsibilities with fellow managing partner Stuart Coleman ’79—limits his legal work to roughly 50% of his time. Balancing management and legal responsibilities can be tricky, admits Mr. Klinger. But the key, he says, is remembering what makes his law firm tick: “This isn’t a corporation where someone issues an edict and everything just falls into line. Managing people effectively means listening to what they need and trying to forge a consensus.”
Best of all, says Mr. Klinger, taking on a management role at the firm has allowed him to continue trying new things. “After 25 or so years of litigation, it was time for new challenges. It’s important to keep learning.”