After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1960, Anthony Amsterdam clerked for Justice Felix Frankfurter and then served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia. In 1962, he took his first teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania. He moved to Stanford in 1969, where he later was named the Montgomery Professor of Clinical Legal Education, the first endowed clinical chair in American legal education.
In 1981, already established as one of the leading legal scholars in the United States, he came to New York University School of Law to serve as Director of Clinical and Advocacy Programs. At NYU School of Law he designed the groundbreaking Lawyering Program, now a fixture of the first year course curriculum. Amsterdam has always written extensively on legal pedagogy and experiential education, and served on the ABA Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession (The MacCrate Task Force), chairing its committee to prepare the "Statement of Fundamental Lawyering Skills and Professional Values." He practices what he preaches: in 1975 he won Stanford's Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching and in 1989 he received New York University's Great Teacher Award.
Throughout his career Amsterdam has engaged in an extensive pro bono practice. Serving a wide variety of civil rights organizations, legal aid organizations and public defender organizations, he has appeared in courtrooms, the kitchens of rural Justices of the Peace, as well as (numerous times) in the Supreme Court of the United States. (In Furman v. Georgia, he persuaded the Court, which later reversed itself, that the death penalty was unconstitutional). He has litigated cases ranging from death penalty defense to claims of access to the courts for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; claims of free speech, free press, and freedom of NEA grantees from censorship; claims of privacy and equality of opportunity for racial minorities and poor people.
Even while establishing himself as one of America's leading law teachers and advocates, Professor Amsterdam has also been one of the most influential legal scholars of his generation. The author of dozens of books and articles, he is credited with writing the article which initially conceptualized the first amendment doctrine of overbreadth. His treatise on criminal defense is the definitive work in the field. During the 1990s, along with Law School colleague Jerome Bruner, he conducted the weekly Lawyering Theory Colloquium. Co-teachers included Professors Peggy Davis, Nancy Morawetz, and David Richards. The colloquium produced basic research on how the pedagogy of law school affects lawyers' sense of role and behavior. Minding the Law, with co-author Bruner, was published in Fall 2000 by Harvard University Press.