Fordham University’s School of Law opened the Feerick Center for Social Justice and Dispute Resolution on July 1, bringing under one roof a spectrum of legal and social justice work, ranging from policy formation and dispute resolution to direct legal services to the poor. The newly established center is named for the family of John D. Feerick, J.D., Sidney C. Norris Professor of Law, who serves as its executive director.
“In the summer of 2005, Dean Treanor began a conversation with me about institutionalizing some of the things I’d done in my career,” said Feerick, who was the Law School’s dean from 1982 to 2002. “We discussed getting students, faculty and graduates involved in social justice issues that I’d worked on, like housing, judicial selection and school financing. That was the genesis of the center.”
Establishing the Feerick Center, housed in the Law School at 33 West 60th Street, was one of the highlights of Fordham Law’s Centennial year. At the heart of the center’s mission is educating Fordham Law students, providing them with an unparalleled opportunity to work on cutting-edge legal issues critical to the poor and under-represented, with family homelessness being among the center’s most urgent priorities.
“The area I’ve been most involved with in recent years is projects having to do with family homelessness and housing courts,” Feerick said. “Housing courts are the oldest of the problem-solving courts, and they deal with what can be life-and-death issues between landlords and tenants, and tenants and government. Legal Aid can only handle a small percentage of the cases.”
In 2002, as one of the three members of the New York City Family Homelessness Special Master Panel, Feerick helped broker an agreement between the City of New York, the Department of Homeless Services and the Legal Aid Society calling for a new way to address family homelessness through evaluation of the issues, constructive problem-solving and reduced reliance on the courts.
Feerick graduated from Fordham College in 1958, and from Fordham Law in 1961, and began his legal career as an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, where he later became a partner and served for 21 years, along the way establishing the firm’s labor and employment law practice. Since then, he has headed a commission on judicial election reform in New York state and provided recommendations to the courts on school financing reform litigation. He helped build Fordham Law School’s ethics and dispute resolution curriculum, public service and clinical programs, various centers and institutes, and Fordham’s graduate program.
Along the way, Feerick was also first chair of the ethics committee of the Dispute Resolution Section of the American Bar Association, and chaired the joint committee of the American Bar Association, American Arbitration Association, and the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution, which generated national standards for mediation. He has served on the task force that helped develop the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and is the author of several books, one of which, The Twenty Fifth Amendment (Fordham University Press, 1976, 1992), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Feerick sees great potential for good works by the Fordham community at the center by harnessing the energy of law students and senior alumni who are interested in social justice. “You have people get into their fifties, sixties and seventies who want to remain involved, to contribute,” he said. “The center will give them the opportunity to serve with meaning and purpose.”
On what draws him to social justice issues, Feerick said, “In a strange way I think as I get older, my faith tells me to get as close as I can to the margins of society, because that’s where Christ is. I function best where people are in the greatest need.”