Commencement Speaker Kenneth Feinberg

Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard has announced that Kenneth R. Feinberg will deliver the 2013 Commencement address on June 7 at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. Best known as the leading attorney overseeing settlement payouts in the wake of massive disasters, Feinberg has repeatedly been named by the National Law Journal as one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.” He served as the Special Master of the Federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, in which he handled the monumental responsibility of evaluating claims and determining appropriate compensation to the victims’ families. In 2009, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner named him as Wall Street’s “pay czar” to calculate compensation for the executives of failing financial institutions that had received taxpayer bailout money. In 2010, he was appointed as the independent administrator of a $20 billion fund set up to compensate victims of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Most recently, Pennsylvania State University asked him to assist in resolving  claims concerning the child sex-abuse victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The BLS Library has in its collection several items written by Feinberg including What Is Life Worth?: The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11 (Call #KF1328 .F45 2005). At 190 pages, the book is not necessarily for lawyers as it describes the reactions of the victims’ families to the 9/11 tragedy. In the preface, Feinberg explains that the book “is not a diary of my experiences in relating to the 9/11 families, although personal stories are interspersed throughout the text. Instead, this book focuses on how my administration of the 9/11 Fund changed me, the public policy implications of the story, and, perhaps most important, the lessons that the families can teach us about life, death, and coping with grief.” The book has enormous emotional weight. In the end, he concludes that he was changed both professionally and personally. His career path has changed dramatically as a result of his role in the Fund. He has apparently “radically downsized” his law firm, and devotes more time to “educating the next generation of lawyers” as opposed to mediating disputes between Fortune 500 companies. When he does mediate, he says he now chooses cases that are more “interesting and meaningful,” such as those involving sexual abuse accusations in the Roman Catholic Church, or racial discrimination class action suits. He says he now picks and chooses cases “in a desire to do some good for both the litigants and the broader society in which I live.”