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A Teachable Moment

many of its professors had real-world experience. He remembers Professor John Slain ’55 as a “perfect example of someone who Veteran lawyer Peter Levin has shifted from restructuring had done a lot of other things,” including practicing law at a firm, serving as general debt to improving public education, one block at a time. counsel of a public company, and in 1980 iven the location—inside the on a graduate course at Bank Street College, co-authoring a seminal law book, Agency, former Tweed Courthouse—you where Levin recently earned joint master’s Partnership, and Employment: A Transacmight assume that Peter Levin ’81 degrees in early-childhood and elementary tional Approach. is doing something related to law education. “Play is a very important way Levin’s pro bono work often has an educain this warm and bright room. for the kids to learn,” Levin explains. “The tional slant. He has done work for the Lincoln Instead, Levin is putting yellow tape blocks can teach the kids a host of things, Center Institute, which provides curricula on a blue floor, marking spots where his such as counting or science—how many for schools. Recently, he joined the board of 23 kindergarten students will sit upon their blocks does it take to build a structure? School Year Abroad, of which one of his sons return from lunch. The tape acts as a guide How are you going to keep up the blocks?” and three nieces are alumni. to “reduce marginally the level of chaos,” he Restructuring blocks is a far cry from For Anna Hayes Levin ’80, who met her says with a grin. It does the trick for most restructuring debt for titans like Bank of spouse when both were undergraduates of the five-year-olds, with just a few need- America and JPMorgan Chase. As a partner at Yale, his gear switching makes coming a gentle reminder from their teacher. in Davis Polk’s Credit Group, Levin advised plete sense. After her own career as genLevin, a partner at Davis Polk from 1989 clients on complex financial problems eral counsel for LVMH and a partner at the to 2010 and currently senior counsel at the including the collapses of “lots of things Battle Fowler law firm, she left to serve on firm, is at full throttle in a second career as that were not supposed to collapse,” in his Manhattan Community Board No. 4 from an early-childhood and elementary school words, such as Argentina, Bear Stearns, 2001 to 2009 and now sits on the New York teacher at PS 343. A native New Yorker Bethlehem Steel, Enron, and many more. City Planning Commission. “It’s always who attended private schools and, with his At the firm, his “legendary encyclope- been important for us to do something wife, raised two sons who also attended pri- dic knowledge of law,” says partner Jason for our community,” she says. “Besides, vate schools, Levin changed careers partly because he wanted to “know what options were available to children who don’t have the resources that my children had” and to “investigate” the political debate surrounding public education by gaining practical teaching experience. “For many of the people who first created public schools 180 years ago, universal free public education was the key to a successful democratic society,” Levin says. “If they were right, what happens to that society if public education is failing?” That kind of thoughtfulness and commitment, not to mention his successful legal career, makes Levin an attractive hire in public education. “It’s exciting to have him here,” Principal Maggie Siena says, calling Levin “a consummate professional.” Siena worked with Levin at PS 150 in Tribeca, where she was principal and he worked as an assistant fourth- and fifth- Kyrwood, was coupled with a genuine inter- changing careers is intellectually rejuvegrade teacher. When she was tapped to est in the well-being of young associates: nating. As a friend once said, every plant open PS 343 in the renovated courthouse “If you had a personal or professional issue, needs to be repotted.” last fall, she invited him to join her. “The he would take the time to talk it over and For Peter Levin, there is also the imkids respond well to him,” she says, “and offer frank, useful advice.” mense satisfaction of positively influenche has a very good sense of who they are.” Teaching as a second career has long ing a young life. “There are children who For Levin’s kindergarteners, the after- been Levin’s plan. “I knew when I was in arrive with a range of emotional situations,” noon activity is building with blue foam fourth or fifth grade that I wanted to teach, he says. “When you’ve succeeded, you see blocks, some as big as the children. With but only after I’d done a lot of other things,” the light go on. They radiate back to you their teacher’s help, the kids plan what he says. His teachers “brought the world into how well you’ve done.” kinds of structures they want to build the classroom.” A Spanish teacher served He adds: “Most of them don’t have a clue and choose teams, then the room erupts in the Spanish merchant marine, and an what I did before. And to them it doesn’t in noisy activity. Soon, where there were English teacher was a member of the Royal really matter.” Or, as one kindergartener just blocks sit pony castles and jungles. Shakespeare Company. As a senior in high put it, “Peter’s awesome.” Eyes widening, Although it looks spontaneous, the school, Levin helped teach ninth-grade he leans forward and whispers, “He lets us activity is carefully designed—drawing English. Levin chose NYU Law because so dissect fish.” Christine Pakkala

THE PEOPLE

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NYU Law Magazine 2013  
NYU Law Magazine 2013  

The annual magazine from NYU School of Law.