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Profile - Bennet Boskey '39: Not Shy, Not Retiring

As a student at HLS, Bennett Boskey ’39 took the name of one of his courses literally. In Conflict of Laws, with Professor Erwin Griswold ’28 S.J.D. ’29, Boskey aired his own conflict with the man who would later serve as dean of HLS for 21 years. In a final exam, Griswold allowed students to choose an alternative topic to a question the professor posed. “I thought I’d write about what he did wrong in teaching Conflict of Laws,” Boskey said. After the exam, Griswold summoned Boskey to meet with him. In an hour-long conversation, the professor acknowledged that his student just might have been right.

While he would not necessarily recommend the same approach to today’s law students, Boskey can now look back and laugh at the audacity that caught the eye of a legendary professor. After all, such assertiveness and confidence have helped him succeed in a career that has incorporated general legal skills grounded in his HLS education and his clerkships with some of the great jurists of the mid-20th century.

Currently operating his own practice in Washington, D.C., Boskey served as partner in the firm Volpe Boskey & Lyons (and predecessors), also located in the nation’s capital, from 1952 to its dissolution in 1996. At the firm, which the partners intentionally kept small throughout its history, Boskey assisted with government contracts, handled work pertaining to the nuclear and utilities industries, and served as local counsel for RAND, a research organization on security and domestic policy matters.

“I have always regarded myself as an antediluvian lawyer,” said Boskey. “I am engaged in the general practice of law, and very few people are.”

He began his career in 1939 as a clerk for Judge Learned Hand LL.B. 1896, the presiding judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Hand accepted Boskey sight unseen after Felix Frankfurter ’06 recommended the student, and Boskey relished the opportunity to work with the judge. “He was a great person. He treated you more as an equal than he ought to have.”

Boskey then clerked for Supreme Court Justices Stanley Reed from 1940 to ‘41, and Harlan Stone from 1941 to ‘43. That experience inspired a lifelong interest and expertise in the Court, leading him to write the three volumes of West’s Federal Forms on the Supreme Court.

During World War II, Boskey served in the U.S. Army and was a special assistant to the attorney general in the Department of Justice, War Division. After being discharged as a first lieutenant, he advised the State Department on enemy property and later worked as deputy general counsel at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. By the early 1950s, he said, “I finally got to the point when I thought if I’m ever going to practice law, I had better do it now.”

Now in his 80s, Boskey said that he doesn’t plan to stop practicing law. “I’m not very enthusiastic about retiring,” he said. “I like working. I hope I can continue to do it.”

He continues other long-standing pursuits, such as a leadership role in the American Law Institute, which he has served as treasurer for 26 years. Founded in 1923, the institute undertakes projects to promote the clarification and simplification of the law. Boskey also supports several school initiatives. He chairs the board of trustees for the Primary Day School in Bethesda, Md.; has endowed a professorship at Vassar College; and last year established a visiting lecturers’ fund at HLS. He has chaired the gift committee for his 40th, 50th, and 60th reunions, during which his classmates might have learned about a young student who gave his own lecture to a future dean.

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