James Vorenberg

Quietly Preparing To Take Over At The Law School

In 1970, a professor at the Law School introduced an innovative way to learn criminal law. He sent his students down to the Cambridge Police Department. For three hours, each student would ride in the squad car with two officers and watch them make arrests. Nicknamed the Ride-Along Program, it was designed to give students a view of crime from the police officer's perspective. It was one of the first times that a professor of Law had gone into the community to teach his students about law. The program was an overwhelming success. The professor was James Vorenberg '49, who next July will succeed Albert M. Sacks as dean of the Law School.

James Vorenberg has played a lot of roles since 1951, when he graduated from the Law School: clerk to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, private attorney, special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, associate special prosecutor during Watergate, master of Dunster House. In each role, however, the same qualities emerged--a strong sense of organization, an active concern for the community, and a kind of pragmatic or moderate liberalism.

"He is a liberal in the best sense of the word. He does not look for the simple solutions, but he has a very humane concern for improving people's lives," Frank E. Snyder, professor of Law, says.

Alan M. Dershowitz, professor of Law, points to Vorenberg's moderate philosophy as critical in his new position of leadership. "American law today is looking for leadership. People like Chief Justice Warren Burger are trying to fill that vacuum in the wrong way. I think Jim Vorenberg will fill the void in a progressive, liberal way," he says.

Vorenberg's principal interest is in criminal law. From 1964 through 1967, he served concurrently as the first director of the Office of Criminal Justice in the Department of Justice and as executive director of the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration off Justice. In 1969, he established the Center for Criminal Justice at Harvard to study criminal law.


Vorenberg does not take a strong stand on his favorite issue. On the president's crime commission, he made proposals for the better training of police and correction officers and court justices. By his own acknowledgement, these were designed more to make prisons less savage than to prevent crime.

A strong advocate of the rights of minorities and the poor, Vorenberg is a director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense Fund and counts Vernon Jordan as one of his friends. In a news conference after the announcement of his selection as dean, he said that one of his priorities would be to increase the number of minorities on the Law School faculty.

Vorenberg has not always been so liberal. Rather, his career has shown a steady liberalizing of his views and attitudes. "There have been some major changes in his thinking. He has become more progressive and more open-minded," Dershowitz says.

"We didn't always think of him turning out this way," one professor who refused to be named says. "When he was president of the Harvard Law Review, he was not particularly strong in listening to a lot of people," he adds.

Vorenberg started his career in the office of the general counsel of the secretary of the Air Force. After three years there, he moved on to serve as Frankfurter's clerk.

"Frankfurter was a tremendously rigorous taskmaster. He continually pressed me on every point I missed," Vorenberg recalls.

One of Vorenberg's responsibilities in Frankfurter's office was to act as chauffeur. "Frankfurter and Dean Acheson used to walk to Acheson's office every day. On nice days, I used to pick Frankfurter up at Acheson's office. On rainy days, I used to drive them both to work. But on threatening days, I used to drive slowly and out of sight behind them so I could pick them up if it started to rain," Vorenberg explains.

Vorenberg came out of Frankfurter's office with an interest in corporate law and joined the Boston law firm of Ropes and Gray, where he became a partner in 1960. At Ropes and Gray, Vorenberg worked with general business, corporate transactions and proxy fights.

In 1962, Vorenberg was offered his present position at the Law School. "Vorenberg has varying streaks. At Ropes and Gray, he really enjoyed bargaining in different positions, but now he also enjoys other things," Sander notes.

Once a big horse-racing fan, Vorenberg has given up that interest in favor of baseball. "Besides the Red Sox, I like squash, occasional poker and skiing," he says.