Spring 2015


Jim Zirin, ’64: A Gift for the 50th

By Amy Spooner

James Zirin headshot
Jim Zirin, ’64

Jim Zirin, ’64, sees himself as a storyteller. 

Which is fitting, because in addition to being senior counsel in the New York office of Sidley Austin LLP, he has authored a book and more than 100 op-eds, and he hosts a half-hour weekly TV talk show.

He knows that Michigan Law has been central in his own story. 

In gratitude, Zirin made a significant contribution to the Law School Fund to commemorate his 50th reunion. 

“I loved my experience at Michigan,” says Zirin, who also participated in previous reunion gift campaigns. “Michigan Law contributed greatly to my success as a lawyer, and the way I think about the world. Michigan was the foundation for my book.”

That book, The Mother Court: Tales of Cases That Mattered in America’s Greatest Trial Court (American Bar Association, 2014), chronicles memorable mid-20th century cases in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 

The court influenced Zirin profoundly: Before entering law school, he observed cases at the courthouse, and he later was an assistant U.S. attorney there, in the criminal division under legendary prosecutor Robert M. Morgenthau. 

While condensing a half-decade of news-making moments and personalities into a 300-page volume might seem daunting, Zirin found it surprisingly easy. 

“My road not taken was journalism. And although people imagine Perry Mason when they think of lawyers, most legal advocacy is written. Treating and analyzing facts, and putting the story into a logical order, felt very comfortable.”

Each week on CUNY-TV’s Conversations in the Digital Age, Zirin provides a forum for others to tell their stories. His guests include lawyers and a wide range of personalities, such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and musician Wynton Marsalis. 

Again, the parallels to lawyering are many, he says. “I try to push my guests so that they explain their story in a way that’s spontaneous and interesting.”

Practicing law, writing the book, and hosting the show have given Zirin an even greater appreciation for the American legal system. 

He says the only way to preserve it is “to continue educating lawyers well, as Michigan does. Fifty years seemed like an important milestone in my own legal education, so I accepted my classmates’ challenge to give to the Law School Fund.”