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HANS SMIT

HANS SMIT

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December 21, 2014
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December 21, 2014
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January 09, 2012
If you attended the Columbia Law School during the past fifty years and did not encounter Hans Smit, then you did not go to Columbia. Hans Smit can well serve as an emblem for the law school and all that it represents. An outstanding teacher, Hans Smit was the most imposing and impressive instructor that I have ever known.

His greatest lesson as far as I am concerned was perhaps his first. He related to the class the Latin motto inscribed over the entrance to the law school's former home Kent Hall: "Law is the art of the good and the just." This maxim and that lecture have remained with me ever since.

Many years later I had the pleasure of taking a course at the Harvard Law School and met a man who was said to be the role model for the character of Professor Kingsfield in the novel/movie The Paper Chase. During our conversation the man asked me if there was a Kingsfield-like instructor during my time at Columbia. I said yes and he is a Dutchman who stands about 6'2".

A few years after that I told Hans Smit this story, he smiled and corrected me. It turns out Professor Smit is actually 6'4".

He will be properly remembered as a well-regarded authority on international law and a leader in the field of international arbitration. But for those of us who were so fortunate to have him as a teacher, he will be recalled as a supportive mentor who helped countless students navigate their path in the law. After all, it was Hans who gave future Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg one of her first jobs out of law school at a time when our profession was far less receptive to women attorneys.

For his efforts on both sides of the Atlantic he had been knighted by the royal family of the Netherlands and earned the respect and admiration of all of those he has taught and helped for all these many years.

Hans Smit was a very rare man. He will surely be missed and I thank him for touching my life.
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