Distinguished Visiting Professor Esther Clark (1929-2002) – pioneering criminal-defense attorney, law professor, first female president of the Delaware County Bar Association and founder and namesake of Roger Williams Law’s annual intra-scholastic Moot Court Competition – was an influential and beloved presence during the school’s formative period, chosen by students as Professor of the Year not once, but five times.
The first tenured female law professor at Widener Law School in Wilmington, Del., Clark joined RWU Law as a visiting professor during its second year, teaching Criminal Procedure and Evidence – and enjoying it so much that she stayed on for eight more years, endowing both a prize for the Moot Court Competition’s winner and a scholarship for rising 2Ls.
“Esther loved it at RWU Law,” says Professor Bruce Kogan, who was friends with her for three decades. “She liked the energy of the brand-new school. The kids who came here in the early years were very practical, savvy students with a lot of street smarts. Esther wanted to see them realize their own potential as lawyers. She really connected with them.”
In a tribute soon after her passing, former student Michael Voccola ’97 recalled Clark’s “ability to make people [feel] comfortable and unintimidated,” while Robert Kando ’96 noted her manner of “treating each person as an equal, including student, professor or university president. Esther Clark was special because she accorded special treatment to everyone.”
Clark earned her law degree at Rutgers, where she was the only woman in her class – and an associate editor on the Law Review. She worked for $40 a day as a public defender in Chester, Penn., during the 1960s, before establishing a longtime private practice with her husband. In 1976, she began teaching law at Widener, then known as Delaware Law School.
Clark was once voted “Man of the Year” by the Lawyers Club of Delaware County, a title that reflected not only the club’s pre-feminist sensibilities, but also Clark’s toughness as a lawyer with a career marked by firsts.
“The transformation of the legal profession as an exclusive male preserve was undoubtedly expedited by Professor Clark,” notes Professor Anthony Santoro. “She demonstrated conclusively that competency in the practice and teaching of law knows no gender barrier. And she did that in a quiet, unassuming and persuasive manner.”
“One reason she was so successful,” said John Clark (1928-2010), Esther’s husband of 47 years, was that “she didn’t look down on the people she represented.” In 2010, he added that his wife “certainly would be proud of the progress the school has made.”