The Formation of New York’s Commercial Division: A History & Memoir

This blog entry serves as an introduction to an article written by Mark H. Alcott, of Counsel at the NYC firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP. The article about New York’s Commercial Division is included in the next issue of The Historical Society of the New York Courts’ Judicial Notice, a journal of articles of historical substance and scholarship that uniquely focuses on New York legal history. This latest issue of Judicial Notice is ready to be shipped out and is only available to Society Members. Don’t miss out and become a member by clicking on the following link: Join the Society.

Photo: Cover of Governor Mario Cuomo’s 1994 Message to the Legislature. Courtesy New York State Archives.

In the glory years of the early to mid-twentieth century, New York’s court system was the venue of choice for business litigation, much of which arose out of transaction documents mandating the application of New York law. New York State forum selection clauses were routine boiler plate in major deals. And New York’s legendary judges – Cardozo, Lehman, Fuld, Breitel, Botein et al. – took the lead in developing business law jurisprudence. But that began to change in the later part of the century, as New York’s courts became swamped with personal injury, matrimonial, criminal and like cases, leaving little time for the heavy demands of the modern business lawsuit. Business litigants voted with their feet and fled New York’s court system in large numbers.

Now, there has been a renaissance. New York once again has a sophisticated, experienced court that is handling complex commercial cases and winning the plaudits of the business community. How did that happen? This engaging memoir – by the bar leader who initiated the effort – tells the inside story of how a small group of determined business litigators collaborated with a reform-minded Chief Judge to create New York’s flourishing Commercial Division.

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