When Jeffrey Liss, ’75, died of pancreatic cancer in March 2007, hundreds mourned his loss.
The co-managing partner of DLA Piper’s U.S. offices was eulogized as passionate and funny, a consummate professional whose family meant the world to him, a fierce competitor who never lost sight of his personal values, a champion of his law firm and everyone in it, and a tireless advocate for the
Now, many of those whose lives Liss touched have come together to give a total of more than $1 million to create a most appropriate memorial at the Law School: the Jeffrey F. Liss Professorship from Practice, honoring Liss’s many contributions to the legal profession and the life of the School.
In January, Dean Evan H. Caminker named David M. Uhlmann, inaugural director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program, as the first Jeffrey F. Liss Professor from Practice.
“The reason we wanted to create a Professorship from Practice is because that’s what Jeffrey did at the Law School for many years—he brought the world of practice into the academy, he bridged those worlds,” says his wife, Susan Liss, of Chevy Chase, Maryland.
She has been deeply moved by the broad-based support for the professorship. Gifts at all levels came not only from family, friends, and professional colleagues, but also from DLA Piper’s administrative staff. “It was just so incredibly generous, thoughtful, and sincere,” she says.
Andy Marks, ’76, and Susan Esserman, ’77, of Bethesda, Maryland, friends of the Lisses for more than three decades, headed up a group of 10 couples who made generous personal gifts to the professorship and encouraged many others to do the same.
“We went over Jeffrey’s extensive Rolodex,” says Marks, “and did a broad outreach to friends, clients, professional and personal acquaintances of Jeffrey, to tell them what a wonderful tribute the Liss Professorship was and how much it meant to Susan.”
Not forgotten in the appeal were Liss’s fellow players in the Ponce de Leon League, a Washington-area baseball league for men over 30 where he earned the nickname “Scrap Iron.” Liss, who played catcher well into his 50s, was also a regular at the Baltimore Orioles’ annual Fantasy Camp.
In recognition of Liss’s significant role in the firm’s growth, development, and values, DLA Piper also made a generous gift to create the Liss Professorship.
“Jeff Liss was the moral compass of our firm, and his commitment to the University of Michigan and its Law School were important to him,” says Lee Miller, the firm’s joint chief executive officer. “It was important to us to memorialize that, and to move forward with a program that was consistent with the values that Jeff brought to bear on his life.”
Liss felt a strong commitment to public service. He believed every lawyer had a responsibility to serve the public, and he worked to increase dramatically the scope and depth of DLA Piper’s pro bono work, including the firm’s international pro bono initiative, the New Perimeter Program. Liss led by example, acting, in one notable success, as lead counsel in an important class action lawsuit involving the civil rights of corrections workers in jails in Washington, D.C.
“Jeff also appreciated how a commitment to the public good and to the needs of the less fortunate is a powerful galvanizing agent for a firm like ours, which is a product of numerous combinations,” says Frank Burch, the firm’s joint chief executive officer.
Among many other volunteer roles, Liss chaired the American Bar Association Commission on the Billable Hour and the Washington, D.C. Bar Task Force in Civility on the Profession; served on the advisory board of the D.C. Bar Foundation, which raises and gives money for pro bono services; and served as an officer of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where he headed the search committee for the new president and new conductor.
He was a longstanding adjunct faculty member at Michigan and other law schools, teaching subjects that matched his wide range of interests. At the same time, Liss maintained a full load as a litigator, and was a recognized authority on environmental and insurance coverage law who tried a number of cases every year. Since his days as an associate he was involved in firm management, helping lead the firm—previously known as Piper & Marbury—through a period of tremendous growth and expansion, eventually helping to create an international law firm with 63 offices in 24 countries.
Liss, whose sense of humor was legendary, also loved a good time. And he was dedicated to the Maize and Blue, turning the annual Michigan-Ohio State game into a destination party for family and friends. He was a three-degree Wolverine who also earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in philosophy from the University. In law school, Liss was notes editor for the Journal of Law Reform. After graduation, he became a committed volunteer and donor to the Law School and the University.
“From early in his career, he felt an obligation to the Law School,” says Susan Liss. “He felt like he got so much out of his experience there, not just in classes and on the Journal of Law Reform, but through his engagement with his professors and his interest in a whole range of issues.”
Two scholarships in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts were created to honor Jeffrey’s memory: one providing annual support for students in the Michigan in Washington Program, a second providing annual need-based assistance to undergraduate students, endowed by James and Doris Brogan of St. Davids, Pennsylvania.
Friends and colleagues agree that the Liss Professorship from Practice was an inspired way to honor this special man. “There will never be another Jeffrey,” says Marks. “He was a great role model of how you can be serious, even ambitious, and work really hard, and still have time to laugh and to mentor and inspire people. He was the soul of his law firm, and that same soul came through in everything he did.”