By Cary Shuman
Brandeis University classmates remember Michael H. Roffer as a brilliant, personable and studious young man who could command a room with his wit, warmth and intellect.
Roffer graduated in 1980 from nearby Brandeis – a prestigious school named for Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis – and went on to earn his Juris Doctor magna cum laude from New York Law School and his master’s in Library and Information Science from Rutgers University.
A member of the New York Bar since 1984 and a current professor of legal research at New York Law School, Roffer has brought his considerable talents and eloquence to a new endeavor as the author of “The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law.”
Roffer was approached by Sterling Publishing Company to write a book that continues the publisher’s series of books that focus on mathematics, physics, medicine and other subjects in the sciences.
The publisher sought out a legal scholar and approached Roffer about authoring its first non-science book exploring 250 of the most fundamental, far-reaching, and often-controversial cases, laws and trials that profoundly changed the law.
“They had an idea to do the law book and the opportunity came to me as a potential author,” said Roffer. “I submitted a proposal to them which they really loved. I wish I could say the idea was mine because it’s such a great format that’s used for all of the subjects.”
The book is generating strong reviews and is widely considered a “must-read” for attorneys, law school students, college and high school students and those who just love history – but basically for anyone with an interest in the progression of the nation’s legal justice system.
“The book is a very concise but sweeping overview of 4,000 years of developments and issues that have arisen in law,” said Roffer. “I cover significant legal milestones that we are all somewhat curious about because we know about them or hear about them but we don’t really know the details. I hope I was able to – without going in to much detail – at least provide an explanation of important legal ideas and concepts that shines a little light on how the law surrounds us in everything we do.”
Roffer’s book is organized chronologically and the entries consist of a short essay and a stunning full-color image.
Roffer noted that at this year’s American Association of Law Schools conference in New York City the association’s incoming president, when asked what her goals were, said she had chosen the theme, “Why Law Matters.”
“She chose that theme partly because the public thinks about the law very narrowly and I think she’s 100 percent right about this – mostly because of the way we’re indoctrinated by the media.
“Everybody thinks that law is about dispute resolution,” said Roffer. “But in fact, law is really the very fabric of our society. It’s what holds everything together and it’s what governs our lives without us really even realizing it except in the cases where disputes arise.”
Roffer articulates that message very well in The Law Book, affirming why law matters and how it impacts lives.
Colleagues in the legal profession have embraced Roffer’s work for offering an authoritative and comprehensive look at world-renowned legal issues that still captivate us today, everything from civil rights, surrogacy, and assisted suicide to the 2000 U.S. Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Roffer, who lives in New York City with his wife and two children, is heartened by the tremendous reception.
“The reaction has all been positive,” said Roffer. “People have found it to be a very accessible source of the law and that spans a whole variety of people – from lawyers to academics, to non-lawyers including students. A colleague asked me to autograph a book for her 10-year-old daughter as a gift and she told me that her daughter loved the book. That really thrilled me.”
Refecting on his four years in the intellectually stimulating Brandeis environment, Roffer said the elite university influenced his choice of career in a positive way.
“I was always in the Brandeis library and it was always home for me. I discovered so much there by just browsing the stacks,” said Roffer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics. “I also became interested in law school through my Brandeis experience. I was taking a class on labor economics and one of the texts we read was about the Supreme Court’s early decisions and the recognition of labor unions. I said, ‘this law stuff is really fascinating,’ and that’s what got me interested in it.”
The author was the guest of honor at a Brandeis celebration in Pennsylvania for his new book and it was as if the clock was turned back 35 years for Michael H. Roffer was amicably holding court – no pun intended – amidst scores of his classmates and friends.