A Lifetime Of Community And Public Service
Along with his legal practice, teaching, and scholarship, Marty Lipton has long devoted substantial time to public service, especially as to causes important to New York City—work that has continued regardless of the demands of a demanding practice.
Perhaps Lipton’s most intense public service is his deep involvement and leadership in NYU’s transformation from a local institution into one of the world’s most respected and influential universities. Lipton chaired the board of NYU Law from 1988 to 1998, when he became Chairman of the Board of NYU as a whole, a position held until 2015. Lipton continues to serve as a Trustee. During his years helping NYU, Lipton brought his legal and fundraising skills to bear to first secure the financial stability of NYU in the 1970s, and then create the foundation enabling the hiring of world-class scholars in diverse fields, the expansion and improvement of NYU’s campus and facilities, and the elevation of NYU Medicine into a world-class medical school and hospital system. For his efforts, Lipton has been recognized by the Law School and university with their highest awards of merit, the Arthur T. Vanderbilt Medal, the Presidential Citation, and the Albert Gallatin Medal.1
Lipton also devotes substantial amounts of time to helping New York City itself. During the mid-1970’s, Wachtell Lipton worked as special counsel to New York City in connection with its fiscal crisis. Lipton worked with Felix Rohatyn, senior partner of Lazard Frères (the preeminent investment banker who previously had been instrumental in rescuing the New York Stock Exchange from its financial crisis), to arrange federal financing for the city. The entire Wachtell Lipton firm was pressed into service during the last six weeks of 1975 to complete all the matters necessary to achieve the financing for New York City that ended the fiscal crisis. When asked to identify his most exciting professional moment, Lipton answered: “1975 was an exciting year representing New York City in the fiscal crisis; at the same time I was involved in solving a financial crisis at NYU, where I acted as an agent on behalf of the law school (of which I was a trustee) and the university.”2
Lipton’s and his firm’s concern for New York City has also been manifested in this century. During much of the first decade of the century, Wachtell Lipton worked to help Larry Silverstein address the difficult challenges of rebuilding at the World Trade Center site, to ensure that it again became a vibrant part of lower Manhattan, while paying respect to those who were lost in the awful attack of September 11, 2001. And Lipton served as Chairman and remains a trustee of the Partnership for New York City, which acts to secure and improve the economic health of the City of New York.
Lipton did leave New York and Wachtell Lipton for one period during his adult life, and it was because of his commitment to public service. At the height of the nation’s energy crisis in the 1970s, Lipton was asked by John Sawhill, Deputy Secretary of Energy, a former NYU President, to advise him on a major energy project that had become stalled. Following receipt of his memorandum with respect to the project, the White House asked Lipton to become special counsel to the Department of Energy, and he took leave from Wachtell Lipton to do so. In 1980, the US Synthetic Fuel Corporation was created, Sawhill was named as its president, and for several months Lipton acted as general counsel to the corporation. Lipton left the government and returned to New York City toward the end of 1980 after President Carter lost his bid for re-election.3
Throughout his adult life, Lipton has also been a major benefactor of important charities and educational institutions. By way of example: Lipton has long supported the New York Legal Aid Society and received its highest award in 1995. He received the 50th Annual George A. Katz Torch of Learning Award from American Friends of the Hebrew University Lawyers Division in September 2020 for his dedication to Hebrew University. Lipton and Wachtell Lipton are long-standing benefactors of Prep for Prep, a charity that gives minority and disadvantaged students an opportunity to attend elite private schools, and Lipton served for many years as its Chair and trustee. Reflecting his deep involvement in teaching and scholarship — and his interest in the humanities — Lipton continues to serve as an Advisor of the American Law Institute, and as a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.4
1 For detail on his many contributions to NYU, see Martin Lipton, My 60 Years at NYU (Nov. 19, 2012); Dan Slater, Partner for Life, NYU Law Magazine (2013).
2 “Dealmaker: Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz’s Martin Lipton, Legal Week (Apr. 14, 2015).
3 Martin Lipton, My 60 Years at NYU, at 11 (Nov. 19, 2012)
4 See generally, Phil Albinus, Lawyers Who Lead by Example 2014 Awards: Martin Lipton, N.Y.L.J. (Oct. 14, 2014).