New York Law School President's Medal

Presentation of President's Medal from Arthur Abbey to Sybil Shainwald
New York Law School - Commencement 2007

“To Sybil Shainwald, whose compassion and professional skills have ennobled the practice of law” Judge Jack B. Weinstein formed this opinion of Sybil Shainwald as a result of her hundreds of appearance before him championing the rights of her clients.

The struggle for women’s rights is one the great movements in our history and it continues to have a profound impact on our society.  The quality and scope of women’s health care has become an integral part of the struggle and one that is of passionate concern in this country and around the world.  New York Law School is proud to confer the 2007 President’s Medal of Honor on a woman who is one of the earliest, most passionate, and most effective leaders in the struggle: Sybil Shainwald.

The President’s Medal of Honor was established in 2002, and is awarded to New York Law School’s most outstanding and accomplished alumni and its most generous benefactors.  Recipients of the President’s Medal have made significant contributions to the history of the Law School by their exemplary professional lives and their generosity.  Sybil Shainwald certainly fits this description, and it is particularly fitting that she is the first woman ever to receive this honor.

Sybil Shainwald was consumer advocate even before she studied law.  As a Director of the Study Center for the Consumer Movement at Consumers Union, Ms. Shainwald applied for and was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to establish the Center.  She accomplished this while attending New York Law School’s evening division from which she received a J.D. in 1976.

From that time on, Sybil Shainwald’s legal career has focused almost exclusively on women’s health issues.  She was co-counsel in Bichler vs. Lilly, the nation’s first DES daughter victory, and she has litigated thousands of cases involving drugs and devices harmful to women and their children.  In doing so, she has transformed the practice of mass torts in order to advocate health issues for American women and women in developing nations.  Ms. Shainwald represented two thousand women in a Dalkon Shield class action against A.H. Robins and obtained equality for the women of Bangladesh, India, Kenya and China: her picture hangs on the wall of many Bangladeshi homes.

She has been a vocal opponent of the use of Norplant and Depo Provera, two long-acting contraceptives, especially in developing countries.  She represents the women of the world in the breast implant litigation and was successful in setting up a $25 million fund for the benefit of women outside the United States.  She also filed a class action resulting in an Emergency Fund for DES daughters.

She has pioneered in many areas of women’s health bringing the initial cases for the lactation suppressant, and the pregnancy test, chronic villus sampling.  She was instrumental in expanding the Statute of Limitations for women’s health cases in New York, and filed the first case under the Revival Statute.

Sybil Shainwald has been a force in the campaign for proactive education and information dissemination from Appalachia to Africa.  She was chair of the National Women’s Health Network: a founding member of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice: a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s Consumer Consortium; a representative of the End-of-the-Decade Conference on Women; health advisor to United Methodist Church; and an integral part of the First Black Women’s Health Conference; the first Rural Women’s Health Conference, and many women’s grass roots groups, which she helps fund.

Her professional writings, lectures, media appearances, and testimony before congressional committees and the FDA have raised the national consciousness on crucial women’s health issues.

Ms. Shainwald’s academic career was as stellar as her legal career.  At the College of William and Mary, she was a President Bryan Scholar and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.  She received a Master’s degree in Political Science from Columbia University and a Rockefeller Foundation award for her work in consumer affairs.  Her purpose in going to law school was “to make a perfect world, and in this I’ve been eminently unsuccessful,” she says.  Nevertheless, as the award she is receiving today indicates, she has been eminently successful in combating major forms of injustice in the exceptionally important area of women’s healthcare and litigation.

New York Law School proudly my good friend and colleague, Sybil Shainwald, a member of our Board of Trustees, for her inspiring leadership, her unswerving dedication to women’s legal health needs, and her superb and innovative legal skills on behalf of the women’s health movement.