Last year, when Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity pledges were accused of theft, when Gregory Korb ’08 faced charges of sexual assault, and when former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland pleaded guilty to corruption, they were all represented by the same person: New Haven defense attorney William Dow ’63.
With clientele ranging from Yale students and faculty members to leading officials, Dow has handled many of the region’s most controversial cases — notably the 1999-2000 trial of former Saybrook College Master Antonio Lasaga, who admitted to possessing child pornography — establishing himself as the city’s leading lawyer for criminal defense.
When Dow graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in political science, he said, the University was a very different place. With no females and coat-and-tie requirements at dinner, Dow said, white males from elite preparatory academies dominated the University.
“[Yale] had just lifted its quota on the number of Jews allowed in,” he said. “It was a very different place.”
Although he worked his way through college, Dow’s friends remember him as a studious but fun-loving young man with a passion for athletics. Benno Schmidt ’63, Dow’s classmate in Trumbull who served as president of Yale from 1986 to 1992, said Dow was an avid football and baseball fan devoted to intramural athletics.
“I remember Bill fondly from my student years as [a] very enjoyable person to have as a friend,” he said.
A self-proclaimed townie, Dow was born and raised in the New Haven area. His proximity to the University during his youth afforded him a broader perspective on Yale’s position in the community, he said. Unlike many Yale students who he said treat the city like a “hotel lobby,” Dow said he feels a great appreciation for the town that he has called home for decades.
“The people here are terrific people,” he said. “They work, they care about their families, they care about their communities, and they expect that sort of mentality to be reciprocated.”
Friends said Dow’s knowledge of the local area and city culture was a great asset during his college years. Schmidt, who lived in Dow’s entryway, said that because Dow understood the town-gown relationship, he had a thorough understanding of the deeper undercurrents that shaped it.
Though Dow said he did not know it at the time, his dual perspective helped foster his desire to shape the way communities develop. It was this desire, he said, that led him from the gates of Yale to the coastal region of Colombia, where he worked in community development for the Peace Corps.
Dow’s job, he said, was to help show the community strength in numbers by helping them organize against the government to demand subsistence.
“In retrospect, it’s kind of ridiculous that a 21-year-old kid was teaching them how to live,” Dow said. “[But] I like to think I learned an awful lot about human nature and how people deal with certain realities of life.”
After returning from Colombia, Dow said, he faced a dilemma. Before going abroad, he had been accepted to several preeminent law schools. But the University of Pennsylvania Law School was the only one that held his spot until he returned home, he said. Although he was not sure whether or not to go to law school, he said his family finally succeeded in convincing him that attending law school was a wise choice.
While many of Dow’s friends said they were not surprised he ended up in law school, they acknowledged that attending law school was a relatively trendy thing to do for students interested in the humanities looking to make a decent living.
“At that time, a fairly significant number of students were headed in that direction,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt, who attended Yale Law School after college, said he feels Dow’s decision to pursue law was obviously a good match — a sentiment that many of Dow’s friends said they share.
“He’s considered the best lawyer in the city, and one of the best lawyers in the state,” Phillip Arnold ’63 said.
Dow was included in The Best Lawyers in America for his work in criminal defense representation.