Lukas Flippo, Senior Editor

The Yale Law School opened a new chapter in its educational framework last Wednesday with the launch of the Joseph C. Tsai Leadership Program, which will train students in real-world leadership in the private and public sector.

The new program aims to prepare students to tackle challenges in the 21st century through a combination of new courses and professional development opportunities. The program was made possible by alumni donations from Joseph Tsai ’86 LAW ’90, Clara Wu Tsai, Eugene Ludwig LAW ’73, Carol Ludwig, Michael Chae LAW ’97 and Alexa Bator Chae LAW ’97. The amount of the donations was not disclosed. The comprehensive leadership program has two components, the Chae Initiative and the Ludwig Program, which prepare students for leadership in the private and public sectors, respectively. 

“While our core model will not change, the Tsai Leadership Program will enable us to build on this legacy to broaden and modernize the curriculum for the 21st century, infuse the Law School with robust professional training opportunities, and harness the power of our extraordinary alumni community,” Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken wrote to the News. “Our aim is to train all our students for their last job, not just their first. We want to ensure that our graduates are broad-gauged thinkers prepared for the practical and moral decisions they will face no matter what career path they choose.”

Gerken explained that this program comes as the result of numerous conversations she has had with alumni on trips across the country. She said that Law School alumni recognize that our changing society now requires graduates to have a broader knowledge base and professional skill set than they can get from a “traditional legal education.”

The alumni who funded this program through their donations have led successful careers in their respective fields. Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group. Chae is currently the chief financial officer of The Blackstone Group. Ludwig is the former Comptroller of the Currency and founder of the Promontory Financial Group.

Gerken said that the Law School already has an “inaugural slate of courses” being offered this year, and that they are actively hiring staff for the program.

The program’s curriculum was shaped jointly by Gerken and Law School faculty, and voted on by Law School Faculty. The Law School’s Leadership Advisory Council, a group that includes Tsai, Ludwig, Chae and 20 other Law School alumni, was available as “thought partners” as Gerken and Law School faculty developed the curriculum, according to the Council’s website. Gerken emphasized that the Council is “not a governance body.”

“Decisions regarding the curriculum have always rested with the faculty and will always rest with the faculty,” Gerken wrote. “As per our tradition, all courses — including those supported by the leadership program — must be voted through by the faculty.”

The Tsai Leadership Program provides resources to enhance students’ skills and prepare them to be “changemakers” in their varying career paths, Gerken said. Building on the Law School’s traditions, Gerken said the program will help ensure that graduates know how to approach contemporary and future technological challenges. 

Law professor John Morley ’06 said that the program will enhance students’ “non-legal skills relevant to leadership” through individualized academic and career advising, as well as alumni mentorship aspects. 

“We have a simple model: teach our students to question everything,” Gerken wrote. “Ensure they think in rigorously analytic and ethical terms. Enable them to pursue an extraordinarily wide-ranging set of career paths. We believe that our core model — combined with this new, innovative program — will provide an opportunity for all law students that is not available anywhere else.”

New courses in numeracy, ethical-decision making and organizational leadership will add to students’ real-world problem solving skills and professional experiences. Additionally, a new mentors-in-residence program, digital community platform, networking opportunities, boot camps and workshops will build long-lasting connections between students and graduates, according to the program’s website.

The Ludwig Program prepares students for careers in public-serving institutions such as government and nonprofits, according to its website

“The civic sector is essential to address, and sadly, even more so given what we have seen in this country in terms of the declining well-being for low- and moderate-income Americans over the last 70 to 80 years,” Ludwig said. “And it’s something we are going to have to reverse to continue to have a civil society … I’m hopeful that the new generation of folks, through this program, will be better prepared to engage in public service than I was.”

Ludwig said that, in his experience, the Law School approaches the future well-being of civic society with the “right questions” and “with a broad set of thought of leadership”. He added that this approach, which will be enhanced by the Tsai Leadership Program, “is a special Yale combination” defined by “academic experience and rigor to be able to affect problems in a positive way.”

While the Ludwig program hopes to increase and strengthen leadership in the public sector, the Chae Initiative’s focus largely lies in the private sector. According to its website, the initiative seeks to equip students with skills necessary to tackle modern day dilemmas and prepare them for careers in fields such as business, finance, consulting and entrepreneurship.

“A Yale law degree is a versatile thinking and problem-solving degree and represents a crucial foundation for so many business leadership roles,” Chae said in a Law School press release. “The Chae Initiative provides students with a strong and practical grounding in business and financial skills and prepares them to engage in effective and ethical decision-making in a global business environment.”

According to Morley, the Tsai Leadership Program will make Yale unique among law schools given Yale Law School’s ability to combine the experience of alumni mentors whose achievements are “unparalleled in legal academia.”

According to Morley, a committee of current Law School faculty members are able to suggest possible instructors for the program from outside the Law School. These instructors would then go through the Law School’s regular review process for all curricular instructors, he added.

“The Program brings in top-flight academics and world-renowned experts to New Haven to provide students with the intellectual framework, working competencies, and core literacies they need to solve the problems of the future,” Gerken wrote. “We do not want to push our students into one career path or another. We want to light up the many, many paths available to them, empowering all of them to blaze their own trails and to make a positive impact on society.”

Tsai’s other recent donations to the University have helped fund the Tsai Lacrosse Field House and the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.


Correction, Nov. 10: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the role of the Law School’s Leadership Advisory Council. 

Clarification, Nov. 11: This story has been updated to give background on the professional accomplishments of Ludwig.

Eda Aker is a WKND Editor and previously covered Yale Law School for the University Desk. She is a junior in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.