Professor James Kainen in his office
Professor James Kainen

Professor James Kainen

Though James Kainen has been teaching property and evidence at Fordham Law since 1989, his main contribution to the school, as he sees it, has been coaching hundreds of students to success in rigorous trial competitions around the country.

Not that he planned it that way.

“When I got here,” says Professor Kainen, who is the founder and chair of the Brendan Moore Trial Advocacy Center, “we didn’t have a trial advocacy competition program. The students were interested in competing and they kind of found me.” Kainen started out coaching one team; now, the school sends as many as 18 teams a year to competitions, including virtually during the pandemic. No wonder his office is filled with gifts, like a lighter inscribed with “Yoda” (left), one of the affectionate nicknames given to him by grateful students. “I guess that name’s because I’m the source of all wisdom?” he says, laughing. Here, Kainen tells the stories behind the photographs, art, and other objects, whether eclectic or kitschy, that populate his seventh-floor office.

—Paula Derrow

Framed poster of the blues artist who went by Howling Wolf
Singing the blues: “That’s Chester Arthur Burnett,” says Kainen, gesturing to a 1 framed poster of the blues artist who went by Howling Wolf. “I found this poster while on a trip along the Blues Trail on Highway 61, from Memphis to Clarksdale, Mississippi.” Characteristically, Kainen can’t help passing on his passion for the blues to his law students. “The best part of teaching on Zoom was when I’d use our 10-minute break during property class to play the blues for the students. One even made me his own blues playlist.”
African mask
Masked man: Kainen bought his first 2 African mask in a flea market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during a trip with a trial competition team. He then picked up more while traveling with four or five of the fact-finding human rights missions run by the Crowley Program. “We’d partner up with a local NGO and students would interview locals about things like water or land rights. You really get to see a country from a completely different dimension than you would as a tourist.”
Maasai club
Colorful prayer flags and photo collage
Kainen found this 3 Maasai club on a Crowley trip. (“Obama kept one on his desk, but I got mine first!” he says, laughing); the string of 4 colorful prayer flags that adorn a 5 photo collage are both from his first Crowley mission, in Nepal. “My daughter put the photos from that trip together for me, for my birthday,” he says.
Teacher of the Year award
Teacher of the Year: Kainen received Fordham Law’s first 6 Teacher of the Year award in 2000. “You’re not allowed to win it twice, so I’m especially proud that I was the first guy to win, when everyone was eligible,” he says.
Judge Robert Brown
Legal legacy: “I clerked for 7 Judge Robert Carter just out of law school in 1978. Not many people have heard of him, but he argued Brown v. Board of Education and later became the general counsel of the NAACP. Later, I ended up teaching his grandson in my evidence class at Fordham Law,” says Kainen. “Bob is no longer with us, but he got an honorary degree from Fordham Law School in 2004.”
Whale sculpture, stuffed fox, and duck
The quick brown fox: “I bought this 8 whale sculpture in honor of a case I taught about whale hunting and how it applies to the rule of capture,” recalls Kainen. The rule of capture also explains the 9 stuffed fox and duck that sit on his desk. “The classic rule of capture case is about capturing a fox—Pierson v. Post. Then there’s a famous property case called Keeble v. Hickeringill, which is about hunting ducks.” The rule holds that the first person to capture a resource gets to keep it, Kainen explains. “So even if you’ve been chasing a wild animal all day, if you haven’t captured it and I jump in and get it at the last minute, it’s mine.”
Adam Shlahet
Dynamic duo: 10Adam Shlahet (above right) started as my trial adjunct; now he’s director of the Brendan Moore Trial Advocacy program,” says Kainen. “Trial advocacy uses every part of your brain—it’s not only the Law Review students who develop an ability for it,” he explains. “You need analytic smarts but also interpersonal skills. I tell students that you have to be able to persuade 12 random people off a bus—that’s your jury. And we’ve had some enormously successful students, including Brittany Russell ’13, who recently got a $23 million verdict in Chicago. “I remember telling her, ’Be who you are, and you’ll turn out to be the best lawyer you can be.’”