Charles Halpern

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Charles Halpern is a pioneer in the public interest law movement, a successful public interest entrepreneur, an innovator in legal education, a long-time meditation practitioner and advocate, and author of Making Waves and Riding the Currents: Activism and the Practice of Wisdom.[1]

He is currently Director of the Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law,[2] a new venture at Berkeley Law exploring the benefits of meditation to legal education and law practice.

Halpern earned his Bachelor of Arts in American history and literature from Harvard College in 1961 and his Law degree from Yale Law School in 1964.

Education and employment[edit]

After finishing law school he clerked for two years with Judge George T. Washington of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Halpern then accepted an associate position with the D.C. law firm Arnold and Porter, which he held for four years. It was during his time with Arnold and Porter that Halpern found his calling in the public interest law movement, initially in the area of mental health. He was lead counsel in the case Rouse v. Cameron,373 F.2d 451 (D.C. Cir. 1966), which challenged the adequacy of treatment being provided to an individual confined in a mental hospital.[3] Halpern was later counsel in Wyatt v. Aderholt,503 F.2d 1305 (5th Cir. 1974), which affirmed a Constitutional right to treatment for individuals civilly committed to state mental facilities.[4]

Founding of Center for Law and Social Policy[edit]

In 1969, Halpern left Arnold and Porter and co-founded the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington D.C., the nation’s first public interest law firm.[5][6] While with the Center he served as counsel on a number of important public interest cases including the seminal environmental cases concerning the construction of the Alaska Pipeline, see Wilderness Society v. Morton,479 F.2d 842 (D.C. Cir. 1973), and the banning of DDT, see Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Ruckelshaus,439 F.2d 584 (D.C. Cir. 1971). His interest in mental health issues also ultimately led him to co-found the Mental Health Project, later renamed the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, in 1971. In 1975 Halpern founded the Council for Public Interest Law, later renamed the Alliance for Justice, and he subsequently served as a professor at Stanford Law School and Georgetown University Law Center and as a Senior Fellow at Yale Law School.


In 1982 Halpern was named the founding dean of the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School at Queens College (City University of New York School of Law), a law school with a public interest mission and an innovative curriculum.[7][8]

President and CEO[edit]

Halpern later became the first President and CEO of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a $400 million grant-making foundation in New York City, a position he held from 1989-2000.[9] Under his leadership the foundation developed and supported many innovative philanthropic initiatives, including Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers and the dialogues between the Dalai Lama and spiritual leaders of the American Jewish community.[10]

The foundation launched a creative program in the area of contemplative practice, drawing primarily on the rich Buddhist heritage of contemplative understanding that had been introduced to the United States in the 1960s, supporting meditation retreats for environmentalists and social activists. Halpern also created the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society which began to infuse a contemplative dimension into law, journalism, and business. Prior to joining the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Halpern lectured throughout Asia on behalf of the United States Information Agency regarding public interest law and new directions in legal education.

Current occupation[edit]

In October 2011, Halpern was appointed by Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. to be Director of the Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law, an innovative new program aiming to introduce the benefits of mindfulness into legal education and law practice. The Mindfulness Initiative builds on earlier explorations of mindfulness at Berkeley Law, including the 2010 Conference on The Mindful Lawyer,[11] which drew nearly 200 lawyers, law professors, and judges to discuss the law-meditation connection at Berkeley Law, and Halpern's popular seminar, Effective and Sustainable Law Practice: The Meditative Perspective.[12] which he has taught for the past four years.

Halpern has practiced meditation for the past 20 years with a variety of teachers. He moved to Berkeley in 2000 with his wife Susan Halpern, author of The Etiquette of Illness. Halpern’s first book, Making Waves and Riding the Currents: Activism and the Practice of Wisdom, which explores using meditation to cultivate inner wisdom and foster mindful social activism, was released January 2008.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ See James Ridgeway: “Who's Fit to Be Free?” The New Republic, February 4, 1967, 24–26; “The Rouse Case,” The New Republic, June 1, 1967, 5.
  4. ^ For further discussion of the development of the right to treatment see Charles R. Halpern, “A Practicing Lawyer Views the Right to Treatment,” in “The Right to Treatment Symposium,” Georgetown Law Journal (special issue), March 1969, 782–817. See also “The Right to Treatment Symposium,” Georgetown Law Journal (special issue), March 1969.
  5. ^ See Charles R. Halpern and John M. Cunningham, “Reflections on the New Public Interest Law: Theory and Practice at the Center for Law and Social Policy,” Georgetown Law Journal, May 1971, 1095–1126.
  6. ^ See Colman McCarthy, “Laws, Lawyers, and the System,” Washington Post, October 14, 1970.
  7. ^ See Gene I. Maeroff, “Dean Appointed, Moving City U’s Law School Closer to Reality,” New York Times, December 24, 1981. See also Aric Press, “A New Kind of Law School,” Newsweek, September 26, 91.
  8. ^ For information on CUNY's innovative curriculum see Charles R. Halpern, “A New Direction in Legal Education: The CUNY Law School at Queens College,” Nova Law Journal, 10 (Winter 1986), 549–574
  9. ^ Kathleen Teltsch, “Needy People Get New Ally in Foundation,” New York Times, March 27, 1989.
  10. ^ For an account of the dialogues between the Dalai Lama and spiritual leaders of the American Jewish community see Rodger Kamenetz, The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India (San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 1994).
  11. ^
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