Alumni | Impact


New Fellowship to Assist Aspiring Public Defenders

Headshot of Roland Thau

Roland Thau

In the memory of a renowned public defender who escaped the Nazis during WWII to ultimately attend Brooklyn Law School and lead an illustrious legal career, the family of Roland Thau has established a fellowship that will support law students pursuing careers in criminal defense.

“He was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life, and I want him to be remembered,” said Mary Farrington, Thau’s wife and a retired attorney who had a long career in public service.

Thau, who died Nov. 10, 2020, at age 86, was born in France. Much of his early childhood was spent in hospitals because of prolonged illnesses, but the hospital stays kept him hidden from the Nazis. His mother was able to smuggle him into Switzerland, and he and his family eventually settled in Brooklyn after the war. He arrived with no knowledge of English and only two years of formal education.

Headshot of Mary Farrington
Mary Farrington
When he turned 19, his family decided to return to Europe, but Thau remained in New York on his own. Inspired by the McCarthy hearings and their injustices, he wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer, and believed he had a better chance to do so in the United States.

Thau attended Brooklyn College at night while working full time. He then enrolled at the Law School for one year in 1957 before completing his legal education by apprenticeship, as is permitted by New York state.

Thau’s job at the Legal Aid Society, his first after passing the bar exam, began his lifelong devotion to criminal defense. His commitment would cause him to work all night at times, often waking Farrington to rehearse his summation arguments with her.

“From the time he was very young he was concerned with inequities here and in Europe,” said Farrington. “Roland was a talented advocate to the indigent, dedicated to his career. I thought that a fellowship that helps others become public defenders would continue that legacy.”

Colleagues considered Thau, who eventually joined the Federal Defenders of New York, “a giant of the Southern District of New York courthouse.” Among other honors, in 2010 he was recognized by the New York Council of Defense Lawyers with the Norman S. Ostrow Award.

The endowment will provide a permanent source of funding for a grant every year to a student who is dedicated to a career in criminal defense.

“Aside from the financial assistance, I also believe my husband’s story is an inspiration,” said Farrington. “So many people are concerned today about how COVID has hurt children’s education. Roland’s life is proof that you can overcome these setbacks.”

The Gift of a Legal Education
Donors create scholarships for a variety of reasons: to reward achievement, to help students with financial need, to promote work within their practice area, to help create an opportunity, or to honor a legacy. Whatever your motivations or ability to give, there are many options to create an enduring impact on the future of the legal field.

To learn more about how you can help the next generation of Brooklyn Law School students, contact Chief Advancement Officer Annie Nienaber at 718-780-7516 or