Peter G. Eikenberry, Esquire
2016 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Second Circuit
Peter G. Eikenberry, Esquire, has received the 2016 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Second Circuit, which was presented in New York last fall by Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann.
Eikenberry is a litigator in private practice specializing in complex commercial litigation representation in the New York state and federal courts, including employment, art law, contracts, fraud, international, securities, and bankruptcy adversary disputes. His avocation is civil rights and human rights, stemming from his stint as a volunteer civil rights lawyer in Mississippi in July 1966 with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law. He has led a human rights mission to Northern Ireland and served as volunteer counsel at the Federal Detention Center in Dilley, Texas, the Children’s Storefront in Harlem, and the Bedford Stuyvesant D&S Corporation.
Raised in Ohio by a father who was a soil conservationist for the government and a mother who was a teacher, Eikenberry has crafted a career that blends commercial success with altruism and teaching. Somewhat late to waken to the appeal of the law, Eikenberry was inspired by the writings of Clarence Darrow as well as the service example of his parents and entered law school in his late 20s determined to do good with his law degree. The curriculum excited him intellectually even more than his undergraduate courses; he was elected as editor of the law review and completed his LLB in just over two years.
Eikenberry went to Mississippi as a summer volunteer after two years at Wall Street firm White & Case, under the sponsorship of senior partner and President of the American Bar Association Orison Marden, who told him, “You are almost as competent as you are eager.” His service in in Grenada, Mississippi (population 8,000), made Eikenberry into an activist. He volunteered for Bobby Kennedy’s office, ran twice for Congress, and then opened his own practice. “After the publicity of my congressional campaigns, I was sort of ruined on working for other people,” he says. “However, I had become good at asking people to get involved and there are plenty of people waiting to help if you ask them.”
He is a steering committee member of the New York Conference on Immigration Representation, a study group he co-founded with Katzmann. “Immigrant representation has been abysmal; immigrants have been left out of the justice system. Lawyers are overwhelmed and often they do provide quality representation,” he says. During his time in Texas, he met illegal immigrants, mostly mothers with children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, who entered the United States to escape death at the hands of gangs in their home countries. Of the recent travel ban enacted by President Donald J. Trump via executive order, “It has aroused understandable indignation; the situation cries out for justice,” Eikenberry says.
Eikenberry has served the Federal Bar Counsel as editor of the newsletter and as chair of different committees. He is a fellow of the New York Bar Foundation and the Second Circuit Courts Committee on Civic Education, which brings high school students into the courthouses for events and training—“to make the courts friendlier institutions.” In his acceptance speech, Eikenberry noted that a photograph of the New York bar in 1990 would have featured few to no female and black faces—a “picture of injustice.” Through his work on the New York City Bar Association Committee to Encourage Judicial Service, the diversity of the judiciary in New York has greatly increased.
When he received the Professionalism Award, presenters highlighted his distinguished record as a mentor to younger practitioners, saying, “A major dimension of mentoring is the guidance, not only by word but also by example, of senior lawyers, whose professional lives reflect civility, competence, and ethical attitude in all things.”
“The law enriches your life—it is meaningful work that provides a breadth of experience,” Eikenberry says. “It is wonderful to work with young people.” Reflecting on his career as a litigator, Eikenberry says. “In the normal representation of clients, if you can come up with creative litigation solutions, it is extremely satisfying.”
He returned to Grenada, Mississippi, in 2014; “I wanted to find out what had happened to the civil rights activists we met in 1966,” he says. “One who was 14 at the time, later became mayor of Grenada. These people’s lives were changed forever by that experience.”
It seems safe to say that Eikenberry’s was, too.
Jennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer based in McLean, Virginia.
© 2017 American Inns of Court. This article was originally published in the May/June 2017 issue of The Bencher,
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