Vanessa H. Merton

  • Professor of Law
Preston Hall 404-I
Contact professor via e-mail or call assistant to schedule an appointment
Assistant: Miguel Sanchez Robles
Preston Hall 404-K
(914) 422-4609


BA, Radcliffe College
JD, New York University School of Law

For media inquiries, contact:

Elizabeth Rapuano
Assistant Dean for External Affairs

Vanessa H. Merton, B.A. Radcliffe College 1970, J.D. N.Y.U. Law School 1973, teaches and directs the Immigration Justice Clinic at Pace University School of Law in White Plains, New York.

The Clinic provides free legal services to noncitizens who otherwise could not afford legal assistance, including representation on applications for family-based status, in removal proceedings (both detained and nondetained), and on petitions for crime victims and juvenile immigrants. Clinic student attorneys meet with clients and conduct public education programs at community centers, schools, and places of worship throughout the Hudson Valley, as well as at state and federal detention facilities, and litigate in Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, the Federal Circuit Courts, and the United States Supreme Court.

In 2008, Professor Merton was honored with the Alternative Chance/Chans Alternativ Human Rights Award for her advocacy on behalf of indigent Haitian refugees; in 2010 she received the Servant of Justice Award from the Haitian-American Cultural and Social Organization of Rockland County, New York, for her leadership in mobilizing lawyers and law students to assist earthquake-affected Haitians applying for Temporary Protected Status. In 2012 the American Immigration Lawyers Association presented Professor Merton with its Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Immigration Law Award, the highest honor an immigration law professor can aspire to receive, and she also received the Pace Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Merton served as Pace Law School’s Associate Dean for Clinical Education and Executive Director of John Jay Legal Services (JJLS), the law school's free legal clinic, while creating and teaching clinical programs in Access to Health Care and Criminal Prosecution of Domestic Violence. She also directed the clinical and externship curriculum at City University of New York Law School, where she co-founded the Health in the Workplace Clinic. Her career in legal education began as a clinical professor of criminal law at New York University School of Law. Professor Merton had been a trial attorney in the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society of New York City. For five years she also served as volunteer Special Trial Counsel with the Departmental Disciplinary Committee of the Appellate Division, First Department, prosecuting lawyers who neglected clients and violated professional duties.

For her work setting up a 200-student emergency operation to assist people affected by the 9/11 tragedy, in 2002 Professor Merton received six national and local awards: the Mark of Distinction Award from the National Association of Law Placement; the Father Robert Drinan Award from the Association of American Law Schools Section on Pro Bono and Public Service; the PSLawNet Pro Bono Publico Award; the Pace Law School Pro Bono Award for Excellence in Service to the Public Interest; the Lifetime Achievement Award in Public Interest Lawyering from the Pace Law School Public Interest Law Students Organization; and the Public Citizen of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers, New York State Chapter, Westchester Division. She received the 1995 Pace University School of Law Graduating Class Award for Outstanding Full-Time Law Professor and the 1988 CUNY Law School Distinguished Service Award for Teaching Effectiveness. She has been both a Mellon Foundation Fellow of the Aspen Institute and a National Endowment for the Humanities Post-doctoral Fellow at the Hastings Center Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences. In 2012 she was designated “Woman of the Year” by the Mount Sinai-Irving J. Selikoff Occupational Health Clinic, whose Advisory Board she has belonged to for more than twenty years.

Professor Merton is especially proud of her work as co-founder of the local Empire Justice Poverty Law Center, an independent law office serving immigrants whom federally-funded legal services offices are prohibited from helping.

"I was drawn to Pace because so many Pace faculty bring extensive practice experience, refreshingly undogmatic views about legal education and a strong student-centered focus to their work. Here I can use all that I have learned from my thirty years of teaching through client representation clinics, simulated lawyering, externships, and classroom courses. Becoming a lawyer, especially a lawyer representing the disadvantaged and disabled, has empowered and enriched me far beyond what I could have dreamed when I entered law school so long ago. Helping new lawyers become the best advocates they can be for those whom they choose to serve is a rewarding renewal for me of the best parts of my life."



“Mission Statements that Accurately Define, Distinguish, and Reflect the Law School’s Praxis,” by Vanessa Merton & Irene Scharf in Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World (Deborah Maranville, Lisa Radtke Bliss, Carolyn Wilkes Kaas & Antoinette Sedillo Lopez eds., 2015) 

How Derrick Bell Helped Me Decide to Become an Educator, Not Just a Faculty Member,” 2 Colum. J. Race & L. Spec. Feat. 34 (2012)

"What Do You Do When You Meet a Walking Violation of the Sixth Amendment If You're Trying to Put That Lawyer's Client in Jail?" 69 Fordham Law Review 997 (2000).

"A Chance for Justice. (For the Poor, Responding to the Opponents to Funding the Legal Services Corp.)," with Richard L. Ottinger, New York Law Journal, July 24, 1995, at 2.

"Review Essay: Women and Health Research: Ethical and Legal Issues of Including Women in Clinical Studies," 22 Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 272 (1994).

Guest Column, "What Should We Do About Bad Lawyers?" Newsday, Sept. 25, 1994, at A51.

"The Exclusion of Pregnant, Pregnable, and Once-Pregnable People (a.k.a. Women) from Biomedical Research," 19 American Journal of Law & Medicine 369 (1993). Reprinted in 3 Texas Journal of Women and the Law 307 (1994).

"Community-Based AIDS Research," 14 Evaluation Review: A Journal of Applied Social Research 502 (1990).

"The Work of a CUNY Law Student: Simulation and the Experiential Learning Process," 37 UCLA Law Review 1157, 1195 (1990). Published as Appendix to "Infinity in a Grain of Sand: The World of Law and Lawyering as Portrayed in the Clinical Teaching Implicit in the Law School" by Howard Lesnick, 37 UCLA Law  Review 1157 (1990).

Editor and Contributor, "Final Report: Sex Bias in the Teaching of Criminal Law" by Nancy S. Erickson, 42 Rutgers Law Review 309 (1990).

"The City University of New York Law School: An Insider's Report," 12 Nova Law Review 45 (1987).

"Confidentiality and the 'Dangerous' Patient: Implications of Tarasoff for Psychiatrists and Lawyers," 31 Emory Law Journal 263 (1982).

Book Reviews

Review of A Measure of Malpractice: Medical Injury, Malpractice Litigation, and Patient Compensation by Paul C. Weiler, et al. 120 Annals of Internal Medicine 444 (1994).

Review of Families and the Gravely Ill by Richard Sherlock and C. Mary Dingus, 100 Annals of Internal Medicine 579 (1989).


"Ethical Obstacles to the Participation of Women in Biomedical Research." In Feminism & Bioethics: Beyond Reproduction, edited by Susan M. Wolf. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

"The Impact of Current Relevant Federal Regulations on the Inclusion of Female Subjects in Clinical Studies." In Women and Health Research: Ethical and Legal Issues of Including Women in Clinical Studies. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1994.

"Basic Bibliography for Research in Professional Ethics". In Regulation of Lawyers: Problems of Law and Ethics, 3rd ed., edited by S. Gillers & N. Dorsen. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 1992.

"Workers' Compensation Discrimination" (with R. Farber, S. Geier, and P. O'Neil). In Employee Rights Litigation: Pleading and Practice, edited by J. Goodman. New York: Matthew Bender, 1991.