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October 30, 2009 6:00 PM

From Child Star to Law Professor

Posted by Brian Baxter

Charles Korsmo

Getting into costume for Halloween is for amateurs.

Charles Korsmo, a visiting professor at Brooklyn Law School (BLS) and a former Sullivan & Cromwell litigation associate, once had roles in major motion pictures like Dick Tracy and Hook. And even though it's been a decade since his last role starring alongside Jennifer Love Hewitt and Seth Green in Can't Hardly Wait (a coming of age film for The Am Law Daily about recent high school graduates), Korsmo still gets recognized.

"It happens more often than I thought would be likely," he says. "I've short-circuited the curiosity factor at [BLS] by putting it on my faculty profile."

Korsmo grew up in Minneapolis, a regional hub for the advertising industry and its cadre of talent agents. After doing a few commercials, he became a regular at open auditions that Hollywood studios held in the Twin Cities looking for talent. 

He made his film debut along with Chris O'Donnell in 1990's Men Don't Leave, where both actors played the sons of Jessica Lange's lead character. Although the movie disappeared at the box office, it was well received in Los Angeles, and Korsmo soon had calls for other projects, like Dick Tracy and What About Bob? starring Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray.

But Korsmo had a different calling. After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000 with a physics degree, he moved to Washington, D.C., to find a job he hoped would bridge the gap between science and politics.

"I thought I would work for the Patent Office or something like that, but instead I ended up working briefly for the House Science Committee and EPA," Korsmo says. Six months later, he landed a job with the House Policy Committee.

Throughout his three years in Washington, between 2000 and 2003, Korsmo realized his career was evolving from science to policy. Thinking law school might help his new focus, Korsmo sent out applications, but ended up deferring for a year to work for the House Homeland Security Committee.

In the fall of 2003, Korsmo started at Yale Law School, where he became a member of The Federalist Society. After graduating in 2006, he clerked for Judge Ralph Winter, Jr., at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. From there he spent two years at S&C defending companies in real estate and shareholder derivative suits. Then he heard the siren song of academia.

"I wanted something that would give me more flexibility to pursue other interests," Korsmo says. "That wouldn't have been possible at a large law firm, which can be an all-consuming profession."

A former co-clerk under Judge Winter--himself a member of the board of trustees at BLS--asked Korsmo if he was looking to jump ship from S&C and pursue an academic career. Intrigued, he applied to the school's two-year visiting assistant professor program, which helps lawyers working in private practice launch academic careers. 

"Academia is probably more competitive than some of the big law firms," Korsmo says. "But hopefully I can get a spot somewhere in the next two years, so we'll see what happens."

At BLS, Korsmo is currently teaching torts and in the spring will teach land use controls--always topical in New York, particularly in Brooklyn. Despite being his own boss, he's plenty busy. "People tell me that the first time you teach any class, it's a lot more work than the second time," he says.

Korsmo in Iceland

Korsmo remains focused on furthering his career in academia and has no plans to return to the silver screen. "My phone hasn't exactly been ringing off the hook," jokes Korsmo (pictured left on Iceland's Vatnajökull glacier), adding that he's had a SAG pension since 13.

But when told about director Warren Beatty's litigation battle to get back the film rights to cartoon detective Dick Tracy, Korsmo was quick to volunteer his new talent.

"Maybe I can see if they need any legal help," he says.

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The educators and politicians keep trying to get our kids interested in science and math and ignore the fact that guys like this who are smart enough to get a physics degree from MIT have nowhere to go professionally and financially and turn to law, investment banking, real estate development etc. It's not our educational system that is that problem (it has other problems)its our economic and compensation system. The ego boost from being a law professor sure outweighs being an unknown physicist.

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