There are two “credos” that hang on the wall of Professor Michael Ambrosio’s office at Seton Hall Law. One is the Prayer of St. Thomas More that speaks of abiding in the presence of God and the other is a quote from a Zen Buddhist text about mastering the art of living. Professor Ambrosio sums them up as “finding new and more creative ways to promote the good.” In his life, he has impacted the lives of generations of law students, made a difference in the world around him through his private practice, and enjoyed sharing the rewards of doing both well. Most recently, he has arranged a planned gift of $1 million to the Law School as part of the Seton Hall Law Rising campaign.
“My dream was to live a life filled with meaning. I wanted to make a difference. As a teacher and as a lawyer, I have been able to live that sort of life,” he says, “and I want to express my gratefulness.”
It is not his first financial gift to the Law School. Several years ago, he created an emergency loan program for Law School staff; he has donated generously to the Haiti Rule of Law project; and each year he contributes to The Fund for Seton Hall Law.
Raised in Lyndhurst, one of six children, he credits his father, who emigrated from Italy at the age of 14, with instilling in him a strong desire to do good. “He would say, ‘Do good, and God repays, seven times seven, times seven,’” recalls Professor Ambrosio. From his mother, he received a passion for pursuing justice.
He had not originally planned on becoming a lawyer. After earning his bachelor’s degree in social studies from Montclair State, he was headed to graduate school to study history. When his twin brother, Anthony, however, decided to attend law school, Professor Ambrosio opted to take the LSAT on a lark. “By the grace of God, I got a very high score,” he recalls, “and concluded that becoming a lawyer was a matter of destiny.” So he earned his JD from Catholic University Law School and then began working as a poverty attorney with the Essex-Newark Legal Services.
As someone who finds, “great solace” in philosophy and studying the great philosophers, the law turned out to be a natural fit. “The law,” he says, “human law and natural law, concerns justice and the common good. Some lawyers believe that justice is a hopeless ideal. But the law is grounded in the recognition that human beings can know what is good and that there are certain basic values, such as reason, friendship, beauty, and life itself, that we must pursue to be fully flourishing.”
The idea of teaching was not an option he considered. “I liked being an attorney,” he says. He did enjoy public speaking, however, and never turned down an invitation to talk. “I thought I just might say something someone might find helpful,” he says. It was an invitation from Professor Hersch Silverman at Seton Hall University to speak at a forum on marriage and divorce that opened the door to becoming a professor of law. In the audience was Law Professor Joseph Slowinski who after hearing Professor Ambrosio was convinced he should join the Seton Hall Law faculty. It took a bit of urging and convincing; “I wasn’t sure I was really suited for teaching,” explains Professor Ambrosio. But in 1970, he decided to give it a try and never looked back. Not only did he discover he enjoyed teaching, he also established a poverty law office at the Law School and for six years ran the Law School's clinical program. He continued to practice law and has become a leading expert in legal ethics and legal malpractice. He has appeared as an attorney or legal expert in over 300 cases involving legal malpractice, attorney disqualification, or attorney discipline.
“I’ve been blessed in so many ways,” he says. “I had good parents, good teachers, and I have a wonderful wife and good friends. One of the other great blessings has been being a part of this University. It has given me the opportunity to pursue the truth and that’s a wonderful opportunity to have in life.”