On the Passing of Beloved and Esteemed Professor Robert M. Zinman

The late St. John's Law Professor Robert M. Zinman

Photo By: American Bankruptcy Institute

March 7, 2024

This past weekend, as hundreds of law students competed in the Duberstein Bankruptcy Moot Court Competition that he helped to launch, the St. John’s Law Community learned that beloved and esteemed Professor Bob Zinman had passed away at the age of 92.

During his 19 years on the Law School’s full-time faculty, Professor Zinman taught courses in bankruptcy, property, and real estate transactions. He was also the founder and first director of the acclaimed Bankruptcy LL.M. program at St. John’s Law, and was instrumental in establishing the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review in partnership with the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI), the world’s largest organization of insolvency professionals. That same partnership has made the annual Duberstein Competition one of the nation’s preeminent moot court competitions. 

Professor Zinman started his legal career after serving in the U.S. Navy and earning a Harvard law degree on the GI Bill. He continued military service in the Navy JAG reserves while working in-house at Metropolitan Life, where he rose to the position of Senior VP, head of the real estate law practice, and chief investment counsel. Throughout his career, Professor Zinman was a leader in the wider bankruptcy community. Among many other important roles, he served as president and chairman of the ABI, as a fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy, and as a governor of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers.

Following his retirement from full-time teaching in 2007, Professor Zinman remained a regular presence at events presented by the Center for Bankruptcy Studies, which houses all of the Law School's bankruptcy initiatives—from the ABI Law Review, LL.M. program, and Duberstein Competition to the Bankruptcy Fellowship Program and student-run Bankruptcy Law Society. “There wouldn’t be a Center for Bankruptcy Studies, or a bankruptcy program of this caliber, at St. John’s without Bob Zinman,” says Center Director Laura Schwartz ‘90. “His legacy lives on here, and in the generations of students he mentored, who are now leaders of the bankruptcy bench and bar.”

In the days after Professor Zinman’s death, many of his former students and colleagues shared fond remembrances. Here is just a sampling of those reflections on a life well lived and a legacy that endures:

Gerard DiConza ‘94
Partner, Archer & Greiner, P.C.
“Professor Zinman will be remembered for his compassion, wittiness, and love for his students and family (especially his wife, Marion, who spent many late nights with Bob on St. John’s projects). As we celebrate his contributions (he loved a celebration!), his never-ending enthusiasm for St. John’s Law and his students in “the Zinman Army” stands out. Bob instilled confidence in us to be the best we could be, and to help him create a nationally recognized bankruptcy program at St. John's.”

Kristin Going ‘02LL.M.
Partner, McDermott Will & Emery LLP
“I owe my career to Professor Zinman, and I know I am not the only one who feels that way. He was a force of nature—a small but mighty man who seemed to have infinite energy. It always amazed me how he retained such a delight for the law, even after so many years.” 

Paul Hage ‘07 LL.M.
Partner, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP
“Professor Zinman was a truly special man who impacted bankruptcy law and practice in a way that very few have. Through his work at St. John’s, the American Bankruptcy Institute, with the ABI Law Review, and with the Duberstein Competition, he changed the lives and careers of countless people in a positive way. I consider myself very fortunate to have known him as a professor, mentor, and friend. His legacy is unparalleled, and he will be missed.”

Hon. Thomas Horan ‘04
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, District of Delaware
“Professor Zinman’s influence on the national bankruptcy community cannot be overstated. He led in the development of the practice as a law professor, president of the American Bankruptcy Institute, and by bringing the ABI Law Review to St. John’s. His former students rank among the top bankruptcy lawyers in the profession. I trace a direct line from my time as his student and a member of the ABI Law Review to my appointment to the bankruptcy bench in Delaware.”

Gerard Luckman ‘93
Partner, Forchelli Deegan Terrana LLP
“Professor Zinman was a beloved mentor and friend to so many of us. Always available, always willing to give his time and expertise to better the student experience. He truly was the embodiment of all that we have come to appreciate at St. John’s Law. We are all better for having met him. He will be sorely missed.”

Michael A. Simons
Dean and John V. Brennan Professor of Law and Ethics
“Bob Zinman was a beloved mentor to a generation of St. John’s bankruptcy lawyers. He was also an irrepressibly positive and up-beat force during his years on the faculty. I have two enduring memories of Bob. First, during the early years of our annual Public Interest Auction, the top-selling item was Professor Zinman auctioning off a car wash for a student. He would then show up in full tuxedo to wash the student’s car by hand in the Law School parking lot while the student sat and sipped champagne. Second, whenever the subject of our students came up in a Faculty Council meeting, Bob could be relied upon to raise his hand, and in his high-pitched, lilting voice, say ‘I think our students are just GREAT!’”

Richard Stehl ‘92
Chairman of the Board, Otterbourg P.C.
“Professor Zinman had the rare combination of being kind and gentle, and yet incredibly impactful. He was a generous giver—of his time, knowledge, wisdom, and experience. He instilled in his students a respect for the law and an understanding of its role in society. His love for St. John’s Law was surpassed only by his interest in the success and happiness of his students, both in their careers and in life. He was a treasure and will be missed dearly.”

Francisco Vazquez ‘94
Senior Counsel, Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP
“Professor Zinman embodied the qualities of a gentleman. He was tolerant and kind to everyone he met. He was exceedingly generous and always available to anyone that needed some personal or professional advice. With his wife at his side, he served all of us by leveraging his stature to transform St. John’s into a bankruptcy powerhouse yielding numerous success stories. His impact will be felt long after his last student retires. He (and his smile) will be sorely missed.”

G. Ray Warner
Professor and Former Director, Center for Bankruptcy Studies, St. John’s Law
“Bob was transformative. He and his students created St. John's world class bankruptcy dynasty from literally nothing. Those programs also transformed St. John's and set the standard for other exceptional programs and centers that have followed. Bob especially loved the Duberstein Competition, and it is somehow fitting that he passed during this year's rounds.”  

Our condolences go out to Professor Zinman’s family. May he rest in peace, and may his memory be for a blessing. If you would like to support the Robert M. Zinman Bankruptcy Scholarship that Professor Zinman established to benefit St. John’s Law students, its easy to make your gift online by selecting the Scholarship from the designation menu.