Long before he gave back to UCLA School of Law in a historic act of generosity that led to the naming of the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy in his honor, Epstein stood out among the law school’s stellar alumni base for his excellence in service, practice, philanthropy, and engagement.
A distinguished member of the UCLA Law Class of 1964, Epstein – who died on Dec. 9 at age 82 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease – excelled across the landscapes of legal practice, sports, and entrepreneurship.
In his Los Angeles Times obituary, Epstein’s family recalls “an excellent athlete and a serious sports fan” who was a champion runner and passionate golfer who would go on to represent top athletes, including boxer Ken Norton and NFL star Eric Dickerson as an attorney.
Also an expert practitioner in the field of unclaimed property, he wrote the leading volume Escheat and Abandoned Property Laws: Survey and Analysis and founded the Unclaimed Property Clearinghouse in 1984. On behalf of states, the clearinghouse audited businesses for unclaimed funds that were owed to others, generating windfalls: California increased its collection of unclaimed property from $2 million to more than $100 million per year.
Through the decades, Epstein was dedicated to his alma mater, serving on UCLA Law’s Board of Advisors and, in 2007, earning recognition as one of the law school’s Alumni of the Year.
That year, his gift of $5 million amounted to the greatest sum that a living alum had, at that point, ever presented to UCLA Law. To mark Epstein’s generosity, UCLA Law named the Epstein Program in his honor, boosting its leading public interest program – which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary – to even greater heights.
“David was passionate about making sure that ordinary people got their due and that corporations and institutions treated them with dignity and fairness,” says UCLA Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin. “His commitment to our school and our students, through his support of the program in public interest law and policy, was as farsighted as it was generous.”
The Epstein Program features a specialized curriculum that develops well-rounded public interest advocates who work on a broad range of issues and community-building in collaboration with faculty, alumni, and community partners. It is nationally recognized for its unique training program and highly sought after by aspiring public interest lawyers: Last year, the program received a record 1,100 applications for 25 spots.
Karin Wang, the executive director of the Epstein Program, says, “Through his generous support, David leaves behind a remarkable legacy. Not only has his gift impacted hundreds of dedicated public interest alumni and students but, perhaps more importantly, it will benefit generations to come, through the work of Epstein Program graduates who advocate for the most vulnerable in our community and on the most pressing issues of justice and equality.”
Epstein’s survivors include his wife, Jane; his son, Matthew ’98; and his twin brother, Dan.