Neil Chayet ’63, a lawyer who brought complex legal topics to a popular audience with his national radio show “Looking at the Law,” died August 11 at age 78. In June, he retired from his radio show, which he hosted for 42 years, recording more than 10,000 episodes. The cause of death was cancer, according to his family and WBZ, which hosted his syndicated show.
“Neil Chayet was a true teacher, who carried the message of why law matters in an accessible, engaging manner,” said John F. Manning, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “His lessons reached millions of people, helping them understand the law and its essential function in our society. He was also a devoted alumnus whose lifelong engagement with his alma mater was a gift to the entire HLS community.”
In a statement, WBZ Director of News & Programming Peter Casey said Chayet “touched so [many] people with his work on the radio through Looking at the Law, and with his countless hours of work helping people through his advocacy for community health centers. His life was his family, friends, and helping others resolve either legal or personal problems. He would probably want all of his listeners to think of one of their favorite Looking at the Law puns and smile.”
Born in Boston, Chayet graduated from Tufts University, where he later served on the Board of Trustees, on the board of advisors for the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, and on the faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. In 2007, Tufts gave him its Distinguished Service Award.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1963, Chayet began a legal career that often focused on medical issues, with clients including Jonas Salk and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling. He helped draft a bill for the Massachusetts Legislature to reform drug laws. And he was among the lawyers who represented Bridgewater State Hospital inmates alleging invasion of their privacy by the documentary “Titicut Follies,” according to The Boston Globe.
Chayet was an adviser to Massachusetts Governor Willam Weld ’70 and was active in the commonwealth’s Republican Party. He founded the Chayet Communications Group, which sought to resolve disputes in law, medicine, and public policy.
With his wife, Martha, Chayet purchased and restored the historic Salem, Mass., home of Joseph Story, a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and legendary leader of HLS. In 2006, Chayet told Harvard Law Today, “Story wrote commentaries so the average person could understand the law. I strive to follow in his footsteps by translating the law and then using it to entertain.”
In addition to his wife, Martha, and his former wife, Susan Mullen Chayet, Chayet is survived by two sons, a daughter, and five grandchildren.