Finkelstein, who owned the Law Journal until 1983 and continued as publisher until 1988, is credited with transforming the paper from a drab listing of calendars and rulings to a lively, timely and influential newspaper.
"Before he took over, the paper was basically a chronicle of court decisions and court calendars," said Ruth Hochberger, a former editor-in-chief of the Law Journal. "He brought the sensibility of a journalist to his role as publisher and really wanted to make it a legitimate newspaper that was very well-read, very well-respected and would break news."
Hochberger said Finkelstein, and later his son, James, invested generously in the paper, doubled the staff, undertook a complete and costly redesign, brought in columnists, introduced photography and opened bureaus in the federal courthouse at Foley Square and in Albany.
Finkelstein extended coverage to the entire legal community, listening closely to the concerns of bar groups and professional organizations and reporting on emerging issues of law. He convened a board of editors comprised of attorneys, former judges and public officials; the first chairman was former presiding justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, Bernard Botein. He also brought on Mario Cuomo, who remains a board member.
Finkelstein started special features, beginning with a weekly real estate digest, that became extremely popular.
"We began to be noticed and quoted and cited by other publications," Hochberger said. "He was demanding. He wanted to know why we didn't have [news] that was in the Wall Street Journal or the [New York] Times, and he spurred us on to do things that we had never done before."
Finkelstein used the power of his presses to spotlight the drug problem, writing a series of editorials between 1971 and 1972 and publishing three special issues with guest articles by government officials, drug abuse specialists and laymen. President Nixon appointed him to a special commission on drug abuse.
A few years later, when the city was on the brink of insolvency, Finkelstein published a special report on the fiscal crisis, sponsored "think tank" sessions with business, civic and political leaders and authored a series of signed editorials.
James Finkelstein, who succeeded his father as publisher and continued to expand and advance the paper, said the need for a major publication serving the legal community was clear as the Law Journal quickly gained prominence.
"It was really just a calendar sheet, with an occasional article, when we bought it," Finkelstein said. "We hired a first-rate reporter and started getting columnists, and it immediately connected with the legal community. My father loved to be around lawyers and judges. He could talk about what was happening in the law and profession endlessly."