Thomas Sciacca ‘03

Never Stop Improving and Never Stop Giving Back

Taking a chance has proven a valuable asset for Haub Law alumnus Thomas Sciacca over the years. Only four years out of law school, he founded his own firm, and now, fifteen years later, Sciacca Law is a busy full-service law firm handling all types of Trusts and Estates matters. An openly gay attorney, representing the needs and interests of those in the LGBTQ community through his trusts and estates practice is also very important to Tom. He believes in two keys to success (1) never stop improving and (2) never stop giving back. Full of passion for what he does, Tom cannot imagine practicing in any other area of law and credits two Pace professors with shaping his career. Learn more about Tom, his Pace experience, and his practice in this alumni feature.

Your Pace Law story actually started before you were officially a student at the Law School – talk to us about that.  

Prior to attending law school, I was an employee at what was then known as Pace Law School, working as an assistant to Professors Black, Gershman, Sobie, Westerman, and Simon (before she was Dean). When I completed my undergraduate degree, I really had no intention of going to law school (or any other further education for that matter). However, working with these professors really opened my eyes to everything one could do with a law degree; they really impressed me with their dedication to scholarship, community involvement, and pro bono work.

Looking back, which of your professors at Pace really stand out in your memory?

There are two Pace professors that shaped my career – without them I would not be where I am today. First, Professor Bennett Gershman – he is the reason I decided to go to law school. Funny thing about it was that I never actually discussed going to law school with him until after I enrolled – just by working with him and observing his scholarship and passion for justice really inspired me. The best role models lead by example. Second was Professor Kathy Rosenthal, who was an adjunct professor teaching Wills, Trusts, and Estates. I took the Wills class thinking I would not have any real interest in the subject matter – it was just one of those classes students were supposed to take prior to the bar exam. By the end of the semester, I had changed my mind. Not only did I find the topic fascinating, Professor Rosenthal showed me how one could take an interesting practice area and develop it into a rewarding career where I could help people with important personal decisions and help them through tough times. She hired me part-time at her firm while I was still in law school and invested so much time into developing me as a professional. I am forever in her debt.

Four years out of law school, you founded your own firm, Sciacca Law, in 2007 – was that always your plan or what led you to that point?

I graduated in 2003, which was a touchy time for the job market shortly after 9/11. I was very fortunate to take a position as an associate in a small Trusts & Estates firm in Midtown Manhattan and was thrilled to have a job in the field I wanted (as opposed to just a job for the sake of having a job). I worked there almost four years and learned a lot. However, that firm did not do much litigation work and I really wanted to be a Surrogate’s Court litigator. So I started looking around for a new position. When I didn’t find anything I liked, I decided to open my own firm. While running one’s own firm at age thirty can be scary, it is one of the best decisions I have ever made (professionally or otherwise). I was busy and profitable almost immediately. After fifteen years, the firm is still going strong.

Your firm handles all types of Trusts and Estates matters – why those areas in particular?

Simply put, and with all due deference to readers in other fields, Trusts & Estates is the best thing that an attorney can do with their law degree. Lots of people dabble in the field, but doing it well requires such a high level of knowledge in many different Wills. Estates touch everything – substantive law of Wills, but also property, domestic relations, creditors’ rights, and tax (I went on to get an LL.M. in Taxation from New York University School of Law). The field is also incredibly personal. As Professor Rosenthal used to tell me, T&E attorneys bring order to chaos. I find that very rewarding. I couldn’t imagine practicing in another area. Every day I go to work is exciting and there is always something new to learn.

Your firm also has a focus on trusts and estates related to LGBTQ individuals and families in particular, how did that become?

As an openly gay attorney, I am very fortunate to work with so many clients from the LGBTQ community. While I have only been practicing just shy of twenty years, so much has changed in that time period. Prior to marriage equality, LGBTQ couples had little to no protection under the law and often faced Will contests brought by family members they haven’t spoken to in decades. Trusts & Estates attorneys would have to draft estate planning documents to protect against this, often depriving clients of having a simple and streamlined plan. The Will contests would often be incredibly distasteful, with family members coming out of the woodwork and saying incredibly offensive things to challenge the Will – alleging that people lacked testamentary capacity because no sane person could be gay, claiming that a couple who had lived together for over forty years were just roommates, etc. I’ve appeared in Court when blood relatives attempted to set aside someone’s cremation plans over the wishes of the deceased and her surviving domestic partner. This was only about 10-12 years ago. The law has come a long way in that time, and Courts have also. In 2005, I had a client who was HIV+ and a Judge told me that he didn’t feel comfortable having someone like that in the Courtroom. Nowadays, Courts have made a real commitment to inclusion and education of judges and non-judicial staff.

Even though gay marriage is now federally recognized, why is it important for LGBTQ individuals to consult an attorney with experience in LGBTQ estate planning specifically?

To me, it’s cultural. For example, a gay attorney will better understand that not every LGBTQ couple wants to get married even though they may. A gay attorney will be sensitive to the needs of older gay adults who came out during a time when they had absolutely no family support, often moving to Manhattan from rural communities to escape their homophobic families. A gay attorney will understand that LGBTQ people often form “family of choice” rather than just the traditional heteronormative definition of “family.” A gay attorney understands the importance of language in legal documents and in verbal communications to ensure that a client hears the pronouns that best expresses their gender identity. A gay attorney always has a backup plan – sure, you are a married couple, but what if you are in a car accident in some exceedingly backward part of this country where a hospital refuses to recognize your marriage – sure you can go to Court, but the better plan is to have a Health Care Proxy that gives each spouse rights to make medical decisions independent of their status as a spouse. Like with anything else, there is a lot of nuance to learn and those of us who are a part of this community are, in my opinion, more aware of these issues.

You keep a very active law focused blog on your website focused on changes in the law, hot topics, practical advice, and more – how do you stay abridge of it all and why is it important for an attorney to do so?

I believe there are two keys to success: (1) never stop improving myself and (2) never stop giving back. My blog is a great way to do both. When I started my blog ( over five years ago, I wondered if I would quickly run out of things to discuss in twice-monthly blog posts. Oddly enough, that never happened even though we are quickly posting 200 articles (we recently had to add an index due to the sheer volume of content). The blog is a great way to ensure that I continue learning and, even more importantly, continue listening to what is important to people with legal issues in my field. I write the blog to be informative and free, and people contact me all the time to tell me that the information has helped them navigate their own estate planning or Surrogate’s Court experiences. It’s also a great marketing tool – it shows a perspective client that an attorney has the substantive knowledge in their field but also the ability to explain complicated legal concepts in a manner that a lay person can easily understand. For any attorney considering starting a blog, I would highly recommend it.

Circling back to your time at Pace, what were some of the most impactful experiences during your time as a student?

There were lots! I was president of the Student Bar Association, Executive Productions Editor for Pace Law Review, and a member of the Trial Advocacy Team. Pace Law Review published my law review note. I served as a Teaching Assistant to Professor McDonnell and a Research Assistant to the late Professor Gary Munneke. During my time at Pace, I also had part-time work at Rosenthal & Markowitz, LLP and the NYS Attorney General’s Office in White Plains. Pace offered lots of great opportunities and I decided to participate in everything I could – nobody could accuse me of missing out!

Do you have any advice for current or future law students?

Law as a profession offers many opportunities. For those not yet enrolled in law school, consider taking some courses before applying to make sure it is a career in which you will be happy. For law students, I would encourage them to keep an open mind when it comes to their field of interest. When I started law school, I wanted to be a union-side labor attorney. By the end of my first year, I knew I wanted to be a Trusts & Estates attorney. By the end of the second year, I knew I wanted to not only do estate planning, but also litigate inheritance disputes in the Surrogate’s Court. I never even took that Labor Law class!

What are some of your passions aside from the law?

Many. I love teaching and I have been on the adjunct faculty at NYU’s School of Professional Studies since 2006 – I get to work with students ranging from high school students to attorneys attending CLE programs. I also love learning new things; after law school, I took up American Sign Language classes and now I am learning German. Travel is also a big passion of mine. And of course, my husband Jeremy – by far my greatest passion.