Success Stories

Aaliyah Smith ’23

Daughter of immigrants. Bilingual first-generation American. Justice Seeker.

Aaliyah Smith’s mother immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic and her father from Honduras. Aaliyah started her journey to law school because as a first-generation American and first-generation higher education student she wanted to give back to her Latin community. “I had enough of watching family, friends, and members of my community face life-altering events with inadequate legal resources. I had enough of seeing the waves of helplessness as the tides of injustice and inequality took their course. So, I wanted to do more to provide for my community and help them confront the challenges they may face in the legal world. Growing up in a predominately Latin/minority neighborhood in the South Bronx, you see the works of poor resources, corruption, discrimination, and more from a young age. But in what can seem like a shadow of darkness, there are always advocates working to be a beacon of light in confronting injustice. At its core, the law field is advocacy. The legal profession provides access to a variety of possibilities to give back to the community, including advocating for victims, defending the validity of convictions, offering defendants access to resources, and so much more. A career in law gives you the tools to be the change you want to see.”

Soon after coming to Haub Law, Aaliyah became involved with the Latin American Law Student Association. “I wanted to find a community and a support group. In joining LALSA, I knew would be surrounded by people with similar backgrounds, and goals or at least have some sort of commonality with them.  When I went to the first general board meeting in my 1L year, I saw how the e-board and members treated each other like family, it was a very warm feeling and I wanted to be a part of that. I became a 1L rep, then public relations coordinator, and now president. I can confidently say that the friendships and connections I made through LALSA were God-sent; I don’t know how I would have made it through law school without my LALSA family”.

This past summer, Aaliyah interned at the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office within the Special Prosecutions Unit. For Aaliyah, this experience solidified her desire to work in the field of public interest law. “I learned the importance of communication and interconnectivity. The law is interdependent, there is always a cross-section between different areas of law happening in one case. My time in WCDA over the summer and as a student attorney with the Criminal Justice Defense Clinic has shown me the necessity of both sides. The Prosecutor as the Representative of the State and the Defense Attorney as the Voice of the Innocent until Proven Guilty. I have come to appreciate both sides of the courtroom. As a prosecutor you wear so many hats, you are an investigator, a researcher, an advocate for the victim, and more. As a defense attorney, you ensure the system does its intended purpose: to bring actual justice; not to put blame on a face or justify harsh punishment. Defense attorneys make sure that the person behind “the defendant” is seen and humanized as so much more than a label. Both Defense attorneys and Prosecutors are integral in bringing about a better and more just system. I honestly would love to work on either side post-graduation because of how necessary each side is.”

Samantha Lopez '24

On the Right Path

The child of immigrants from Peru, Samantha Lopez’s parents are her inspiration for pursuing a degree in law. Now that she is at Pace, Samantha appreciates the close-knit community and guidance of her professors. “Professor Merton has been extremely helpful and has provided me with a lot of guidance. She is definitely an inspiration and role model. I would love to eventually participate as a student attorney in the Immigration Justice Clinic.”

With a passion for immigration law, Samantha’s experience as a Summer Legal Intern with Sanctuary for Families as part of their Immigration Intervention Project was exactly the type of summer experience she hoped for when she began her law school journey. “I was able to gain a better understanding of the legal immigration process and work directly with clients as I wrote an asylum brief, drafted a client’s affidavit, and filed N-600 forms. Meeting with the clients and being able to talk with them (mostly in Spanish) was an amazing experience that really cemented that I am on the right path.”

Now, a 2L at Haub Law, Samantha is secretary of the Latin American Law Student Association and the Pace Immigration Law Society. “I wanted to join LALSA because I believe when going through something difficult, such as law school, one needs a strong support system to help you through it. Knowing that members of LALSA typically come from similar backgrounds and have had similar experiences as I have had has made going through law school as a first generation law student a far better experience. I am also glad to have joined an organization with such an extensive alumni network that provides support.”

Faculty Focus

Professor Emily Gold Waldman

Emily Waldman is a Professor & the Associate Dean for Faculty Development at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. She joined Haub Law in 2006 and teaches Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Law & Education, and Employment Law. Most recently, Professor Waldman co-authored the book “Menstruation Matters: Challenging the Law’s Silence on Periods,” with Professor Bridget Crawford. Learn more about her recent book, advice on clerkships, and more in this Q&A.

Can you tell us about your recently published book?

The book that Professor Crawford and I wrote, “Menstruation Matters: Challenging the Law’s Silence on Periods,” looks at all of the different ways that the law intersects with menstruation.  It grew out of several different articles that we wrote.

The first article that we wrote looked at the sales tax on menstrual products—in particular, that in many states, certain products are tax-exempt yet menstrual products are not.  This is known as the “tampon tax.” Interestingly, this has changed a lot even since we wrote the article in 2018—more and more states have been classifying menstrual products as tax-exempt, in response to political campaigns and pressure.  Our article looked at the argument that it's actually unconstitutional to tax menstrual products when other comparable unisex necessities like bandaids are tax-exempt—that it’s a form of sex discrimination, since menstrual products are so closely linked to the female reproductive system.

Then we also did an article about whether Title IX requires schools to provide menstrual products to students who can't afford them, and also dealt with other aspects of how schools address menstruation. Throughout our research and writing, we saw that there are a lot of other aspects to address like workplace issues, environmental issues, and more.

What was exciting about the book, as compared to our articles, was that we were able to tell on-the-ground stories about who is working in the “menstrual advocacy” space right now?  How did they come to the topic? How did they connect with each other? What legal and political strategies did they use to try to effectuate legal change? We were able to also explore many cultural issues surrounding menstruation—in particular, the longstanding silence and stigma that accompanies menstruation. So while our book does look at the law and analyze the law, we also bring these issues to life.

You mentioned discussing with individuals how they came to this topic; what was it that sparked your interest?

It really is a very specific story. What happened was that Professor Crawford, who teaches tax law and feminist legal theory, was working on an article about the tampon tax.  She presented her work at a faculty colloquium, and mentioned that constitutional challenges were being brought against the tampon tax, on the idea that it violated the Equal Protection clause. And my ears pricked up, since so much of my scholarship and teaching is focused on constitutional law. And I was thinking immediately, well, what is the exact argument that they are making?  I could see that it raised some complicated constitutional questions.

And so I emailed Professor Crawford and I asked more about what the theory exactly was.  We decided to meet and talk more about the issue. After doing that, we decided to write an article about it. I was hooked right away because it’s a super-interesting legal issue that has very real world consequences.

I'm always interested in issues that cut across a lot of different areas, especially areas of con law, education, law, and employment law.  Menstruation is one of those areas that does that. There are constitutional aspects to it with equal protection, there are employment aspects to it in terms of accommodations and discrimination, and there are education law implications in terms of what happens in schools.

What got you interested in the more general fields of law and education, employment law, and constitutional law?

To me, they’re all just so interesting on both the intellectual and human-relations levels. I loved those topics from the time I was in law school. I tend to be very interested in legal issues that involve people in their everyday life. And if you think about it, you know when you're a kid, where do you go every day? You go to school. And then, when you’re an adult, where do you go? Every day you go to work. So both of those contexts to me are endlessly fascinating.

For example, think about public school teachers' free speech rights – that's a con law issue, but it is also an employment law and education law issue. I love seeing those connections and that some of the cases I teach in one class may also come up in another class.

Do you have any advice for students who are interested in these specific fields?

The first thing is to take all of the relevant coursework that you can, and also related classes. For example, administrative law touches on all of these things. I'm also a big proponent of clerking, getting experience with a judge, if you can, and whether you clerk for a state judge or a federal judge, you are very likely to see these areas come up. Also, make sure you follow the areas you are interested in - follow them in the newspaper, follow the Supreme Court, and more.

Do you have any advice for students interested in clerking?

I did two clerkships.  First, I clerked for a federal district judge, Bill Young, right out of law school, in Boston.  Then I worked at a law firm for a couple of years, and then I clerked for a judge on the Second Circuit, Robert Katzmann.  So my advice is to definitely pursue it if it's something that's interesting to you. It's a fabulous experience. It’s a good idea to cast a really broad net in terms of where you apply, and to apply to both federal and state clerkships.

If you are geographically flexible, that is extremely helpful. Don't just limit yourself to the New York metro area unless you have to for personal reasons. Also, while you are at Haub Law, if you have the opportunity, apply to participate in the Federal Judicial Honors Program and one of the law reviews as well.

So outside of academics, what do you spend most of your time focused on?

My kids! They keep me busy - I have a daughter who is 13 and my son is 8. I spend a lot of time with them, hanging out with them, driving them to their activities, helping them with their homework.

Learn more about Professor Waldman. https://law.pace.edu/faculty/emily-gold-waldman 

 

Mandi Bruns '24

Philip Foglia Summer Legal Intern at the NYC Office of the Inspector General

This past summer, 2L Mandi Bruns had the honor of being selected as the inaugural Philip Foglia Summer Legal Intern at the NYC Office of the Inspector General’s Office. The Philip Foglia Summer Legal Internship was created in honor of dedicated Haub Law alumnus Philip Foglia who passed away in 2020.  Mandi Bruns applied for the internship to further her interest in government investigations. “This internship opportunity really appealed to me. I worked on government investigation matters while working as a legal assistant at a law firm for many years. I am also inspired by Phil Foglia's commitment to fighting organized crime and public corruption, as well as his notorious devotion to community.”

This summer, at the Office of the Inspector General, Mandi had the opportunity to conduct legal research, write memos, attend interviews, discuss ongoing investigations with investigative counsel, and more. “I learned to value the impact that legal research can have on an active investigation.” While there were many highlights, Mandi notes that one that really sticks out to her was having the opportunity to speak with the Inspector General, Lucy Lang, about her experience doing defense versus prosecution work in the City. “I came into law school laser focused on doing defense work, but it was really rewarding getting the perspective of former prosecutors and how they feel they can ensure a fair process throughout the criminal justice system. The IG leads an office with a mentorship mentality. Everyone was fantastic at involving me in their work and explaining the process of an investigation. I came out of the internship learning so much, from how an investigation begins to how it can end in recommending charges to a prosecutor. I hope that I made both the Foglia family and Pace community proud.”

A member of Haub Law’s Class of 1980, Phil Foglia began his legal career at the Bronx DA’s Office. He was later a Special Assistant US Attorney in the SDNY, a partner at a private firm, the Executive VP of SEBCO, and in August 2019, he retired after a lengthy career with the Office of the New York Inspector General as Chief of Investigations and Special Deputy Inspector General. He was also very dedicated to charitable and community work, serving as the pro bono legal counsel for the Bronx Special Olympics and co-founding the Child Reach Foundation. He retired from the Ispector General’s office in 2019.

Mandi Bruns Lucy Lang
Inspector General, Lucy Lang with inaugural Philip Foglia Summer Legal Intern Mandi Bruns '24

Learn more about Phil Foglia and the Philip Foglia Summer Legal Internship at the NYC Office of the Inspector General’s Office in the 2022 Haub Law Alumni Magazine.

Elizabeth Dank '05

#LifeatTikTok

Elizabeth Dank ’05 recently embarked on a new journey in her career: Product Policy Manager for Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity on the Global Trust and Safety team at TikTok. Elizabeth has always loved to dig in to complex problems and has worked in the field of gender-based violence throughout her career in both legal and non-legal roles – crediting, in part, the Pace Women’s Justice Center for directly influencing the course of her career. Prior to her new role at TikTok, she spent time with the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS), in the Queens District Attorney’s Office in the Domestic Violence Unit, and eleven years with the New York City Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV). Learn more about Elizabeth, her time at Haub Law, her career and current role at TikTok, what continues to inspire her career path, and more in this Alumni Q&A.

Let’s jump right in – you recently started a position at TikTok as a Product Policy Manager focused on Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity – what is your day-to-day like there?

Across the Trust and Safety Issue Policy team, we are developing and enforcing cutting-edge policies and practices aimed at keeping the platform safe and welcoming. I am working specifically on Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity and focusing on policies related to exploitation and abuse. It has been so interesting to translate my on-the-ground work in gender-based violence into a tech space. Unfortunately, the harms that can occur IRL can also happen in online communities and we are working hard to proactively prevent and address abuse and exploitation and provide support for survivors. It is a huge responsibility to know that the work we are doing will impact over 1 billion users across the globe.  

What is it like to work for a huge social media platform? 

 #LifeatTikTok is different than anything I have experienced professionally! I am so impressed by the focus on employee well-being, the transparency and communication from leadership and the ways our commitment to creativity and joy on the platform are endlessly woven into the workplace too. Not only am I passionate about the work I get to do here, I am also having fun!  

You have spent your career primarily focused combatting domestic violence and gender-based violence – thank you – I imagine at times that this can be very emotionally draining, what keeps you going and/or what have been the most fulfilling parts of your job? 

I have two little girls who inspire me daily. I hope that through my work I might have a small impact on making the world they grow up in safer and more equitable.  

Jumping back for a second, you started your legal career as an agency attorney with the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS) and then as an ADA in the Queens District Attorney’s Office in the Domestic Violence Unit – can you talk about those experiences? 

Starting my career in litigation roles provided me with invaluable experience and numerous transferable skills in public speaking, writing, analysis, negotiation, mediation, thinking on your feet - just to name a few! There is often a sink-or-swim approach to new hires in government litigation positions, which was terrifying at the time but really forced me to work hard and strengthen my skills every day.  

Working directly with families and survivors who experienced child abuse, domestic violence and sexual violence was both incredibly difficult and rewarding. The families I came into contact with through these positions left indelible impressions on me and motivated me to seek to improve NYC systems and remove barriers.  

On a personal level, while at these two agencies, I was fortunate to have incredibly supportive bosses and colleagues who became lifelong friends. And I will always be thankful to ACS, as they unknowingly paired me with an officemate who would, years later, become my husband!  

From the DA’s Office, you transitioned to the New York City Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV), where you spent the last 11 years doing impactful work in a variety of roles, what was your day-to-day like there? 

No two days (or even hours!) were the same at ENDGBV and that was one of the things that made the work so interesting and engaging. It was such a privilege to work alongside my colleagues and our partners to develop, enhance and innovate the City's response to gender-based violence. We wrote novel legislation, developed critical policies, designed first-of-its-kind programming, and worked every day to strategically coordinate and align approaches across numerous City agencies to enhance support for survivors. My ENDGBV colleagues are some of the most passionate people I have met and it was incredible to work in an office that was so grounded and focused on a shared mission.  

Did you always want to be a lawyer? 

Actually, no! I originally thought I might be a psychologist or a social worker. I even grappled with this during my first year of law school and wondered whether I had chosen the right path! I'm glad I persevered though as I've really enjoyed my career as a lawyer and believe that a legal education is transferable in so many beneficial ways.  

What was your path to law school and why Pace? 

During my junior year in college, I interned at a domestic violence shelter. Working closely with shelter staff and resident survivors, I was able to better understand both the barriers and resources that impacted survivors. This experience largely inspired me to go to law school and continue working to support survivors as an attorney. I chose Pace because of the excellent public interest program, immersive clinical and externship options and access to the legal community in NYC.  

What were some of your most impactful experiences during your time at Pace? 

Participating in the domestic violence clinic through the Pace Women's Justice Center directly influenced the course of my career. I believe strongly in the importance of clinical programming and highly recommend it to all new law students! I also had great domestic violence-related internships at community-based organizations and government agencies that helped to inform my career path. Rebecca Fialk was my clinical instructor and was fantastic at guiding me through my first client interviews and court appearances and motivating me to pursue litigation early in my career. I also had an excellent experience in trial advocacy with Robert Altchiler and found the skills I developed there so helpful in my first years as a litigator and in other roles throughout my career. One of the courses that stuck with me the most was the Prisoner's Rights class with Professor Michael Mushlin. It helped me to stay balanced and grounded as a prosecutor and inspired me to dig deeper into issues of sexual violence experienced by people in custody.

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

If you are interested in the public sector, explore clinics, internships and volunteer opportunities across different agencies and organizations and be open to the different paths your legal career may take you. My career took many pivots and turns that I did not anticipate and it has been wonderful to continue to learn and grow in different ways with each position.  

What are some of your passions aside from the law? 

Outside of work, you can often find me exploring NYC, traveling with my family, going for a bike ride or baking with my kids.  

John Lettera '99

The Importance of Giving Back
CEO and Founder, Fairbridge Asset Management

John Lettera is a 1999 magna cum laude graduate of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and served as the Managing Editor of Law Review. He is the CEO and Founder of Fairbridge Asset Management, for­merly RealFi Financial LLC. Fairbridge is a leading, technology driven, alterna­tive investment management firm with expertise in real estate credit strate­gies. Mr. Lettera’s involvement with the law school has been tremendous. He is a member of the Law School’s Board of Visitors and an Adjunct Professor at Haub Law. Most recently, he made a generous donation to the Law School which will serve as a five-year grant to name its Investor Rights Clinic after Fairbridge Asset Management—Fairbridge Investor Rights Clinic. He has also been an adjunct pro­fessor at the Law School since 2010, teaching courses in Real Estate Finance, Corporate Finance, and Venture Capital. Mr. Lettera has also supported the Law School through hiring many alumni over the years, generously sponsoring alumni events, and volunteering with the Center for Career and Professional Development. In 2013 and 2022, he received the Distinguished Service Award as part of the annual Law School Leadership Awards Dinner in recognition of his ongoing support.

How did you end up choosing Pace to pursue your legal education?

Pace was a perfect fit for me, as I wanted smaller class sizes and the chance to establish close relationships with other students and my professors. I wanted a col­laborative environment, and I relished the opportunity to engage with other students and work together to complete projects.

You have an interesting professional background, can you speak about that briefly?

I’ve been investing in real estate since 1990, and as an attorney, I’ve specialized in this area for over 23 years, so I have a lot of insight and experience in handling complex transactions—bridge loans, equity and debt financing and investing, acquisitions, etc. Unlike a lot of global bankers or financiers, I like to think outside of the box, more like an entrepreneur than a banker. I learned very early on that this type of investing is very legal intensive so law school was a natural progression and one that has served me very well.

What impact has your legal education at Pace had on your career?

Pace gave me the knowledge and foundation to get recruited to Milbank while also instilling in me the intellectual passion to venture out on my own. Being a part of Pace continuously reminds me that the practice of law is a profession besides being a business and as lawyers we can do good besides just doing well. Thanks to Pace, that commitment is firmly embedded in the culture of its students and in the future of the legal profession.

You are also an adjunct professor at Pace—how do you find that experience?

I always enjoyed classes taught by adjunct professors. I liked learning about their experiences firsthand; it al­lowed the students to view the world they want to en­ter through their lens. As an adjunct professor myself, I speak directly to how theories learned in class apply to real life applications and point out the pros and cons of different scenarios that students may not be able to anticipate at their current level. My love for learning fuels my passion for teaching. I am addicted to the challenge of how to get students even more engaged in learning. I can’t teach every student in the world, but I can make a difference for the ones I teach. Knowing that the impact I can have on their lives can stay with them throughout their years of schooling and beyond is incredibly inspiring.

You have been a generous supporter of Pace over the years—thank you. Why do you feel it is important to give back?

There are so many reasons including showing my ap­preciation for the education that Pace provided me and to give others a chance to have a similar experi­ence. Also, I compare my degree to having equity in a company; I have a personal interest in ensuring that Pace’s prestige grows. For my corporate finance stu­dents, it is like owning an investment where valuation changes based on reputation rather than earnings. The onus is on us, alumni, to bolster the reputation of our alma mater to protect and enhance our invest­ment over time. Giving back is also an opportunity for me to channel my passion and allow it to thrive on campus long after I’m gone. It is a way to invest back in areas I wish to see Pace flourish.

What are different ways, aside from financial, that you feel an alumni can and should support their law school?

Alumni often think that they are not ready to support Pace. This is usually on the premise that monetary contribution is the only way to give back. While finan­cial support is an important way to engage, contri­bution with your time can be an equally enriching experience, if not more. Volunteering to be mentors and guest speakers allows alums to stay current and engaged with bright minds of the future. Those inter­actions can lead to potentially hiring interns or future lawyers. Also, be sure to hire current and graduating students as this is the best way to promote Pace.

Over the years, I have hired countless students from Pace. Today, I am proud to say that several of my former students have top positions in my com­pany, including a partner with the asset management company, general counsel with the mortgage com­pany, counsel to the asset management company, and the list goes on. I also continue to support ex­ternship programs where several students work with my company for credits.

What advice would you have for a future or current law student?

I tell my students that the most crucial variable to your success in business is you. Experience has taught me that if we go to work every day on the internal, the external success we crave will undoubtedly show up along the way. The remarkable thing about working on ideas like inner passion and purpose is that your progress comes out so authentically in all manners of external interaction. When people can genuinely feel that you care about what you are engaged in, you are a persuasive salesperson, without actually trying to sell anything. It takes a lot of courage to work on the internal, but as Anais Nin so eloquently put it, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”. Success, however you choose to define it, is a con­tinual work in progress. While many factors come into play when building a business, I believe that the most important ones have nothing to do with innovation, balance sheets, finance, or marketing. The most im­portant variable to your success in business is you. You are the author of your own life, and it’s never too late to replace the stories you tell yourself.

John Lettera Horace Anderson

Decnis Pimentel ‘23

You are the change you seek

Growing up in Harlem, New York, Haub Law student Decnis Pimentel experienced racial injustice first-hand. In part, these experiences led her to law school with the goal of pursuing a career in law to create change and have an impact on our system. “I am a huge believer in being the change you seek and pursuing a career in the law allows for the unique position of being able to help a range of individuals from all backgrounds regardless of their race or economic status. Lawyers have the ability to create change for the greater good of society and I look forward to having a career in law doing just that.”

Decnis is already breaking barriers in her own family. “I am a first-generation student in my family and will be the first lawyer in my entire family. I am Dominican and the oldest of three children. My mother is one of my biggest sources of power. Her resilience and the sacrifices she has made is one of the many reasons I am here today. I am proud of who I am and my background. I want to serve as an example for women of color and Latinas who come from similar backgrounds and show them that regardless of the stereotypes or labels society may want to place on you, you are in control of your own future and are capable of achieving anything you set your mind to.”

Currently, a resident assistant in Haub Law’s Dannat Hall, Decnis is also an active member of the Latin American Law Students Association and the Black Law Students Association. This past fall, she also interned with the Pace Women’s Justice Center. “It was a humbling and empowering experience. I learned a lot, both legal and life lessons.”

Decnis also feels fortunate to have experienced having Professor Randolph McLaughlin during her 1L year, who she notes has “inspired” her. “Taking Professor McLaughlin’s torts class during my 1L year and learning about his extensive career as a lawyer has inspired me and showed me that the work done as a lawyer really does have an impact and can create change in our system. He shared stories about his career, how he navigated being a black man who is a lawyer and the obstacles he faced throughout his career. Learning about his path and how he persevered motivated me to push through a very stressful 1L year.”

Decnis is pursuing an Advanced Certificate in Health Law and Policy while at Haub Law. So far, aside from her classes, her favorite thing about the Haub Law experience is the people. “Everyone here is extremely welcoming and willing to give a helping hand.”

When asked about her advice for others who may pursue a law degree, Decnis said, “trust yourself and have confidence in your potential. Bet on yourself. Do not compare your journey or story to the person next to you. You have gotten to the current place in your life because of your own talent, knowledge, and potential! You are the change you seek.”

As for the immediate future, Decnis is keeping her eye on the prize: graduate law school, pass the bar, and land a job in a law firm where she can create change. “I truly believe what I said, you are the change you seek, and I am confident that using the tools I have been given so far at Haub Law, I will fulfill my dream of graduating and having a positive impact on our system.”

Nicole Sammon ‘24

An Advocate for Inclusivity

While law school was not always Nicole Sammon’s career path, she knew she wanted a career that would be intellectually challenging, which also allowed her to make a positive impact on her community. “I have always been passionate about advocacy work, primarily environmental and LGBTQ+ based, and the legal field allows me to turn that passion into a career,” Nicole said.

Immediately after undergraduate school, Nicole pursued a career in environmental education where she worked for the Walt Disney Company in their Animal, Science, and Environment Department. During her time with the company, she led thousands of interactive conservation-based lessons to guests visiting the theme parks. Nicole recalls the experience as “absolutely incredible.” After her time with Disney, Nicole moved back home to New York City. “I was able to bring my experience with Disney to the Urban Park Ranger team with the NYC Parks Department. This allowed me to focus conservation efforts more locally.” Nicole found it invigorating to be able to provide recreation and education-based programming for thousands of New Yorkers. She noted that one of her favorite programs to lead was overnight camping. “So many NYC residents have never had the opportunity to camp before, and we offered it for free right in their local parks!”

It was also during her time with the NYC Parks Department that Nicole had the opportunity to become a founding member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. “The initiative was the first of its kind in the agency; it focused on both increasing the diversity of the Park Ranger team and increasing accessibility to Park Ranger resources within communities. During my time with the task force, we worked to revamp the Park Ranger hiring process to make it more accessible to NYC residents, increasing outreach and restructuring the interview questions and uniform requirements. Further, we began a department wide conversation about the normalization of pronouns to increase inclusivity, as well as implemented the usage of pronouns on Park Ranger programs.”

Now, a rising 2L at Haub Law, Nicole is pursuing the advanced certificate in environmental law. Through her work in the environmental field prior to law school, educating and advocating for conservation, Nicole learned about the impacts that environmental negligence has on low-income communities. “This further developed my passion for advocacy work and what inspired me to pursue a field in which I can actively fight for justice,” she said. Nicole is passionate about historically marginalized groups that are often overlooked and don’t have the resources that other communities may have. “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am especially dedicated to fighting for those who continue to face struggles due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and to have their civil rights recognized in many aspects of their daily lives, from housing to healthcare. This is why I decided to dedicate my time as Vice President of Lambda. It is my hope to help the student organization become a larger presence on campus as we know how important having an inclusive community is, especially during law school,” she shared.

Nicole is thrilled with what she describes as the small and positive community she has found at Haub Law. “I have found that many of the students share very similar interests and values, creating an extremely welcoming environment. So many upperclassmen have also acted as mentors for myself and other students throughout our 1L year. Not to mention, the professors and university staff have all been extremely helpful and understanding. I have learned so much from them.”

Though she is not sure exactly what area of law she wants to pursue, this summer she is working for Legal Services NYC, which is a non-profit that provides legal services to low income New Yorkers. “I am trying to vary my experiences as much as I can to figure out exactly where I want to land. I am also interested in interning in policy work and corporate work. No matter where I go, I plan to incorporate my experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion work to continue to push for the legal field to be more inclusive.”

In her spare time (when she has it!), Nicole’s favorite hobby is gardening. “I am so thankful to have a small green space at my home that I have been able to turn into an active garden. I grow peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, three different types of berries, and many species of wildflowers. Gardening is a great excuse to get outside and has been a major stress relief during law school. I also enjoy camping and hiking, and I recently have been learning to roller skate.”

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 (www.sciaccalaw.com/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.

A Father-Daughter Q&A with Steven Epstein ‘92 and Alexis Epstein ‘21

Q: Alexis, did your father’s career as a lawyer inspire you to attend law school?

A: Absolutely, I grew up watching him. I would go to court with him all the time when I was younger to watch him in action in the courtroom. I saw the impact he made in people’s lives and learned that I too wanted a career where I could make that difference in someone’s life. I believe that being able to see the reality of what it takes to be a lawyer before coming to law school helped me in deciding whether law was the career for me. My decision to come to Pace was impacted by my father’s experience because he was able to tell me about what opportunities there were before even visiting. Ultimately, coupled with my father’s experience, I also chose Pace because of the number of public interest opportunities and I knew that was something I wanted to go into.

Q: Steven, how did you feel about your daughter following in your footsteps and pursuing a career in law?

A: I was thrilled that Alexis chose the law and especially Pace as her pathway to make a difference in the lives of others and help improve the world we all live in. It is the size of her heart, her desire to succeed, and her intelligence that empowers her to help others. Becoming a lawyer and now a public defender was a perfect pathway to make a difference in the lives of others. How much more proud can a father be than of that.

Epstein

Q: Alexis, how was your experience at Haub Law?

A: My experience at Pace was great! I was drawn to the criminal justice path and took a number of Professor Dorfman’s classes, such as Criminal Procedure and New York Criminal Procedure. Both classes were very helpful when it came to interviewing and I always enjoyed his classes. He also became a mentor for me outside the classroom, which I greatly appreciated. I also took Professor Mushlin’s Prisoners’ Rights class, which is something I’ve always been passionate about and really enjoyed his class. My last year I was fortunate enough to be in the Criminal Defense Clinic where we represented clients and were able to do so much as students under the practice order. To be able to apply what you’ve learned in a clinic setting was extremely valuable and helped me in securing my post graduate job. Lastly, I was heavily involved in the advocacy program, which solidified that I wanted to do litigation.  

Q: Steven, can you talk about your continued involvement with Pace?

A: I am a founding partner of Barket, Epstein, Kearon, Aldea & LoTurco, LLP and head of the firm’s DWI and Vehicular Crimes group. I have also been an adjunct professor at Haub Law for over 22 years teaching trial advocacy. During that time, I have also been coaching trial teams that compete at various trial competitions representing the School. Most recently, I opened The Steven Epstein DWI Defense Institute, which is an educational program designed to teach lawyers how to defend DWI cases and it is housed at Haub Law. And, I should note, all Haub Law alumni receive a 15% discount on tuition!

Q: Alexis, you are now working in the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office – how has that experience been?

A: Yes, I was fortunate enough to have a position immediately after law school as an Assistant Public Defender with the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office. It has been a tremendous experience so far and I am learning a lot. The Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office is very busy and we have a large caseload. I am in the courtroom each day advocating for everyone to be treated equally and assuring justice for all. It has been a tremendous and eye opening experience seeing a judicial system in another state. 

Q: Steven, what would your advice be for future or current law students?

A: There is nothing in this life that is worthwhile that comes easily. The most rewarding things in life take the most amount of work. So find what it is you want, do not let anyone or anything get in your way of accomplishing it and most importantly work as hard as you can to accomplish that goal. In the words of Derek Jeter, “there may be people who have more talent than you, but there's no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do” - and I believe that.

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