Success Stories

From the Classroom to the Bench

Justice Joseph Suarez ‘80

After spending 30 years on the bench, Haub Law alumnus Justice Joseph Suarez has recently retired. Born in Cuba, Justice Suarez attended City College in New York while working as an electrical worker in NYC Transit to help support his family. After a tragedy hit home, he and his fiancée became guardians of three children. “I had a responsibility to my family and at that point, I knew I had to support them,” said Suarez. “I decided that obtaining my teaching license would be prudent and I started a career as a science teacher in the South Bronx.” During that time, Justice Suarez supplemented his teaching salary as a S.E.C. registered Investment Adviser and Tax preparer and continued his educational studies, ultimately receiving an MBA in finance from Baruch. With a passion for learning and a drive to go further, he ultimately pursued and obtained a MS in Educational Administration and a NYS license as a District Administrator.   

“By the time I had started thinking about law school, I had moved my family to Rockland County,” Suarez recalled. “I was interested in law, I truly enjoyed being a student, and there was a competitive value of a law degree that was appealing.” Ultimately, he was accepted to a number of law schools, but once he heard that Pace was to open a law school in White Plains, the choice was made. “It was the perfect circumstances for me. I would not have to commute far, and I could attend at night.”  

Once enrolled at what was then known as Pace Law School, Justice Suarez immersed himself in his legal studies. “Immediately I knew I was in the right place. And, fortunately, despite having a young family, I had the unwavering support of my wife, Della, without which none of this would have been possible.” During his time at Pace, Justice Suarez recalls the many professors who helped him along the way. “I was most impressed by Professor Jay Carlisle, Professor Bennett Gershman, and the late Ralph Stein. Their passion and skills for imparting knowledge on the particular subject matter was amazing.”  

After graduating from Pace in 1980, Justice Suarez remained very involved with the School, serving as a member of the alumni association for thirteen years, as president, treasurer, and on various committees of the association. “I developed strong friendships with classmates during my time at Pace. We all fostered a mutual sense of wanting to give back to Pace through our involvement, which included scholarships, outreach to minorities, and more.”

Once he was admitted to the bar, Justice Suarez accepted the position of District Director of Management Services in his South Bronx School District. When the position of labor negotiator for Rockland County became available, he applied and became the first Hispanic Assistant County Attorney in the process. During this time, he also helped found the Village of Chestnut Ridge, becoming the Village Attorney for the first 6 years of its operation and serving as the first Hispanic Village Attorney in the County. 

With a passion for involvement in community causes, Justice Suarez was deeply involved with the Haverstraw community, helping to form: the Hispanic Coalition of Rockland County, the Alliance of Latino Leaders; and HOGAR (Home), an organization which focused on establishing first-time home buyers. Ultimately, through HOGAR, Justice Suarez helped close for nearly 200 families, over the years.  “Giving back to the Hispanic community has always been a passion and priority of mine.”  

It was in 1992 when the Acting Village Justice of Chestnut Ridge moved away that the mayor asked him to assume the position of Acting Village Justice and he accepted- becoming the first Hispanic judge in the Hudson Valley. For the next nearly 5 years, Justice Suarez served in that capacity. With a need for a second justice, it was in 1997 that Justice Suarez was elected to fill that role and since then, he has been re-elected continuously. “Being on the bench was not something I foresaw all those years ago when I was pursuing different educational paths and degrees. My career and the path of my career has been circuitous and rewarding. The ability to effect change, and ensure justice is served, has been life changing. It was the honor of my lifetime to have served in that capacity.”  

Now that he is retired, Justice Suarez looks forward to taking the time to reflect on how he can efficiently effect positive change. “I am excited for the next chapter, connecting with friends, spending time with family, and a Havanese puppy we recently got, who takes up much of our time. I also look forward to continuing my work with the Hudson Valley Hispanic Bar Association.” 

Celebrating 25 Years in DC

And Recognizing the Professor Who Made it Possible

Twenty-five years ago, what was then known as Pace Law School launched a summer Environmental Law Externship program in Washington, DC. Beyond giving students direct experience with environmental law and policy, one of the key goals of the externship from the outset, as described by Professor of Law Emerita Ann Powers and champion of the program, was “to introduce students to the lawyer’s role as responsible, ethical decision-maker, with an emphasis on the special discretion of the government lawyer.” In 1997, students experienced an intensive “bootcamp” on environmental law taught by environmental legal pioneer and Pace Law Adjunct Professor David Sive. In DC they worked as externs and took a seminar taught by Adjunct Professor Steve Solow, formerly Co-Director of the Law School’s environmental litigation clinic and then Chief of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section. Today Professor Solow is a partner at Baker Botts and still at the helm of this impactful and transformational program.

DC on a Boat 1999

Over his tenure, Professor Solow has recruited five co-professors, all Pace alumni. One former student turned co-professor, Robyn Emeson, who serves as Senior Assistant Regional Counsel in the Regulatory Enforcement Section of EPA’s Denver Regional, credits her time in the externship program as refining her introspective approach to the practice of environmental law. She recalls that “from day one, Professor Solow taught his students to critically analyze the happenings around us in our practices, no matter what the context, and to periodically take pause to ensure our actions align with how we want to be remembered one day as lawyers, colleagues, and neighbors.” Former co-professor Lauren Bachtel, now in private practice after spending the beginning of her career in the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor, credits Solow as “one of the main reasons the DC Externship is so special. His experience, energy, and inquisitive nature made every class very exciting and rewarding.” Another co-professor, Lauren Fischer, notes that “Steve is the consummate teacher/mentor whose wisdom and guidance provides Pace students with critical lessons on how to avoid life’s potential pitfalls and achieve excellence.”

2010 DC

Current co-professor Kristen DeWire, a student when the program celebrated its 15th anniversary, reflected on the “profound” effect the program had on her career – “[i]nterning at the EPA and meeting many of the alumni practicing environmental law in the DC area opened my eyes to the wide range of opportunities in environmental practice. The experience was instrumental in my decision to return to DC to pursue a career in government service.” Professor DeWire is currently Senior Counsel of the EPA Environmental Appeals Board.

Not surprisingly, Professor Solow notes the crucial role of alumni participation and engagement. The list is dozens long of former externs who come back to support and give advice to the current class. Anne Carpenter, a former extern who then spent the last 15 years working alongside Steve in private practice regularly comes back to guest lecture once every summer; former Dean of the Environmental Law Program Alexandra Dunn also joins the class and helps open doors. In the truest proverbial sense, the DC externship program is a village. Professor Solow also credits the large network of attorneys at DOJ, EPA, Interior, the Coast Guard, FERC and elsewhere who have opened the door to Pace externs.

2011 DC

A member of the 2019 summer class, Anxhela Mile, says it was the deep relationships she was able to build with classmates and alumni from different sectors of the environmental law field that expanded her understanding of what opportunities may exist after graduation, and helped her career trajectory towards becoming a practicing climate change lawyer.

Danielle Schreiber, a participant in the 2010 summer session says that the DC externship was by far her favorite class in law school and that “Unlike traditional lectures, the DC Externship Program provides students with practical advice based on the real world legal experience they are getting over the summer. Having Steve’s expertise navigating issues relating to the public interest and tying in his private practice experience is invaluable.”

Another former student, Zaheer Tajani, who was recently appointed by the Department of the Interior as Senior Advisor for Oversight, remarks that even when it was not immediately apparent, the connections that Professor Solow helped foster with established environmental law professionals and peers alike built a network of support which would scaffold future professional success in both the public and private sectors.

In a region where there is huge competition for positions, Pace students are in the mix in part because of this growing network of Haub graduates. Professor Solow recalls that when he came to DC in 1997, he didn’t see enough Pace alumni in the environmental agencies and government offices. In his view, the biggest change over the last 25 years is how Pace students are received in the DC marketplace – they are recognized for a combination of practical skills, solid research know-how, and agency savvy, often gained through the DC program. He believes that the success of so many of his former students has helped in its own way to keep the Environmental Law Program atop the rankings for so long.

An example of how the extern program’s network impact continues to grow is the story of Samuel Capasso. A student in the 2008 summer session, Capasso is now a mentor and supervisor in his role as Branch Chief of the Community Infrastructure Resilience Branch in FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Division. Capasso notes that “The DC Externship program gave me the confidence to apply for DC jobs. I learned I was up to the task of serving the people of the United States and it helped me set working at FEMA Headquarters, where I now am a leader, as a career goal. I’m proud to pay this experience forward to new students!” Capasso received the 2022 Nicholas Robinson Award for Distinguished Environmental Achievement from the Law School.

2022 DC

Since its inception, over 225 students have participated in the Environmental Law DC Summer Extern Program. They all received the training and mentorship from Professor Solow in this programs format that Professor Powers describes as “especially effective, complementing and enriching the students’ more traditional academic experience.” Professor Robyn Emeson adds that “for 25 unwavering years, [Steve] has remained a phenomenal mentor and advocate for law students, making his mark as a foundational pillar of the Law School’s DC Externship program.”

As he prepares for the 26th summer class, Professor Solow describes how the class helps students explore the real-world issues they face. From negotiating for better work assignments and dealing with ethical dilemmas as government or private-sector attorneys, to addressing issues such as environmental justice and navigating government bureaucracies. Separately, he looks forward to the continued expansion of the Law School’s network in Washington DC.

Faculty Focus

Professor David Dorfman

Whether you walk into Professor Dorfman’s office or classroom, you will leave having learned more about the world and society then you even knew was possible. Professor David Dorfman has been a faculty member at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University for 28 years. When Professor Dorfman first started teaching at what was then known as Pace Law in 1995, he was teaching Criminal Law Research and Writing. Today, Professor Dorfman teaches Criminal Procedure and Investigation, First Year Criminal Law, and New York Criminal Procedure - a course he designed himself.  In the past he has also taught Lawyering and Professional Responsibility. In addition to his doctrinal teaching, Professor Dorfman has been running the Law School’s Criminal Defense Clinic since 2010. Learn more about Professor Dorfman’s background, legal journey, and more in this candid Q&A.
 

Q: What made you choose to go into a career in criminal law, specifically defense work?

A: This is a long story, but here we go. It is not like I always wanted to be a lawyer. I grew up in the city, specifically in a Mitchell-Lama Co-Op in Long Island City, Queens. In that section of Queens, there was a lot of street action and a number of the kids I hung around with got into legal problems. I was fortunate not to get into trouble and I attribute this to my parents. I was raised in a politically radical family, meaning they were always very politically involved. This dated back to the Great Depression. I was raised to think about poor people and people of color and the extent to which the criminal “justice” system and the “system” in general puts certain people in a real disadvantaged situation. I was raised to not trust the police or the system itself. Living in NYC, I witnessed firsthand some police brutality and how rough it was for those with a different skin color. I, myself, was the “right color” and did not experience the same treatment. Regardless, I always cared for the kids that I ran around with.

During my last year and a half of law school, I worked at a law office which worked white collar cases. Typically, the firm focused on crooked broker dealers on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. This was essentially representing rich crooks and helping them keep their ill-gotten money in their pockets. I realized I wanted to help people in need, not represent rich people and aid them in getting richer. Around this time, the Legal Aid Society of New York City was conducting interviews in Chicago and I decided after 9 years in Chicago it was time to come home. I had my second interview with Legal Aid when I came back to New York. I was interviewed by the head of the Legal Aid Criminal Defense Practice, Cesar Cirigliano, and I quickly realized this was not an average interview, this was a “get to know you” op. This was 1987, there was a huge spike in crime rates in New York City and there was a desperate need for lawyers. The Legal Aid Society had their largest hiring year when they hired me. I requested to work in Brooklyn as it was close to family and friends, and I was pretty familiar with the area.

I worked as a criminal defense lawyer for the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn for six plus years and enjoyed every minute of it. Criminal law practice back then meant constantly being in a courtroom and arguing, fighting, trying cases. I thrived on the hustle. To be completely honest, I still think of my Legal Aid job as the best job I ever had, it was just amazing. My last couple years at Legal Aid I was doing, along with the more senior trial lawyers, mostly major offense cases; this meant I took some of the hardest cases in the office many of which went to trial because plea bargains were terrible back then. In two consecutive years, I tried ten to twelve jury trials each year, so you do the math. This sort of pace was not uncommon back then for a senior trial lawyer. Each trial could take about two-three weeks so I did about 25 to 30 weeks of jury trials out of a 52 week year. Also add in the regular night arraignments, for which we would get compensatory time (not overtime).  My life and that of my colleagues was arraignments, constant court appearances, trials and a month and a half vacation (using up that compensatory and vacation time), rinse, repeat. It was easy to burn out and trust me, I came close, but I loved the work and being in court every day. Among other things, I came to believe plea bargaining was just negotiating the terms of surrender. I’m sure you can tell, I am very competitive and like many of my Legal Aid colleagues chose to fight the system and (hopefully) win the case instead of backing down and settling. I believe everybody deserves to have someone fight for them and I guess sometime along the way I decided I wanted to be that person. This was very much the ethic of that office.

That was a really long answer to your question, but long story-short, I chose criminal law because doing public defense work allowed me to represent the people I grew up with, it fit my personality and my politics, and I like the battle because I am very competitive.

Q: Did you ever consider working on the other side in prosecution?

A: After taking the LSATs and getting into Chicago Kent College of Law, I first wanted to be a poverty lawyer, I didn’t know what a poverty lawyer did – all I knew was I wanted to help folks. Eventually, I took trial advocacy and my professor was a prosecutor. I took to advocacy fairly naturally and the professor told me I should pursue trial work because I “have a big mouth.” As I continued through law school, it became very clear to me I wanted to be a defense attorney because becoming a prosecutor was very much adverse to how I was raised. Oddly enough, I went to the State’s Attorney’s Office of Cook County for a job interview. The Assistant State’s Attorney at the time asked what my attitude toward the death penalty was and I honestly said I would refuse to prosecute a capital case. At that point, the two of us knew the interview was over, but we continued to talk until our allotted time was over.

Q: How did your parents feel about you going into law?

A: My father was a writer; he wrote comic books and juvenile fiction. My mother was a school teacher and my brother and sister were both artists. My father died when I was 19, so he never got to see me become a lawyer. I think he would appreciate my work because when he was younger, he was a union organizer. I think he had the same kind of fight in him when he was young and he would have related to my career path.

My mom was ambivalent because no one in my family was a lawyer. I don’t think she or my siblings understood the appeal of verbally fighting all the time and being competitive because it was not who they were. As I mentioned before, my family was radical when it came to politics and they loved to argue those kinds of issues, but going to court and the idea of wearing a suit was just not them. Eventually, I think they all came to appreciate it.

Q: Is there a case or moment in your career that stands out to you?

A: Oh yes, there are a lot of them. One in particular that stands out was a case I had when I was doing major offenses. This was back in the early 1990s, my client Casey was charged with armed robbery. This was not Casey’s first charge, he had four priors all for armed robbery. Due to his priors, he was charged as a mandatory persistent felon and if convicted he would be facing 25 years to life in prison.

Casey was a great guy, I liked him a lot. He was sent to Riker’s Island for detention because he could not make bail—bail was many thousands of dollars. It took a while to get to trial back then so by the time we got in front of a jury, Casey had already spent close to two years in Riker’s. During the time that we awaited trial, I thoroughly investigated the case and was convinced Casey was innocent, that the prosecutor’s case was flawed, that the only reason Casey was charged and not afforded a deal was because of his record. I also learned Casey had changed his life – he worked at the transit authority and had a young family whom he was trying to support. Casey was a soft spoken guy, nice to talk to, an absolute sweetheart – you could not square his personality with his terrible record. I looked at Casey’s record a little more carefully and noticed he had copped a plea on every case, even those when he claimed he was innocent. He had always gotten a pretty good deal, but this time there was no decent deal to be had and he needed to go to trial. Despite turning his life around, Casey felt like a loser and was understandably scared of trial.

Regardless of how Casey felt, trial was really our only option. At the hearing to suppress the lineup, the district attorney brought in the victim of the robbery to testify, to prove independent source because the lineup was very flawed. This hearing gave me the chance to play out the entire cross examination without a jury, to see how good of a witness the victim was. It turns out, he had been drinking the night of the robbery and even though there was good lighting, the robber’s face was backlit meaning his face was somewhat obscured. Additionally, the victim admitted that during the 10 minutes the robbery took place that he had been staring at the gun because he was so scared, and not the robber’s face. This was all good information to hear prior to going to trial in front of a jury. After this, Casey finally started to gain some courage and confidence. The other thing we had in our back pocket, was an alibi. Casey was married with kids, but he was having an affair. His mistress was a girlfriend from a long time ago and she had been with him at the time of the robbery. When I interviewed her, she confirmed the alibi in detail. Typically, a mistress would not the best alibi, but she had no incentive to lie because she now hated Casey for leaving her for his wife. The mistress admitted part of her wanted him to be convicted and sent upstate.

I knew putting on an alibi was always a dangerous move, but I loved the ex-girlfriend as a witness so much, and I knew she was rock solid on the facts. Typically, a jury will view an alibi witness warily, and will effectively shift the burden of proof to the defense. The burden to prove an alibi is one of the hardest burdens to carry. So, after the People’s case and their one witness identification evidence, I put the ex-girlfriend on the stand and the DA walked straight into the trap. He asked if she was going to lie for the person she loved and her response was, “I wouldn’t lie for that scumbag after the way he treated me.” It was absolutely perfect and when all was said and done, we got an acquittal. At the time of the verdict, I said to the judge “I move to have my client released right now.” It was typically protocol back then to bring the prisoner back to Riker’s to collect his possessions while Corrections did one final search through the system to make sure there were no other holds on him. It could create hours of delay.  That day, the judge said he was not sending Casey back to Riker’s and instead told the Corrections officers to do their search for holds on the court computers. The computers were old at the time so this search took about an hour to an hour and a half. Needless to say, Casey had no other holds and was released from the courtroom. As we were going down the elevators in the old Schermerhorn Street courthouse, I turned to Casey and said “you haven’t eaten since lunch what do you want for dinner? What do you want to eat?” Casey said “I would love a really good hamburger.” We walked to a place called Grand Canyon Hamburgers and as we walked down the street in Brooklyn Heights, Casey was walking like a man on the moon and he was crying. Casey ordered a double hamburger with all the fixings. He was eating this burger like a man who hasn’t eaten in two years. He was slobbering and drooling. Quite frankly, it was embarrassing, but this is a guy who genuinely thought he was going to go back to Riker’s and then up to the Canadian border for the rest of his life.

This was very powerful. It reminded me of why I did this job. I don’t think I changed Casey’s life – the case lined up, the judge was fair, the alibi was amazing. I was just a part of something and it was really very meaningful for this guy who was a truly good person to finally find justice. Casey never needed my help again and we stayed in touch for a period of time, but at a certain point something about talking to me reminded Casey of all of the bad things and that part of his life that he wanted to close the door on, that long terrible chapter of his life. We haven’t connected since. Casey’s case was truly one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had.

Q: What made you want to become a professor and how did you start your career at Haub Law?

A: A friend of mine named Andy worked at NYU as a Lawyering professor and said I would be perfect for teaching. I applied to work at NYU for their Lawyering program – it was not a tenure track position, but it was a full-time contract professor position that capped out at three years. It was at NYU that I got the teaching bug. Anthony Amsterdam, the former Dean of Clinical Education at NYU, was my mentor and I learned how to teach from him. I stayed at NYU for 2 years. In 1995, I was hired and then started working at what was then called Pace Law on the tenure track. There was no separate Legal Skills course when I arrived. The school instead had a class that was comprised of Criminal law with a writing and research component incorporated into it. It was a perfect fit for me, and I taught this class for about 5-6 years exclusively. Eventually, the school realized I could teach other things. I started teaching Criminal Procedure and Investigation, the Lawyering/Simulations course with Professor Lissa Griffin, and Professional Responsibility. Around 2002, the woman who used to run the Criminal Defense Clinic, Adele Bernhard, took a year off and I took over the clinic in her absence. A year later when Adele came back, I still stayed somewhat connected with the clinic, consulted on some cases, sat in on some seminars.  In 2010, Adele left and I officially took over the clinic as Supervising Attorney. All of the cases are in the Bronx and I have been at the clinic along with my adjunct team teacher Robin Frankel since.

Q: You have been very involved in some of the more recent protestor cases, can you talk about that?

A: I was a somewhat active member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a leftist lawyer’s organization, and in 2016, I got a call from Joel Kupferman, a friend and colleague from NLG. He mentioned that there was a big protest happening by the Indian Point nuclear powerplant. There were environmental protestors protesting the installation of a high-capacity gas pipeline that linked fracking fields in Pennsylvania snaking through Jersey and New York and all the way up to New England. There was no real need for this pipeline since there was no gas shortage. In fact, the gas flowing through the pipeline was going to be liquified and sold commercially abroad. The whole process of extraction and transmission and the pipeline tech itself was incredibly dangerous. There were seven people that were planning to occupy the pipeline and I agreed to represent them. The protestors hopped a fence in Verplank, New York at 5:00 a.m. and four of them climbed into the partially installed pipeline. They were prepared with sleeping bags, backpacks, food, adult diapers, and water. They stayed in the pipeline for less than 24 hours (they left by midnight). They were all arrested as well as the three others that did not climb into the pipeline, but instead stood guard. I helped negotiate with the police to avoid their spending the night in jail.

I ended up representing those seven protestors for two years. We went to trial in Cortlandt Manor in Northern Westchester. They were charged with criminal trespass. None of them wanted to plead guilty and the DA would not make an acceptable deal. We wanted to mount a climate necessity defense; meaning that they were allowed to break the law if it was a necessity, to avoid a greater harm. Stopping this pipeline from being built was a necessity for three main reasons in our defense case: 1) this would help save the world from global climate change, of which methane gas is a main driver; 2) save the neighborhoods surrounding the pipeline compressor stations from leaked methane and carcinogens; and 3) save the whole eastern seaboard from the potential rupture of the pipeline, which would ignite the spent nuclear fuel rods at Indian Point, and make the whole east coast of the US uninhabitable. Think Fukushima. Think Chernobyl. Think Three Mile Island.

The trial took two weeks, it was the longest litigated climate necessity case in the US thus far, as well as one of the most complex cases I have ever litigated. The judge allowed me to try the case in the most complete way possible. I had expert testimony from a variety of Incredible professionals—a world renowned climate scientist, a public health expert, a nuclear engineer. Due to this case’s unprecedented nature, it gained a fair amount of press. Unfortunately, we did not get the protestors the acquittal we had hoped for.  But they were only convicted for non-criminal trespass; there was no sentence, no fine, no court costs imposed. Nothing.  The judge even said to them, “I do not want to deter your activism.”

Q: If you could create a new course tomorrow, what would it be?

A: I taught a seminar with Professor Michael Mushlin and the late Professor Gary Munneke. It was a legal history course centered on the history of civil rights lawyering. It focused mostly on the lawyers and law organizations that went to the South in 1964 during Freedom Summer. I believe civil rights lawyering of that era has been extraordinarily influential on our whole concept and practice of public interest lawyering and not talked about nearly enough. I would like to do seminars on legal history but find interesting areas that are not often studied in law school. Then I would bring in unconventional materials like historical readings, films, diaries. I would want it to be a two credit-hour seminar on the underappreciated and understudied areas of legal history. I would love to have students read, watch films, and talk about the cases and the type of lawyering that happened. I don’t want students to just focus on the cases in casebooks, their holdings, and then passing the bar. I want to teach students the fuller view of these important historical moments, the movement lawyering, and the personalities involved. Law does not operate in a vacuum and sometimes, I think that is forgotten. In that connection, I think it would also be interesting to do a seminar on the Vietnam War, the protest movement, the cases involving people like Dr. Benjamin Spock and the Berrigan Brothers and Dr. King.

Q: What is your favorite part of being a professor?

A: I like seeing students do well. I like my colleagues a lot and have good relationships with them, but the students are why I love my job. I am not an institutionalist, I love the school, but I love it for the students.  I enjoy watching them learn and flourish. It is a great feeling watching the lightbulbs go off.

I am very political and have strong views so I enjoy teaching in a way where I teach to those that may not agree with me. I don’t want to have to hide who I am or lose my soul. I like the challenge of being a good devil’s advocate. I think someone can come out of my class learning a lot and appreciating my viewpoint without having to agree with me. I always aim for the sweet spot of teaching – even though I know I am sometimes a tyrant in the classroom. The most gratifying part of teaching is being able to do it without a personality transplant. And watching the students succeed.

Q: If you weren’t a law professor, what would you be?

A: Back in the 1970s before going to Chicago, I wanted to be a writer/novelist. I would write essays, fiction, and poetry. I wrote a number of articles for Art Form Magazine with my brother. One day, the editor of Art Form, Joe, said I should apply for a grant because my brother and I had a book in us. I applied for the Art Critics Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and received $4,500 to write a book. My brother and I completed the book, but unfortunately it never got published.

Recently, my brother wrote a different book and it was published. In his new book, my brother used some of our old material from the previous book. His new book is called, “Out of the Picture.”

So to answer your question, maybe I’d write fiction or essays on politics and culture.  Probably not law.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: I spend time with my wife hanging out, we love to cook together. My wife and I like to travel too, but with COVID we haven’t been able to travel as much as we would like. We visit our children and grandchildren when we have time.

I like to read fiction, I am always reading a novel. I feel it is really important to occupy the other part of my brain, the part that gets going when I read good fiction. I specifically like genre fiction –high quality spy novels, detective novels, etc. I should exercise more, but with my bad back I don’t. I do walk a decent amount with our beautiful old dog. Lastly, I like to play guitar. It sparks the same part of my brain that reading good genre fiction does. It is one of my connections to my artistic roots.

Q: If you had one phrase to live your life by, what would it be?

A: Mickey Rivers, a former centerfielder for the New York Yankees, used to say: “I don’t worry about things I can’t control because I cannot control them. I only worry about things that I can control because I can control them.” I try to live my life by this line. It is easy to get stressed out about things and I try not to fall into the trap.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would like to give to law students?

A: I try not to give too much advice and instead help to create situations that people are learning from by spending time with me and the materials. A political activist and incredible attorney, Ralph Nader, once said, “the problem with lawyers is that in order to get sharp, they get narrow.”

I like to get students to think about that line. Everyone wants to be good at what they do and in order to do that they become very analytical and focused. This is what being narrow is. I believe to be a good person and frankly to be a good lawyer, you need a broad view, to see other things and perspectives. It is important to preserve broadness by finding other things to care about. That is why I continue to travel, read novels, have friends who aren’t lawyers, still love art and music. I refuse to get narrow, and I still aspire to be a sharp lawyer and thinker. I think being too narrow makes it hard to live a good and full life and you need to remember that you will have a life apart from the law and after the law. 

Learn more about Professor Dorfman.

Faculty Focus

University Distinguished Professor Bridget Crawford

Professor Bridget Crawford has been a professor at Haub Law since 2003 and was named a University Distinguished Professor in 2021, which is the highest honor the University can bestow upon a faculty member. Prior to joining the Haub Law faculty, she was a practicing attorney at Milbank LLP, where she specialized in taxation and estate planning. At Haub Law, Professor Crawford teaches Federal Income Taxation; Estate and Gift Taxation; Wills, Trusts and Estates; Tax Policy; Corporations & Partnerships; and Feminist Legal Theory. Professor Crawford is a leading authority on taxation, as well as feminist legal theory, and menstrual equity. A favorite in the classroom, she has also been honored multiple times by graduating students at Haub Law as Outstanding Professor of the Year, as well as recognized by her colleagues with Haub Law’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. Learn more about Professor Crawford in this Q&A.

How did you become interested in tax?

My grandmother was the first tax professional I ever met. Although she never went to college or law school, Gram taught herself the tax law and went to work for H&R Block. She lived in a rural community in southeastern Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Gram took great pride in helping her neighbors comply with their obligations under the complicated self-reporting system that we have in the U.S.

What is your favorite tax concept or case?

If I ever got a tattoo, it definitely would be a quote from Welch v. Helvering, 290 U.S. 111 (1933). That is the case that established the test for when a business expense is “ordinary and necessary.” Justice Cardozo said that when no ready test or statute is available, “[l]ife in all its fullness must supply an answer to the riddle” that is the tax law.

What do you find most enjoyable about being a professor?

I love helping students understand the complexities of the law, develop critical thinking skills, and become more confident in their abilities. In Federal Income Tax class, students may start out intimidated by the statute and regulations, but by the end of the semester, they know exactly how to work with the most complex rules. The tax code yields its secrets with careful study and time spent! As a law professor, I have the opportunity every day to help guide students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives as they develop into the professionals they want to become. I have great confidence in the future of the legal profession and our students are going to be leading the way.

Every year, you host a “Tax Alumni Come Back to the Classroom” event – where you invite former students to come speak to your current tax class. What benefit do you feel experiences like this have for both the students and alumni? 

The purpose of this program is to connect current law students with alumni and inspire students to think about their future careers. In law school, we hear all the time about the value of “networking,” but sometimes it is hard to know how to go about it. This program aims to make it easier by providing a day dedicated to networking. Students also do readings to encourage self-reflection on how they are using their time in law school and what various career paths are available. The alumni are willing to offer guidance and support to students as they navigate law school and the legal profession. They are also happy to share their contacts and help in any way they can.

You recently published a book with Professor Emily Waldman called Menstruation Matters: Challenging the Law’s Silence on Periods. What inspires a tax professor to write a book about menstruation? 

It all started as a tax story. I had been living in New York for more than twenty years before I realized that the sales of menstrual products like tampons were subject to tax. That made absolutely no sense to me. I started doing some research and I wrote an article explaining why I thought the “tampon tax” was a human rights issue. When I was presenting my work in one of our regular faculty colloquia, I mentioned that there was a class action brought in New York challenging the tampon tax, and Professor Waldman asked me about that. One conversation led to another and we decided to write an article explaining the argument that the sales tax on menstrual products violates the Equal Protection Clause. New York repealed its sales tax in 2016, but our article is now the basis for a state-by-state challenge to the sales tax on menstrual products. The more we spoke about the tampon tax, the more we realized that menstruation touches on everything – schools, employment, prisons, environmental law, poverty law, corporate law. We teamed up to write the book to show that menstruation is a baseline justice and equity issue.

What are some of the tax rules that disproportionately impact women and families?

The tax code does not recognize the value of unpaid caregiving work that is often performed by women, such as caring for children or elderly relatives. This can leave women with fewer retirement savings and lower Social Security benefits. What would the law look like if society truly valued caregiving? 

Your writing is frequently published in prestigious journals – what advice do you have for law students who may want to start trying to publish papers?

Write about what you want to understand, what makes you mad, what makes you happy, what you want to fix. Just write. There is no better way to teach yourself an area of law then to try to explain it in writing to someone else. Your professors are here as resources, too. There are lots of publication outlets that need and want to hear from students and lawyers of all levels of seniority.

Do you have any techniques to propel your own writing?

At least once a semester, Professor Leslie Tenzer and I have a writing challenge. There are only two rules: set your own goals and bring positive vibes only. We then report our progress on a shared spreadsheet. The mutual accountability and encouragement is really helpful. There have been so many times where I haven’t wanted to write, I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, and I have wanted to quit the writing challenge. What I’ve learned from these experiences, though, is that the key is to be consistent and show up. We write even when we don’t feel like it and we encourage each other through the inevitable rough patches. My goals are usually relatively small—20 minutes of writing each day— but I end up with an outline, a first draft, or progress that I otherwise would not have made. The best thing about writing is having written. Anyone who wants to join our writing challenge is totally welcome. It works!

What is something that your students may not know about you?

Dean Horace Anderson and I were first-year study partners in law school. He has always been brilliant, and without him, I would have never made it through Constitutional Law!

If you were not a law professor, or an attorney, what other profession could you see yourself pursuing?

As long as I am being useful, then I can be happy doing anything. I’m interested these days in all things technological. What if there was a program that accurately calculated our taxes for us? What if it was as easy to make a will online as it is to order a pizza? What if depositions were conducted via artificial intelligence? Could decentralized digital currency be the key to a universal basic income? How can we harness machine learning to eliminate bias in hiring and lending? I am so interested in all of these questions.

Learn more about Professor Crawford.

Chris Rizzo '01

Precision Focus on Environmental Law
Partner, Carter Ledyard and Milburn LLP, Director of the Environmental Practice

Chris Rizzo is a Partner with Carter Ledyard and Milburn LLP and Director of the Environmental Practice at the firm. From the moment he decided he wanted to attend law school, Chris knew that he was specifically going to focus on environmental law. From participating in the environmental litigation clinic, to environmental law review, and ultimately graduating with an environmental law certificate, Pace provided the environmental legal education he sought out.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a lawyer?

That was probably in my sophomore year of college. I was studying political science and biology. I had a biology professor, and I expressed to him my deep interest in biology, particularly environmental biology. And he said to me something like “no, no, no, no, Chris, do not become a scientist or biologist. You should become a lawyer, an environmental lawyer. Lawyers get everything done.” He didn't say this with kindness. He said it with resentment. But he was very clear with me that he thought I should go towards law school. I took it to heart, and I never looked back.

And from there, how did you choose Haub Law?

Well, I knew that I specifically was going to law school to focus on environmental law. So I sought out a law school where I could specifically focus on that area with the intention of practicing in that area.

I received a full academic scholarship to come to Haub Law, which was a huge motivation for me. I was very leery about taking on any student debt, and worried about what that would do to my professional flexibility in the future. I was admitted to a number of other law schools and while the full scholarship was a motivating factor, it was not the only one. At the time, a few other schools I looked at did not have the robust environmental law program that I was seeking and I thought they were not of any use to me. I wanted to be an environmental lawyer. Why would I go to a law school with two course offerings and an underdeveloped environmental law program? Haub Law had the environmental law program that I was looking for and combined with the scholarship it was an easy choice.

What were some of the more impactful experiences you had while at Haub Law?

The environmental litigation clinic is a very transfor­mative program. Part of that was the oversight of Karl Coplan. When I had him, Professor Coplan was a very demanding and very good professor. The envi­ronmental litigation clinic really, really helped refine my legal skills. I also made a number of connections outside of Pace as well working on those matters, and I still find them valuable today.

You were an articles editor on the Pace Environmental Law review, and you graduated with the environmental law certificate. Would you recommend those experiences?

Yes. I had to write a note for the law review and that was a very useful process. It wasn’t so much what I wrote, but the process of writing such a complex law journal is incredibly helpful. I think anybody that participates in a law review winds up being a better lawyer because you're forced to learn how to write, research and edit.

I also think the certificate program is useful. I think exposing law students to topics, concepts, and legal acronyms is helpful and gives you a running start in your career as an environmental lawyer. I think it's really invaluable and that's one of the reasons I came to Haub Law. All of the robust environmental course offerings really gave me a foundation in various areas of law, which was helpful later.

You are a partner with Carter Ledyard and Milburn LLP and director of the Environmental Practice—how did your career start out and how has it evolved?

My career definitely morphed over time. When I first started practicing law, I did a lot more traditional environmental work than I'm doing these days. I worked with RCRA and CERCLA, which are two federal hazardous waste laws. I worked heavily with NEPA and SEQRA. I worked on a lot of historic pres­ervation matters involving federal, state, and city preservation laws. I also worked on some brownfield matters, the Clean Water Act, and more. The past few years I've started doing a lot more real estate related work. That’s because my practice is very fo­cused on New York City and this is a real estate town. Helping clients resolve their land use, construction, and real estate problems has become a big driver of my work.

What advice do you have for law students who want to work in the field of environmental law at a law firm upon graduating?

I find that Haub Law students are pretty good about aggressively seeking out internships and experiences and opportunities in the areas that are meaningful to them. Whenever I see a Haub Law resume I'm always impressed, there are intern­ships at the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Litigation Clinic, and all sorts of things. It is important to fill your resume with meaningful experiences in the area you want to practice in, but also networking in those areas. And this is true, not just for environmental law, it's true for any subject matter you want to practice. It is really about networking, meeting as many people as you possibly can who might become future employers. To that end, you should become a student member of the New York State Bar Association or the New York City Bar Association. You can sit on committees as students, and I would do that aggressively and participate. You must prioritize making connections outside the law school even more than making con­nections inside the law school.

That is very good advice. Outside of the law, tell us a bit about yourself and your hobbies.

Well, I have 3 young kids, so that takes up a lot of time. So aside from my family, I also love exploring New York City and New York State. My family and I love national, state and city parks—we travel all over the place to visit them. I am also a big fitness enthusiast—I run 5ks and bike to work and do whatever I can to stay fit. I think prioritizing your personal life, physical fitness and mental health is very important. There is no ques­tion that I am a better lawyer because I dedicate time to these things. You need to have a healthy balance and if you don’t have that balance you wind up being less of a professional.

Danielle and Michael Tallman '24

A Sibling Story

Siblings Danielle and Michael Tallman grew up in a tight-knit multigenerational Hispanic household in Sacramento, California, along with their siblings where they were homeschooled until college. After their oldest sibling was accepted to college in Texas, their entire family moved with her to support her dreams. Both Danielle and Michael decided to study at the University of St. Thomas together setting the precedence and foundation for their “united educational front” as Danielle describes it. When Danielle and Michael began thinking about law school it only made sense to them that they would jointly apply to the same institutions.

For Danielle, her desire to attend law school grew out of the belief that everyone deserves to have a voice. “Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to positively use their voices in order to enact change,” said Danielle. “I want to help give a voice to those who are unheard; to help those who either can’t or won’t stand up for themselves, and to guide them to fight for what they deserve. I believe that there are certain flaws in our justice system today. I want to be able to help change the laws that are unjust, enact change that benefits others, and give power to the voiceless because everyone deserves someone to stand up for them. I want to be that person; a career in law perfectly fits the bill.”

For Michael, a strategist at heart, he discovered in college how much strategy there is in the field of law. “I was a criminology major during my undergraduate studies, and a large amount of my instructors were retired and even practicing lawyers,” said Michael. “This proved very exciting for me. I finally found a sense of clarity and passion. It was then that I decided to pursue law as a profession.”

Both Danielle and Michael describe their Haub Law experience as a rollercoaster of emotions – challenging and stimulating at the same time. They both note the impressive caliber of both students and faculty and that while the expectations are high, so is the rewarding feeling of personal accomplishment. For Danielle, she has most enjoyed sharing this experience with her brother and most looks forward to graduating together.

After graduation, both Danielle and Michael have a strong interest in becoming university professors at the same school, teaching corporation and business focus topics, along with contract law. Danielle credits professors Robert Ellison, Debra Vollweiler, and Elyse Diamond for her decision to pursue a field in education. “After two years studying law, I have learned that the most influential change begins with a good teacher,” she said. “Their eagerness to help their students, their openness, and their love of teaching and their subject, allowed me to realize that the most rewarding legal experiences come from your professors.” For Michael, he thanks Professor Elyse Diamond for helping to jump start his positive law school experience. “She taught Legal Skills and from an academic perspective, she helped to teach me to shape my writing in a more analytical and legal way; proving to me that persuading someone with my words alone is the essence of being a good lawyer,” said Michael. “Professor Diamond answered patiently any questions that I may have had and provided feedback on every writing assignment that I turned into her. I felt very blessed to have had her as one of my first professors in law school.”

In their free time, both Danielle and Michael enjoy spending time with their family. “I love to come home after a long day of school or work to my family,” said Michael. “In a time of my life where everything is so busy and hectic, the small fact that family is always there when I walk through the door, no matter how great or disappointing my day has been, is my favorite hobby. Both Danielle and Michael also enjoy singing. For Danielle, she is passionate about opera and for Michael, it is singing kids songs to his nieces and nephews.

As far as advice for prospective law students, both Danielle and Michael agree that students should be prepared for the challenge because law school is nothing like undergraduate school. “You will have to study harder and feel stronger disappointments,” said Danielle. “You'll do your best and will probably fall short. But when times are tough and you feel like quitting, just remember why you enrolled in law school in the first place. Even if you don’t initially thrive, it doesn't mean that you will not succeed in the end.” While each have learned tough lessons, they have pushed through and as Michael notes, just when you try, fail, and want to quit – you will be inspired. Now, in the last part of his Haub Law education, as he enters the next part of his legal journey, Michael hopes he can carry the teachings that he has learned from Haub Law into the legal field with him.

Remila Jasharllari '25

NYC Bar Diversity Fellowship Recipient

Haub Law student Remila Jasharllari was recently awarded the prestigious NYC Bar Diversity Fellowship. The Diversity Fellowship Program offers students from underrepresented backgrounds to gain experience at major companies and firms in New York and the opportunity to learn more about corporate law. This summer, she will be interning with New York Life, within their Office of the General Counsel.

“As a first-generation student, born and raised overseas, I have learned early on the values of diversity and how important it is to be accepted for who you are,” said Remila. “My research in my undergraduate years focused on analyzing how an individual’s socio-economic background affects their academic performance, and their chances of social mobility in life. There are wonderful individuals out there that do not fit our predetermined notion of what success is supposed to look like, but that have the potential to succeed.” At Haub Law, Remila is motivated not only to succeed, but to help others along the way – she serves as both a peer mentor and a Dean Scholar, as a way of giving back. 

Remila credits Haub Law’s Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) with her being awarded this competitive Fellowship, which has stringent selection criteria. “CCPD assisted in polishing my resume and reviewing my personal statement. I participated in several mock interviews in order to better understand and master the interview process. Dean Kapila Juthani and Assistant Director Hailey Harvis were always willing to help guide me along the way and push me to bring out the best of myself during this whole process. Their advice is always practical and genuine, and I continue to be extremely grateful for their support, along with all of the guidance I have received from others at Haub Law.”

Currently, Remila was selected to participate in a State Judicial Externship, where she was placed with the Hon. Gretchen Walsh in the New York Supreme Court, Commercial Division. This summer, Remila looks forward to gaining experience in corporate law, an interest she has held since her undergraduate studies. “I took various classes on business law and securities during college. In law school, I continue to be interested in detailed work and strategic thinking. Now, I will have the opportunity to sharpen these skills while understanding the day-to-day operations of a big corporation.” 

Harold E. Kaplan ’72, ‘83

Giving Back to the Pace Community

Harold E. Kaplan is a dual degree graduate of Pace University, having received his BBA in 1972 from Pace University, and his JD in 1983 from what was then known as Pace Law. After spending years in hospital administration, Harold reached out to former Pace University President Edward Mortola and began seriously considering law school. Three years later, in 1980, Harold began his law school journey and then in 1983, he graduated and was admitted to the NY Bar, prepared well by the Law School to start his career as a health law attorney. Over the years, Harold has been a generous supporter of both Pace University and the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. Most recently, he endowed a scholarship, the Harold E. Kaplan Health Law and Policy Scholarship, to support students who are passionate about Health Law and Policy. Learn more about Harold, his time spent at Pace, his career, and more in this Q&A.

Can you tell me a bit about your background and undergraduate experience at Pace?

I grew up in Brooklyn and decided I wanted an undergraduate business degree.  Although accepted to several colleges, I liked that Pace was then a small private school, so I attended what was then Pace College, from the fall 1968 to June 1972 and graduated with a BBA with concentrations in Law, Taxation and Economics.

Being a small school, among other things, I became acquainted with Pace President, Edward Mortola.  He was always accessible to students and became a friend.  It was the kind of student experience which endears the student to the school.

Albert Kalter, who taught all the undergraduate taxation courses, was the best professor I had, (and there were many excellent ones).  Federal and state taxation are not the easiest subjects, and he was a great educator who took the time to explain what he was teaching.  He taught his students how to read, interpret and understand the tax code which is not a simple task.  He insisted that students come to class prepared, and you always knew where you stood with him.  If you were unprepared, he asked that the student leave; this only happened once.  He and I became good friends.

Importantly, most of the undergraduate courses I took required a term paper.  After graduating, I attended the University of Ottawa, in Ottawa, Ontario, earning my Master of Health Administration degree.  Given the many required research or term papers I wrote, I was well prepared for graduate school, which required numerous term papers, and to graduate, a research thesis.

Did you always want to be a lawyer?

I had considered it as an undergraduate student, but I also wanted to be a hospital administrator.  When I received a traffic ticket in 1971, I asked for an administrative hearing in Manhattan traffic court and with a little persuading and careful reading of the New York State traffic code, and photographs of the street where the alleged offense occurred, I was found “not guilty”.  The police officer who testified against me wasn’t happy.  At home, my parents encouraged me to go to law school, but I still was more interested in hospital administration.

What was your path to law school and then ultimately to pursuing a law degree? 

In 1974, I began my hospital administration career at a major NYC teaching hospital.  I was negotiating contracts for expensive high tech medical equipment, and when reading purchase contracts, which I often did, I became interested in the law.  When one of my departments had an ongoing dispute over an expensive piece of equipment, I was able to extend the warranty, arguing that the hospital hadn’t accepted the equipment because it didn’t meet the terms of the purchase agreement.  At that point, I began to understand the value of having a law degree.

What made you choose Pace for your law degree?

Pace University was an excellent choice for my college degree and I always thought very highly of the school which had a growing reputation.  In 1977, I spoke with President Edward Mortola about Pace Law , who urged me to apply to its new law school.  Instead, I detoured to Florida to be the Assistant Administrator at a large community hospital.  Shortly thereafter, I decided to go to law school and being in Florida, considered schools in Florida and NY. Applying to Pace Law made sense since I felt that it would provide an excellent legal education.  Once accepted, my wife and I relocated from South Florida to Westchester County.  Of course, three years earlier, Dr. Mortola strongly recommend that I attend Pace Law, and he and Professor Kalter were helpful references.

Who were some of the most memorable professors you had during your time as a law student? 

There were many. Professor Philip Blank who taught legal methods and wills and estates.  Professor Crockett who taught tax law. Professors Doernberg and Zeigler, who had very organized teaching methods and were both excellent educators. Professors John Humbach and Hervey Johnson were both excellent educators and Professor Joseph, who taught several commercial law courses and was always very accessible to students. Professors Ralph Stein and Bartlett as well.   All of these professors were accessible, cared about their students, and left a very positive impression on me. They each had different teaching styles but as a group made being a law student more interesting, a little easier and sometimes fun.

What did you enjoy most about law school?

Considering it my occupation, I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of reading, understanding and briefing cases.  I usually was at the law library when the door was unlocked in the AM which in some ways still felt like going to work.  I long hand briefed every case and doing so, enjoyed sitting in class and putting check marks in my notebook, next to my notes about the key points being made by the professor about the holding, and the facts.  It was a game and being a law student was actually fun.

What lessons from law school stayed with you?

Take your job seriously and do it well.  Don’t automatically rely on others to get the job done if you are supposed to do it yourself. Delegate carefully.

You were a health law attorney for over thirty years, practicing mainly in Florida, what drew you to that area of law? 

Being a former hospital executive, for me, it was natural to become a health lawyer, although I briefly considered taxation law which I was also interested in and was, to my understanding, equally difficult.  At the first firm I worked at in New York City, we represented hospitals.  When I opened my own practice in South Florida, I became an attorney for physicians, physician practices and other licensed health care professionals, since virtually all the hospitals already had representation.

During your time as a health law attorney, what did you find most rewarding and/or challenging about that practice area?

It was very rewarding to represent medical practices which had a wide range of legal issues making the day-to-day practice much more interesting and rewarding.  Whether by good fortune or good lawyering, most of the matters I handled were resolved in my clients’ favor.  I was also very active in the Florida Bar’s Health Law Section which was rewarding.  I was often program chair and spoke at many Florida Bar CLE programs and volunteered for most of the Section’s positions, including ascending to Chair of the Section.

Currently, you provide arbitration services – how does that compare to your law practice?

I took the required Florida one week course to become a Certified Mediator and began mediating disputes.  Shortly thereafter, the American Health Law Association began its ADR service, and recruited attorneys to be mediators and arbitrator.  I started taking arbitration courses and stopped mediating.

Traditionally, arbitration was sought out by commercial disputants to serve as an efficient and final mechanism to resolve disputes, which today still remain key factors for choosing arbitration over traditional litigation.  Arbitration is very different from practicing law, but at its core, you need to be an experienced attorney, sensitive to due process, hearing practice, etc. and most of all assume a leadership role in the arbitration case to avoid delays and make the process as effective and efficient as reasonably possible.  Party’s attorneys usually prefer arbitrators with subject matter knowledge and experience to serve as arbitrators.  Being an arbitrator teaches you to be very quiet about what you are hearing and reading and make carefully considered statements.  With the right arbitrator, arbitration is beneficial to resolving commercial disputes.

You have always been a generous supporter of your alma mater, thank you.  Recently, you endowed a scholarship, the Harold Kaplan Health Law and Policy Scholarship, to support students who are passionate about Health Law and Policy - as an alumnus, why do you feel it is important to give back?

As an undergraduate student, Pace University prepared me well for graduate school, and it didn’t take long to discover that Pace Law equally prepared me well for practicing law.  Overall, the Pace community is very special to me, and I wanted to support its continuing mission, now and in the future.  I also wanted to support law students who have an interest in health law and also take the opportunity to simply show my support for the Law School.

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

I have lots of advice for current and future law students most of which can only be imparted one on one.  However, future law students should have an understanding of the hard work required to excel in law school and also as a practicing attorney.  Being an attorney and doing it well is not easy.  Law students should enjoy learning about the law and should take sufficient time to read and understand the cases.  It is stimulating to learn about how the law has evolved, and understand that once they are attorneys, they are joining a sacred profession which provides important services to their selected portion of society.  Finally, become active in your bar association, and especially in your area of practice and always network.

What are some of your passions aside from the law?

I have many interests, but I still enjoy giving back. I am a volunteer attorney at Pisgah Legal Services in Asheville, NC, and helping those less fortunate and unable to afford and hire an attorney is very important to me.  There is also a large group of retired volunteer attorneys in Asheville and being part of this group is very rewarding.  I also frequently bike ride and play the piano.  And, most importantly, my wife, my children, and grandchildren, are important to me so I dedicate time to family. 

Faculty Focus

Dean Emerita and Professor Michelle Simon

After taking the LSAT’s on a whim during her senior year in college, Professor Michelle Simon found her passion in the law immediately after starting law school at Syracuse University College of Law. Having spent time clerking and in private practice after law school, she was hired as a professor in 1985 by Pace Law’s first female dean, Janet Johnson. Twenty-two years later, Professor Simon would also serve as dean of the Law School, making her the third female dean in the school’s history. During this women’s history month, learn more about one of Haub Law’s female trailblazers, Dean Emerita and Professor of Law, Michelle Simon, in this candid Q&A.

You joined what was then known as Pace Law School in 1985 and became interim dean of the school in 2007, followed by dean of the school from 2008-2014. What was your experience like as the third female Dean of the Law School?

Dean Janet Johnson was the first female Dean and the Dean when I started at Pace in 1985.  She served from 1983-1989 and was a true mentor to me. She hired me and gave me opportunities to teach different courses. In addition, Barbara Black served as an interim dean in 1993-1994 and also served as a mentor. I was very lucky as dean. At Pace, we always had many women faculty and staff, and it was a very supportive place for a woman. In addition to the support of the previous female deans at Pace, I also had the support of other female law deans. I was fortunate to have these outlets to turn to for support and advice.

Who are some of your female role models – both in and outside of the legal and academic field?

Judith Kaye, Eleanor Roosevelt, Professor Barbara Salken, and my grandmother – to name a few. Judith Kaye was the first woman named to serve on the NY Court of Appeals, and the first to serve as the Chief Judge. She focused on creating alternatives to sending defendants to jail especially for crimes involving drugs and domestic violence.  She was a forward thinker and trailblazer.  Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an advocate of the rights of the poor, minorities and disadvantaged, and exercised her own political and social influence.  Professor Salken, a beloved professor at Pace, who died of cancer way too soon (there is a tree named after her in the courtyard).  She always supported me and pushed me to become a scholar and teacher.  And my grandmother, who left her life in Hungary in 1938 to escape the Nazis with her husband and my father, worked in a factory in the United States, and was one of the strongest women I ever knew. She believed in me and instilled in me that I could accomplish anything.

Although things have improved in terms of equality for men and women in the workplace, do you still feel there are roadblocks or double standards that women face?

While things are better, there are still many roadblocks.  It is very difficult to juggle having a family and a legal career.  While many women are entering the legal field, most managing partners and leadership positions still belong to men.  I think the pandemic has helped society understand the need for more flexible working conditions, but that doesn’t impact the need to satisfy a certain number of billable hours.

How can women help empower other women in their careers and otherwise?

Be kind and supportive to each other.

Let’s step back for a moment, when did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?

I never thought about being a lawyer.  My father was a professional violinist, and my mother was an art historian, so I grew up in the arts and majored in studio art and anthropology in college.  I actually started a master’s degree in art therapy at Pratt Institute.  When I was a senior in college, many of my friends were taking the LSAT and I decided I would too.  I ended up scoring very well, and that’s when I started thinking about law school especially because I always loved both writing and researching.  When I started law school, I fell in love with it and knew I had found my passion.

How did you come to join Pace as a professor?

I was always interested in law teaching, and I tried to shape my career that way by clerking, then working in private practice, and writing.  I also taught as an adjunct in a paralegal program.  I applied to several law schools to be a professor and had several offers, but I loved the people at Pace. It always felt like a family. I feel very fortunate to have chosen both academia and Pace, I truly think I have the best job in the world.

What is your favorite course to teach?

I love teaching civil procedure.  I remember how challenging I found it to be when I was in law school, and I know that students find it difficult. I like to *try* to make it less frightening. I also love teaching torts, which is really all about analytical thinking.

You have held some prominent positions at Pace, which was the most challenging?

My time as Dean of the Law School was both my greatest challenge and my greatest achievement. It was challenging at times because you have so many constituencies—the University Trustees, the University President, the Provost, the law school faculty, law school staff, alumni, and of course the students. However, it was a very fascinating and rewarding experience as well. I had served as a trustee on a school board for 21 years and there were many similarities, but instead of thinking about what was best for all the children in my district, I was guided by what was best for all the law students at the law school.

What should students be thinking about as they enter the legal field?

I think it is important for students to think ahead about what they want their lives to look like. Your first job is not your last job, but it can be a stepping stone to the next opportunity.  There has to be work-life balance, and the practice of law can be very stressful.  If you are unhappy, there is nothing wrong with making a change and going in another direction. And, in whatever job you end up in, find a way to make yourself indispensable.

Aside from our mandatory first year courses, what classes would you recommend a law student should take before graduating?

It should be a mixture of courses that are tested on the bar exam (you don’t want to learn too many courses for the first time while you are studying for the bar) plus courses that look interesting to you, plus courses that are taught by a faculty member you enjoy, plus experiential courses so you get some idea about what practicing law is like. I was very surprised when I started to work about how different the practice of law was from law school.

Academically, what are you working on right now?

I am working on an article about the relationship between law students and University counseling offices and how we can better address the mental health issues in law school.

What are some of your passions and interests outside of the classroom?

I still love art. I am currently interested in honing my skills on the pottery wheel. I also have a house on Cape Cod and I love hiking, bicycling, fishing, and walking on the beach. And I have three children and so far, three grandchildren, so I love spending time with all of them.

Learn more about Professor Simon.

Chioma Deere '06

The Twists and Turns of Life on the Road to Success

Driven from a young age to be a lawyer, Chioma Deere had her son while she was applying to law school. Ultimately, Pace provided the flexibility to allow Chioma to accomplish her dream while balancing her family life. Now, Chioma Deere is the founding and managing partner of her own firm, Deere Law Firm, in West Palm Beach, Florida with a focus on wills, trusts, and estate planning.

Let’s jump right in, what was your path to law school?

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a lawyer. After college, I was accepted to three law schools in the tri-state area. It was right around that time that I had my son. While he was still a baby, I went to paralegal school to get my certificate in Paralegal Studies from Mercy College in New York. While working as a full-time paralegal, I went to what was then called Pace Law School, at night for four years. I chose Pace because of the proximity to home and my then 24-month-old son, as well as the collegial and welcoming way that the students and teachers who were going to “night school” came together. It was certainly a trial by fire going to law school for four years at night; I made some lifelong friends there. Somehow, when I got there, I knew Pace was the one for me.

What experiences from Pace stick with you?

There were many memorable moments: studying in the library in my little spot on the third floor, going for drinks with my classmates after class on Friday, crunching through the snow to the parking lots to drive home, and meeting incredible individuals who were embarking on the journey of law at various ages and stages of their careers. And, of course, Professor Bridget Crawford. My most memorable times were in classes I had with Professor Bridget Crawford. I am originally from Jamaica, and moved to the Bronx as a teenager. My thesis in undergrad focused on socioeconomic belonging of immigrant women from the Caribbean, so I gravitated to Professor Crawford’s topics as well as her style of teaching. I truly felt seen and welcomed when I was in her classes.

You are the founding and managing partner of your firm, Deere Law Firm, in West Palm Beach—how did that evolve and what brought you to West Palm Beach?

Most of my family had moved to West Palm Beach at the time I was graduating from Pace. It made sense for me to move there to be with my family. I was also dating the person who was later to become my husband.

Since being admitted to the Florida Bar in 2008, I’ve practiced in the area of complex hurricane claims litigation, insurance defense litigation, personal injury, arbitration, and employment litigation in state and federal courts. In 2017, while still in litigation, I expanded my practice areas to estate planning and probate law. Then, in 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, I opened Deere Law Firm to help clients with estate planning, asset protection, probate, and trust administration.

When I first launched my firm, during the pan- demic, it was much easier for me to start a virtual law practice. With increased social distancing, many people were operating remotely. It was easy for me to connect with clients virtually while being safe. I joined an estate planning association, the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA), and the Florida Bar’s Real Property Probate and Trust Law (RPPTL pronounced “reptile”) Section, which provided guidance, resources, and a support network.

What I also believe benefited me during this time was that I am a certified technology lawyer. Providing legal services in a digital age is an important niche of mine. Ensuring that we attorneys use technology to make life easier for our clients as well as for ourselves is one thing that I stress, especially now as the chair for the Technology Committee of the Palm Beach County Bar Association. I love all things tech. I’ve been teaching attorneys and judges about electronic discovery and litigation and how to use technology to be better attorneys for about 10 years now. With technology, there are so many avenues and ways that attorneys can practice law while taking care of their clients and their communities.

What is it about the areas of wills, trusts, and estates law that interest you?

A mentor of mine here in West Palm Beach, who went on to become a judge, encouraged me to explore other areas of life and the law. Estate planning and probate allowed me to help families while making a living here in West Palm Beach. I also find that there are few black women estate planning attorneys helping black families and people of color to maintain and preserve their wealth. The wealth gap has been a big issue lately, and I feel that I am in a good position to not only educate communities, but also help people to save and preserve the wealth they have built and pass it onto the next generation.

I will always be a litigator at heart. My litigation experience helps me to look at situations from many perspectives. I find that my years of litigation practice lend well to many situations in estate planning and probate law because they both require flexible and creative thinking.

The other day during the sessions to put together their trust, a client of mine remarked that al- though this process could be daunting for those who may feel fear and trepidation when thinking about death, they felt comfortable speaking to me about these things. In those moments, I feel as though I found my calling in the law.

How did Pace shape your career path?

Pace allowed me to continue to work while pursuing my childhood goal of being an attorney. Very few law schools were offering in person law school at night. I felt blessed to have had Pace in my backyard so that I could still work and take care of my family while earning my law degree. I don’t think anything would have stopped me from getting my law degree. However, Pace changed my life by making it so accessible for someone like me, with a baby in tow, to go to law school.

What are some of your passions aside from the law?

I love many different types of music and love to dance. I love orchids and I am slowly expanding my orchid collection.

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

I’ve been blessed to have had many mentoring opportunities with high school students as well as law school students. I would tell them to cultivate relationships that they have in law school, learn the art of networking, and give of themselves to causes and areas in the law that matter to them. The possibilities are endless as to the type of legal work that someone could end up doing over the course of their careers.

What is the some of the best advice you have received?

When I was in college, one of my mentors told me that the road of life is not a straight line, that it had many twists and turns to success. You see, at that time I believed that I had to do certain things a certain way in order to achieve the goals that I had in my mind, fuzzy and distant though they were. How her words have echoed and have rung true at every major crossroads in my life. I’m grateful that the main reason I've been able to take all of the roads, sidewalks, and pathways, including creating my own pathways, has been because of the love and support of my family, as well as those individuals who have poured into my life their love and support as though they were my family.

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