Success Stories

Haub Alumni of the Month: Steven Epstein ‘92 and Alexis Epstein ‘21

Please enjoy this special father-daughter commencement Q&A with Steven Epstein ‘92 and Alexis Epstein ‘21 in honor of Alexis's graduation from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.

Q: Steven, your daughter graduated from your alma mater, Haub Law, how did you feel once she decided to pursue law and now that she is graduating? 

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.

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, I chose Pace because of the number of public interest opportunities and I knew that was something I wanted to go into.

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

A: My experience was great! I went down the criminal justice path so I 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 has also become a mentor for me outside the classroom, which I have 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, briefly, can you talk about your career and 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, all Haub Law alumni receive a 15% discount on tuition!

Q: Alexis, what are your post-Pace career plans?

A: I have accepted a position as an Assistant Public Defender with the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office. 

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.


Will Acevedo-Hernandez

A 2021 Commencement Q&A

What do you remember from your first day of law school at Pace? 

I will always remember my first day at Pace for being both one of the most exciting and terrifying moments of my life. As I sat through my first Civil Procedure lecture that Monday I was doing everything I could to quiet my mind and tune into what Prof. Mushlin was covering, but if I’m being honest, Civil Procedure was competing with thoughts of “Wow am I actually finally here?, Am I really cut out for this?, and geez these people are smart.” While I definitely did not get the sense of surety in myself that Pace has now come to give me, by the end of the day though one thing was certain—yes I would be challenged, and yes, I was going to have hard days, but if there was any place that was going to turn me into a lawyer it would be Pace.

What experiences throughout your time at Haub Law did you find most impactful?

So I have always said to anyone who cared to listen, that one of the things that makes Pace special is just how hands on you get to be. One of the most impactful pieces of advice that I was given which still helps me to this day came from Professor Carol Barry. As I was talking with one of my now mentors, she told me “Go into your first summer internship ready to learn and work, and everything will be fine. You’re not going to be given anything where they won’t be able to walk it back if you make a mistake.” I took that advice to heart and learned so much from my time with the Westchester District Attorney’s Office in large part because I wasn’t afraid to fully engage in the opportunity. That’s what Pace trains you to do, go into this work in very real and practical ways, ready and eager to learn.

What are your post-law school career plans?

I am exceptionally fortunate to say that I will be starting as an Assistant District Attorney for the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in September of 2021. QDA was the last place I interned at and I can honestly say, it’s an amazing office. I am excited to serve the People of the State of New York and the residents of Queens County in this role. 

What would your advice be for any incoming or current law students?

However you can, and as often as you can, always be willing to help. SO MUCH of what I have learned and accomplished while at Pace came from my being the guy in the room who was willing to lend a hand when it was needed. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but at least in my view, our community just has a way of bringing that out. Whenever I try to be helpful, it really is for the sake of being of service. But I wouldn’t be totally honest if I didn’t recognize that it’s in these opportunities that I was given the chance to acquire real skills that I continue to build on to this day. 

How would you sum up your feelings about graduating from Haub Law?

To put it plainly, one of the best decisions of my life was attending Pace. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from the age of nine. I can be that specific because I literally made the announcement to my mom and dad on the heels of a Law and Order episode I had just finished watching. (Yes, I was that child). When the time came to actually get the knowledge I needed to finally achieve that goal though, Pace took the chance on me. I am exceptionally proud to say I am graduating from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.
Processional Will

A Commencement Q&A

Laura Schwartz, '21

A Commencement Q&A with 2021 Haub Law Graduate Laura Schwartz

What do you remember from your first day of law school at Pace? 

I remember a mix of emotions on the first day of law school – I was nervous, excited, and a little intimidated. My first class was torts with Professor McLaughlin, who wasted no time before diving into the Socratic method. As someone who is inherently shy, I thought to myself “what I have I gotten myself into?” I think I spent the rest of the day perfecting my case briefs for the next class. Needless to say, torts was one of my favorite subjects and I no longer shy away from speaking up.

What experiences throughout your time at Haub Law did you find most impactful?

My law school journey was probably unlike that of most of my peers. My mom passed away very suddenly at the beginning of my 2L year, and I was not sure how I was going to put one foot in front of the other. However, with the help of Dean D’Agostino, my professors, and my friends, I was able to get back on track and succeed. Through the kindness of the Haub Law community, I gained the comfort and confidence needed to graduate on time, with high honors, and a forthcoming publication in next year’s Pace Law Review journal. That experience has truly impacted the trajectory of my career, and will be something I look back on fondly for the rest of my life.

What are your post-law school career plans?

I am currently working in the derivatives group at Shearman & Sterling LLP, which I hope is the beginning of a long and fruitful career in the financial services industry.

What would your advice be for any incoming or current law students?

Keep your eye on the prize. Law school can be very demanding; it requires a high level of dedication, focus, and preparation. However, through hard work and having the right attitude, it is an extremely rewarding experience.

How would you sum up your feelings about graduating from Haub Law?

Bittersweet. I have really come to enjoy my time as a law student, but I am excited to see what the future holds!

Haub Alumni of the Month: Ryan Naples


Ryan Naples is a 2008 graduate of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. He is currently Deputy Director at Tech:NYC, as well as an adjunct professor at Haub Law.

Why did you decide to go to law school?

I knew from a young age that I wanted a career in government and on campaigns so after graduating from college, I interned on Capitol Hill for Chuck Schumer. In 2004 when Democrats lost seats in the House and the Senate and failed to win the White House, entry-level jobs were few and so I moved home to New York to reevaluate my next steps. I decided that law school would be the best preparation for an eventual career in public policy. Pace gave me a merit-based scholarship, for which I am extremely grateful, and I decided to attend.

What was your law school experience like overall?

I loved law school. It was hard work balanced with extracurricular fun with great people. I think my most valuable academic experience was participating in the Environmental Litigation Clinic. It was challenging but great practical experience. I also appreciated the community engagement responsibilities that my case required. Law school taught me so many important skills that I still use today - chief among them is how to break down complex concepts into plain language and easy to understand ideas.

Currently, you are the Deputy Director at Tech:NYC – can you talk more about the association and what you do there?

Tech:NYC is a nonprofit coalition of approximately 800 technology companies in New York. Our members include large, international tech companies that are household names, as well as small startups. Tech:NYC works every day to foster a dynamic ecosystem, to ensure that New York is the best place to start and grow a technology company, and that all New Yorkers benefit from innovation.

In my current role as Deputy Director, I’m responsible for developing and implementing public policy strategies on issues related to cloud computing, internet access, privacy, the gig economy, antitrust, and several others. I work closely with our member companies to align on priorities and engagement plans and then directly lobby legislators and senior policy staff. I simultaneously invest a good deal of time coalition building with a diverse array of non-tech industry partners in furtherance of Tech:NYC’s public policy agenda. When I’m not actively lobbying, I spend the bulk of my time maintaining and building new relationships with New York’s members of Congress, state legislators, the New York City Mayor’s Office, and New York City Council Members. Finally, I’m also responsible for tracking all legislation and regulatory proposals that would affect tech.

Before working at Tech:NYC I worked at Lyft as a Senior Public Policy Manager. In that role I helped develop and execute Lyft’s legislative, regulatory, and political strategy in New York State and the northeast region.

You were previously Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs in the Governor’s office – what was that like?

In 2018 and 2019, my job was to help promote the Governor’s legislative agenda with the state legislature and simultaneously assist legislators to help them get their bills signed. My main goal was to make people’s lives better in New York State. The process of creating change is hard, especially in New York, a place with fiercely held opinions. On an average day, I would have calls with legislators and internally in the Governor’s Office and with state agencies to go over priorities. If the legislature was in session then I spent the bulk of my time quickly reading every single bill that was moving and trying to learn which ones had a real chance of passing both houses, talking to state agencies to double check on a bill’s existing law, and if there were problems with a proposed statutory change in a bill, trying to address those legal and technical problems before it passed. I had to ask and answer questions, such as: Is the bill going to violate a federal law or the NYS or US Constitution? If so, how can we achieve the goal of the bill, but without these conflicts? Will the bill add new responsibilities to a state agency currently without the proper expertise to implement the law as required? Is the bill solving a real problem or a perceived one? In order to work through questions like these, I had to quickly learn new policy areas on an almost daily basis, I had more than 20 state agency legislative counsels reporting to me and working through bills with me, and I loved every minute of it.

How did this position allow you to transition to your position at Lyft, where you were a Senior Public Policy Manager before moving on to Tech:NYC?

While in the Governor’s Office I helped pass the nation’s first Congestion Pricing law. During this lobbying I learned a great deal about transportation issues in New York. I also developed good working relationships with the legislature by helping many of them with their priority bills. For these reasons I was uniquely qualified for a public policy position at Lyft. Before the Governor’s Office, I also worked at the New York State Department of Labor where I spent years researching future of work proposals which would directly impact the workers at a ride share company like Lyft. For these reasons, I was well-positioned for such an exciting role at Lyft.     

How did law school and Pace impact your career?

Without the legal education I received at Pace, I could not do the legislative and regulatory work that I’ve done for the past +10 years. Just as importantly though, the networking I first started while in law school jumpstarted my career. The law school’s location in Westchester helped me stand out because we are the only law school in the area. For this reason, I was usually the only law student at networking events and this helped me get noticed and build valuable relationships that are still extremely important today.

You are also an adjunct professor at Haub Law – how has that experience been?

I absolutely love it. It’s a real privilege to get to teach. I value the students and they help me keep my knowledge of state law and constitutional principles top of mind and up to date. It is a lot of work and time, however, and I never fully appreciated the efforts my law professors put into teaching when I was at Pace. So if any of them are reading this – thank you!

Do you keep in touch with any other alumni?

Yes – so many. I had a great group of friends while I was attending law school. Many of my closest friends are the ones I made while at Pace. Our group texts during the pandemic have been lifesaving!

Had you not become a lawyer, what do you think you would be doing?

I probably would have become a reporter. I love other people’s business.

What are some of your passions aside from the law?

I am the father of two young children, so fatherhood is definitely a passion. I also love to read and am never without a book.

Jonathan Blackford

JD Candidate '21

What brought you to law school?

I started my own events business after working in hospitality for many years. Having my own business allowed me the freedom to consider what it is I really wanted to do, not just what I could do. I got my paralegal certificate from Hofstra and began work in the torts department of the MTA. It was a litmus test for me – how would I handle the shift to office work and was the legal world one I would enjoy – and I sure did!

The other push for me personally was a national ideological shift that I never expected. DOMA passed. I was in high school during the Matthew Shephard tragedy, and felt that my orientation was a burden on society that I should work to mitigate. After DOMA, it was the first time that I felt like maybe it was okay to be out and proud. I felt like a whole person.

Then, there was the passage of the ACA. I never forgot what it was like being denied medical care due to the lack of insurance coverage and being denied insurance coverage because I was diagnosed as diabetic at 16 – before I could even seek my own coverage.

These two decisions – DOMA and the ACA – allowed me to get married and obtain insurance through my spouse. My life dramatically changed due to legislation and court cases – and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I feel that when you are blessed – you should spread those blessings. When I looked around and saw other populations that were still persecuted in the law – I knew that it was important that I get the education needed to change the system for them as well.

Why did you choose Haub Law?

I had a colleague at the MTA who graduated from Haub Law. She is a stellar attorney and so when she said I should apply, I did. From the outset, even though I applied, I was hesitant to go.

When I arrived on campus, Cathy Alexander and the admissions staff really changed my mind. She was thoughtful and kind; she did not “sell” the school, but presented the benefits. However, if I am being honest here, what really did it for me was the day I arrived. It was hot and I was a sweaty mess. My phone was dead, and I was stressed out. Before I began my campus tour, Cathy offered me a beverage – and honestly, that is what did it. She offered me a little bottle of San Pellegrino. Her simple, but kind gesture coupled with my previous work in Italian hospitality had me in love with this beverage – and somehow, this seemingly insignificant offer made me feel like Cathy really understood me.

Which professors have made the largest impact on you?  

Well this is a loaded question since I haven’t graduated yet, but each one has been stellar in a way that I love.

Professor Michael Mushlin – if you have to take a 9:00 in the morning civil procedure class then his should be the one you hope to take!  Professor Noa Ben-Asher was amazing for Torts and although I did not take her family law course (I wish I had more time!), she wrote an essay on the SCOTUS bestowing civil rights that really sticks with me. Professor Alexander Greenawalt – I have taken the bulk of my classes with this Professor because of how much I appreciated the classes he taught. To this day, International Criminal Law is one of my favorite classes ever. I could speak endlessly on this topic, but never with the same authority as Professor Greenawalt. Professor Margot Pollans – I was not at all interested in property law, until Professor Pollans. She took us down a deep dive into how interesting and important property and distribution is to our system. Professor Leslie Garfield Tenzer brings a passion that is infectious and that passion really makes you want to learn. Professor Bridget Crawford – I do not even know where to begin. Her classes are amazing. Her teaching is amazing. Really though, it is the genuine interest in every student that is striking. Some people pay lip service to “contact me anytime” – and others mean it. She is one of those individuals. She makes herself a true resource and I think that is so rare. Professor Van Krikorian – he is one of the funniest people I have ever had the pleasure of learning from. He is a subtle joker, but pay attention for the jokes and you will have an endlessly great time. Professor Tom McDonnell is the kindest and most patient person. His breadth of knowledge is so impressive and the fact that he puts so much into every class is not lost on me. I appreciate that his passions run along the same lines as my own, as well. Professor Vanessa Merton is so diligent about giving you the tools you need to succeed. She believes you to be a worthy advocate and pushes you to that end. Her hard work is something to emulate, and her motivation seems to track with my own. I feel vastly more prepared to enter the job market because of the connections she has made between my education and putting that education in motion. Also, although he was not technically a professor of mine – I want to add Professor Lou Fasulo. The advocacy program at Haub Law is outstanding. Professor Fasulo has crafted a program that makes ferocious advocates out of any who participate. It is one thing to learn the substance of the law – it is another to wield that power with might. Professor Fasulo arms us with the skills to really bring the fight where we determine the fight needs to be. Truly, there are facets of each one of my professors that I would love to pull forward with me.

How has the pandemic changed your law school experience?

Remote learning has been different. I think it was just another challenge to overcome. It excites me on some levels because it has forced the profession to accelerate the adoption of technology. Although commuting back and forth was a little pain, I do miss being on campus, however I have appreciated being able to sleep a bit later. I will say that several professors (notably Professor Crawford!) have been incredibly diligent in mitigating the impact. It has shown and once again aids in the gratitude I feel for choosing Haub Law.

What do you plan to do post law school?

I am currently at a smaller Trusts and Estates firm in Brooklyn, and if all goes as according to plan, I will be there for a good while. However, I will never turn my nose up to an opportunity and if I could choose one that speaks to me: I jokingly say that I would like to take Judge Judy’s place, but it is only a half joke. I feel like access to small claims is a mystery to most. It is a powerful tool that the masses have at their disposal to effectuate justice on a personal level and I would love to be part of an organization that helps demystify that process to those who need it.

What are some of your hobbies outside of law school?

I love to cook, and I love to play games. Video games. Card games. Board games. I love to travel – meet new people, learn new cultures and explore new less traveled areas.

Haub Alumni of the Month: Candice Smith '20

Candice Smith graduated from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in 2020. Currently, Candice is an Assistant District Attorney with the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.

Why did you decide to go to law school?

I was at a point in my life where I knew that I was not happy with my current situation and that I wanted more for myself. I always wanted to be a lawyer since a young age. I thought I was too old to go back to school and I thought I would never be accepted into any law school, but Haub Law gave me a chance and I started law school at age 30. Haub Law made me feel welcome and reaffirmed that I had made the right decision to take this big step in my life.

What do you remember from your first day of law school?

It didn’t feel real at first. However, I was beginning a new chapter in my life, so I was excited and nervous, but also focused and determined on succeeding.

What significant practical experiences did you have during law school?

During my 1L summer, I interned at the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in their Narcotics Investigations Bureau. There, I was able to assist with investigations, including drafting search warrants and going on raids with the police officers. This experience is what made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in prosecution.

I also worked for the FBI as an Honors Intern. This internship gave me a wonderful experience and also provided me with an opportunity to leave home for the first time in my life and move to DC for a few months.

Who were some of your most memorable professors from your time at Haub Law?

Professor Barry and Professor Crawford. Professor Barry has been supportive of my career path in prosecution beginning in my 1L year. Professor Crawford is extremely caring, passionate about teaching, and is always willing to help.

What is your day-to-day like as an Assistant District Attorney? 

Right now, I am in the Intake and Assessment Bureau. I handle the arrests that are made in Queens County. This consists of interviewing police officers, witnesses and victims, gathering evidence, and drafting the accusatory instrument that goes to court.

Were you always interested in criminal law?

Yes. From a young age, I was exposed to crime in my neighborhood and close to home. I always knew that someday I wanted to be in a position where I could help my community and the victims, and also help the defendants in a way that may address any underlying issues that caused them to commit these crimes. 

How has the pandemic shaped what you do and how you do it?

My role as a prosecutor working in the Intake Bureau means that I still need to report to work every day, regardless of a pandemic, because I know that there is a person sitting in a jail cell waiting to be arraigned and can’t see a judge until we write up the case. So, we try to be mindful, and work diligently to get the defendant processed as quickly as possible.

What is most rewarding about your job?

What I like best about my job is knowing that my work is valued and that the office makes you feel like you are a part of a family. The most rewarding thing is knowing that I am in a position to help make an impact on a person’s life, even if that means securing an order of protection for an abused victim, or not proceeding with charges knowing that a person is innocent.

How did Haub Law help shape your career path?

Haub Law offered me a chance to take multiple criminal law courses and receive a concentration in criminal law. In addition, the hands on practical intern experiences were extremely useful. I utilize the knowledge that I gained from these classes and experiences in my day to day.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Don’t give up! Also, your reputation is everything, so make sure you try and have the best relationships you can with your colleagues, professors, and everyone you come across in life.

Madison Shaff

JD Candidate '22

Madison Shaff is a 2L at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. She recently received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, a Pace University honor recognizing individuals from the Pace community for their public and volunteer service, and dedication to improving the quality of life in their communities. Madison is also a member of the Pace Environmental Law Review and Secretary of the Student Bar Association.

What brought you to law school?

When I was in high school, I was captain of the rowing team in my hometown. While on the team, I witnessed many changes to the ecosystem around me. As a result of Lake Okeechobee discharges, my river was polluted with nutrients. The waters became uninhabitable to the many organisms that once lived there. These animals were the dolphins, manatees, and fish that made the 6:00AM workouts worth it. Eventually, the team was prohibited from going into the water due how much toxic algae had populated the water. There was no one in a place of power or with a legal background fighting for us, sharing in the loss of something we cherished. I went to law school to be one of the people fighting for polluted rivers. And, I chose Pace for its amazing environmental program.

What has been your most memorable experience during law school so far?

I would say the best part of my law school experience has been meeting some of the most honest and true friends to embark on this journey with. I have met so many genuine people, too many to name, but specifically since the first week of orientation, I have been lucky to have in my company my best friends Mikey Pabon, Abi Monahan Negron, Ashley Grullon, and Tuba Farooqui.

I see that you have been very involved as a law student in organizing suicide prevention trainings for law students – can you talk about that?

YES. This is one of my passions in and out of school environments. When I was younger one of my closest friends passed away from suicide. I know, personally, that people can be struggling all around us without us knowing. It is so interesting to me because everyone has mental health and everyone has struggles, it is a wonder to me why mental health has been stigmatized for so long historically. Specifically, in the legal field, we read cases day in and day out that are “heavy.” We need to unpack that emotional fatigue. I felt that having a suicide prevention training geared toward law student struggles was important so we can keep a watchful eye over all people in our community. Knowing the warning signs and knowing how to start a conversation can be a big help to possibly saving someone’s life.

Can you also talk about the Peer Leader Mentor program?

With so many students entering into a HUGE journey, mostly remotely, we found that the in-hall interactions where 1L’s could possibly meet upper classman would be mostly absent. Paige Guarino and I started the Peer Leader Mentor program last semester and went to great lengths to make sure all students (flex, January, and all 1L sections) were assigned a 2L or 3L mentor. These partnerships were made to have informal conversations about anything that the student may not know, from how to apply to internships, how to nail an interview, what to do when you mess up a cold call, etc. It is still in its beginning phases and we have worked out a few of the growing pains already. I am hopeful that it will continue for the upcoming years at the school, regardless of if we continue remote or move into fully in person learning.

How did you feel when you found out you were a Jefferson Award winner?

I was honestly shocked! I figured there were so many other wonderful people probably nominated – especially when you factor in that the award can be given to anyone (faculty, students, or staff from all Pace campuses). I thought it was a long shot and I was just flattered to have been nominated in the first place.

In your opinion, what makes a good advocate?

A good advocate is someone who questions the status quo. I think that now more than ever people are willing to take a deeper look at the systems that grant them privilege and are willing to fight and advocate for anyone who is being oppressed by those systems. I think the main thing that lawyers should be is open to change and open to changing their own understanding of what is “right” and “fair.” If we can’t be open to change, then we will never improve our legal system to accommodate all people.

You also participate in a web series – tell us about that.  

I am co-host to Approach the Bench TV (ATB). ATB is a talk show web series where my fellow co-host, Mikey Pabon, and I moderate and have dialogues regarding tough conversations. So far, we have discussed COVID-19, Black Lives Matter Protests, and the upcoming topic will be mental health. We have interviewed students and faculty from our very own Haub Law and the broader community of Westchester. You can view episodes at

Any non-law related hobbies or interesting facts about yourself you would like to share?

I am a musical theater nerd. I paint a lot! I used to channel all of my stress into running, but I mostly like to run in gyms. When COVID hit, I really didn’t feel comfortable running in a local gym surrounded by other people, so I turned to art. I recently submitted some work inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Reform to ArtsWestchester. And, let’s see, a random fact about me is: the only time I have ever broken a bone was due to jumping in a bounce house at age 20.

Shaff art
Original artwork by Haub Law student Madison Shaff

What is next on your law school agenda?

I will be running for SBA president!

Finally, what are your career aspirations post law school?

My dream job is to be an EPA administrative law judge. In a perfect world, I’d also like to reform some of the environmental statues that leave too many holes in our legal system for pollution.

Haub Alumni of the Month: Elizabeth Citrin '94

Opening up brand new horizons

Elizabeth Citrin graduated from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in 1994. She is the founder of her law firm, Elizabeth A. Citrin, P.C. in Alabama. Her primary practice areas include personal injury, bad faith insurance claims, business interruption claims, and more. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Ms. Citrin started her career as a television producer and writer, working for CBS News, Channel 9, Lifetime, WWOR TV, and others before going on to attend law school. After law school, she completed a clerkship for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as a Motions Law Clerk. She then worked as Assistant Corporation Counsel for the NYC Law Department. Afterward, Ms. Citrin briefly returned to television to work on a start-up court show for CBS Inc./King World before she started practicing complex litigation defense work in South Alabama. Ms. Citrin has been identified as one of the Top 100 Civil Plaintiff Trial Lawyers in Alabama.

A Q&A with Elizabeth Citrin '94

Can you briefly describe your career path? 

My first job out of college at Vanderbilt University was for an advertising photographer as a photo assistant and location scout.  I then took an entry-level job for CBS Newsradio 88, working my way up to producing segments for The CBS Morning News.  I also produced for WWOR-TV and Lifetime Television, among others.  In my late twenties I started thinking about getting a law degree and was fortunate to be accepted in Pace’s evening program, which allowed me to keep working for a taped formatted show (Attitudes) for Lifetime. I had previously worked in live television and going to law school at the same time would not have been possible because the hours were unpredictable (i.e., taping in London for a War Correspondent’s Roundtable with Dan Rather for CBS, or flying to Cape Canaveral at a moment’s notice to cover the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion after liftoff).  I did not know that getting a law degree would lead to me becoming a full-time lawyer, but as it turned out, I enjoyed becoming a lawyer very much and have been able to utilize this position to earn a good living and help change the world in small ways.

How did the desire to go to law school evolve for you?

The idea of going to law school and becoming a lawyer evolved over time.  Having a law degree opens-up so many doors.  I cannot imagine anybody regretting the decision, even if he/she chooses a different path after obtaining the degree.  It makes you a sharper thinker and gives you an edge that others without a law degree may not have.  As a woman in the business world, running a law practice, and litigating civil cases in state and federal courts, there can be challenges.  Being a lawyer helps bridge the gaps.

How did you choose Pace? 

I was working as a producer on a television show at the time and I needed an evening program for law school.  I loved the location and campus and everybody I met was down to earth and accessible, which was important to me being an older student.  My then husband had a branch office in Westchester County, and it made sense that I choose Pace (there were only a few evening programs back then).  I was 30 and had been out of school for nine years, having graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1981.  When I went to Vanderbilt, I thought I would become a photographer traveling the world for National Geographic.  My first job out of college was for an advertising photographer on Madison Avenue and eventually I became a producer for network news (CBS) and cable shows (Lifetime, WWOR-TV).  I started studying for the LSATs while recovering from an injury, applied to law school, found out I was pregnant with my first daughter in the first semester, and so slowly phased out the television job so I could focus on law school and caring for my baby.  Pace was super progressive even then.  When my daughter, Jackie, was born on April 25, 1991, during the spring semester right before finals, Pace let me sit for the exams late and take breastfeeding breaks during the exams while I kept track of the time limits.  Remember this was 1991, so that type of accommodation was not common.  Pace was way ahead of the curve!  I was able to attend law school, have a newborn, and ultimately get a law degree that enabled me to earn a good living and provide for my family, sending both of my daughters to top notch colleges and in turn help launch their successful careers, presently at Condé Nast and TikTok.  Pace understands that we live in the real world and meets the needs of its students.

During your time as a student at Pace, who were your favorite professors? 

This past fall, I attended the Law School reunion, which was possible this year because of Zoom. I live in South Alabama on the Gulf Coast and my older daughter, who I normally could stay with in NYC, has been telecommuting from here since March for Condé Nast at the World Trade Center during the pandemic.  One of the presentations that I participated in during the reunion was with Professor Bennett Gershman. It immediately reminded me of the high-quality professors I had at Pace when I attended there from 1990 to 1994. The presentation was on constitutional law, which is especially timely given recent events and issues that remain historically relevant. I think of those classes often, particularly due to my filing and involvement in a federal race case against a multi-billion-dollar chicken company. Also see here.

During the presentation, I was filled with warm memories and grew increasingly sentimental, even teary, about my time at Pace as Professor Gershman gave his talk.  I remember the engaging discussions that we would have in his class during what seemed like, in retrospect, simpler times (daily living and politics were certainly easier to grasp). Professor Gershman was my favorite professor and I still remember him saying, and have repeated it through the years, in the criminal law context that nothing good ever happens if you are out after midnight (an important lesson that I taught my two daughters, now in their twenties, when they were younger).  I emailed Professor Gershman after his talk and he expressed how much he missed the community, given the changes brought on by the pandemic. Sharing in his teachings made me feel part of the Pace community again after so many years and inspired me to continue trying to make my mark through my legal work.

Similarly, what were your favorite classes?

My favorite classes were those with Professor Ben Gershman. And, also, the Pace Environmental Law Clinic, which at the time was run by Bobby Kennedy, Jr.  The Clinic gave us the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and dig into actual cases involving the Clean Water Act and the Hudson River.  I have worked on sewage spill cases using what I learned during Bobby’s Clinic.

As a student, you were a member of the Pace Law Review - can you talk about that experience? 

I was the Casenote and Comment Editor of Pace Law Review.  I had endless energy in those days, and this position gave me the opportunity to focus on quality legal writing, blue booking citation skills, and hunting for the most compelling topics that students, scholars, and practitioners would want to find and read.  It is not enough to just be a good legal writer.  It is critical to pick interesting topics to write on and areas of the law that will be useful in the real world and helpful to practitioners.

How did your time at Pace prove useful to your future career?

The experience of attending Pace, learning a new way to think, honing new skills, and gaining a law degree, opened-up brand new horizons for me.  I unfortunately went through a divorce after attending Pace and my two daughters were young at the time. I decided to apply for law firm positions in South Alabama where I had family living, including two of my brothers, and later my parents and sister.  I was already admitted to practice law in New York and Connecticut and was then able to take and pass the Alabama and Mississippi Bar exams. This enabled me to carve out a completely new life for myself and my daughters in a beautiful area where the cost of living is much lower than in Manhattan, and the ability to earn is high.  While I have missed living in New York City tremendously (my father’s family is from the Bronx), and yearn to see my friends there more often, I have enjoyed the independence and ability to provide for myself here that the law degree from Pace allowed me.

What is your advice for future/current law students? 

Haub (Pace) Law will open-up many career horizons.  Getting a law degree will be your ticket to a stimulating, rewarding and secure career.

Haub Alumni of the Month: Jeffrey Deskovic '19

A Journey Full Circle

Jeffrey Deskovic is a 2019 Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University alumnus. Prior to law school, Jeffrey Deskovic was wrongly convicted of murder and incarcerated for sixteen years. Since his release, he has finished his bachelor's degree, earned a master's degree, started The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation For Justice, earned his law degree, passed the bar exam, became a recognized advocate in criminal justice reform circles, and much more. Jeff’s journey and graduation from law school, along with his post-law school path has been prominently featured in various media outlets.

A Q&A with Jeffrey Deskovic ’19 (with commentary by Professor Ben Gershman and Professor Robin Frankel)

Did you grow up wanting to be an attorney?

From the time that I was a teenager, I wanted to be an attorney. My mother had a personal injury attorney who I admired and this made me start thinking about becoming an attorney as a career down the road. Then, when I while I was wrongfully incarcerated, my mind went back to becoming an attorney. About three or four years prior to being exonerated, I thought, ‘if I ever get out of here, I want to become an attorney in order to help free others who are in my position.’

 After being exonerated, I received a scholarship from Mercy College to finish my education. Immediately after finishing at Mercy, I attempted to get into law school. Simply put, there was a large focus on LSAT scores and I did not do well on that specific test. I applied to 11 schools, arguing my background, the advocacy work I was doing, my undergraduate GPA, and what I wanted to do with the law degree should lead to law schools to give me a chance.  I did not get into a single school. So, from there, I went to graduate school and got a master’s degree. I also started my nonprofit, The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, using the compensation I received from my wrongful incarceration, whose purpose is to free the wrongfully convicted and pursue policy changes aimed at preventing wrongful conviction in the first place.

How did Haub Law come into the picture?

I did a presentation at the Judicial Institute at the Law School. Afterwards, I spoke to a judge who was at the seminar in the hallway. This judge complimented the presentation I had just completed and encouraged me to apply to law school – telling me that all I was missing was the credential of a JD. It was then that I began to revisit the possibility of law school. With this encouragement, I decided to try again. I was also tired of sitting in the front row of the courtroom – we were freeing people through my foundation and I wanted to sit at the defense table and help represent the clients.

So I took a LSAT class, took the test, and did even worse on the LSAT. However, by now, law schools were taking a more holistic approach. I applied to Haub Law with the encouragement of Professor Bennett Gershman, who I had a pre-existing relationship with. Given my low score, I knew that I had to hit the ball out of the park in the interview to be admitted. Haub Law was the school I wanted to go to- it is the only law school in Westchester County. I grew up here in this county; was wrongfully convicted and exonerated here in White Plains. I do my work here. I got into an out of state law school, but though it was only four hours away, in many ways I would have had to give up my life to do so. While I was prepared to do so, it was not my preferred path. When Haub Law accepted me, it was like everything lined up exactly right. It is empowering to be an attorney- the extra credential allows me to be involved in freeing the wrongfully convicted in a more direct way, assists my policy work, and also how I regarded by my peers and elected officials.

Can you talk about some of the courses you took while at Haub Law and what role they have played in your post-law school career?

Legal Skills 1 and 2 were key. In those courses, I learned brief writing and writing memos – both objective and advocacy documents. I use all of those skills directly right now in my work. I was recently appointed to serve on the transition team for the Conviction Integrity Unit of Westchester D.A.-elect Mimi Rocah, who I previously had as an adjunct professor for two classes here at Haub Law. I have used these learned skills to draft memos on my recommendations. I am also serving on the Peekskill Police Task Force Reform committee and in that role, my experience reading case law has helped. I have to read rules and regulations so there is a direct intersection there as well. I am serving on the policy subcommittee and find myself using what I learned in administrative law regularly.

Additionally, my Foundation currently has 11 active cases where we are working on freeing 11 people. I have entered some of those cases as co-counsel. I am regularly using skills that I learned while in the defense clinic under the supervision of Professors Frankel and Dorfman, such as client interviewing and paying attention to detail.

Then, there are the additional bonus skills that I picked up in law school, such as the experience of working under a deadline and communicating with prosecutors while advocating for clients.   

What professors guided you most during your time at Haub Law?

Professor Gershman – 100% made my experience what it was – he was my everything. He was my unofficial advisor-he would check in on me, tell me what classes he thought I should take, and I was always enthusiastic about letting him know my grades. Not wanting to disappoint him was one of the many reasons that I gave 110%.

Professor Robin Frankel also. She was an extremely supportive adjunct. She came to many events when I got awards or spoke. We co-presented a CLE we designed called Tips from an Exonerated Man in Law School six times. Her imprint on my career and life is something I felt. She remains a trusted advisor in my life.

Professor Peter Widulski also used to check in on me. We would sit in hallways or have lunch in cafeteria and chat, even though I never had him for a single class!

Then, of course, Professors Michael Mushlin and David Dorfman. They each guided me in different but important ways, helping me on my journey in law school. I like to think I made significant contributions in their classroom settings as well, enhancing the educational experience for my fellow students.

I also received tremendous support from the academic success program at the law school. At certain points, my GPA was below a certain level and the school required that I take other classes as a result. While I didn’t like doing so at the time, I can unequivocally say that I would not have passed the bar exam on my first try without the extra prep those classes gave me.

Lastly, Professor Gannon went above and beyond in tutoring me- there was a stretch of approximately six weeks in a row where she came in early to work specifically to help me with Blue booking when I was completely lost. I ended up with a B+ in that class! There were many other times when she tutored me on legal research, answering other questions, using advanced features of Microsoft Word, and generally encouraging me in the Law Library, where I practically lived during my first two years in law school.

The great thing about Haub Law is that it is a school where each student receives the attention they need in order to succeed. I greatly appreciated the school allowing me to leave my imprint on it in terms of wrongful conviction. Every year we recognized Wrongful Conviction Day on Oct. 2nd. I helped organize events and spoke at them. These were received enthusiastically.  I wrote a few articles for the student newspaper. I would forward my media coverage to the PR department. I like to think I was good to Haub Law also. I truly enjoyed participating in classroom discussion and my overall experience. I continue to stay in touch with many professors, and sometimes speak in the classes as a guest. Summed up: I am very appreciative of Haub Law giving me the opportunity to become an attorney.

Can you speak about The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice?

The Foundation has 11 active cases right now. All of the cases started out with someone in prison writing a letter alleging that they are actually innocent. We collect limited legal documents – direct appeal briefs from the defense and the prosecution, which we use for the factual section – that is our cliff notes. We get lab and police reports. We also have a questionnaire. We cross-reference the questionnaire with the factual section of the direct appeal briefs to authenticate. We consider what was used as evidence of guilt, particularly in light of known red flags in cases that have ended in exoneration. I have an intake team that reads all of this and gives me a report. Then we debate about the cases. I have read several hundred case summaries of cases that ended in exoneration from The Innocence Project’s website and from The National Registry of Exonerations, so I know the various angles and things to check. I ask questions of the case analysts who let me know if a line of reasoning might apply in that specific factual situation. We go back and forth a few times until we feel there is nothing else to know. Then we critically discuss the case, asking ourselves two questions: (1) do we believe in the applicant’s claim of innocence and (2) do we see a potential route for exoneration (which for us usually equates to a 15-20% chance of success). We also think about costs – time and financial. Then we make a hard choice – accept or pass. If we accept, we pitch the cases to lawyers – ask them to take on the cases pro boo, who carry out the legal and investigative strategies while we remain involved on the consultative level and pitching in with media and grassroots tactics.

I used some of my own funds to start the organization, but after three years I could not simply keep writing large checks. So I had to convert the organization to a volunteer entity. But I am I the process of trying to raise funds, with the end goal of again having a staff going hard at these cases and freeing as many wrongfully convicted people as possible. To date, we have freed ten people. We have also helped pass various laws and are working on a policy level too. We are constantly working on fundraising with the idea of expanding our capacity in terms of the number of cases we can take and in the number of states we can work on policy changes.

Jeff Deskovic’s journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. Of Jeff, Professor Ben Gershman notes that: “It’s not possible to capture in words Jeff’s remarkable journey from imprisonment for sixteen years as a teenager for a crime he didn’t commit, to graduating with honors from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, and then creating a legal foundation to assist other wrongfully incarcerated persons gain freedom. At a time when despair and cynicism permeate much of society, Jeff’s courage, resilience, and humanity shine through the darkness as a symbol of hope. I have watched him receive the Servant of Justice Award and have enjoyed his presentations so much.  I have seen the outpouring of support for him.”

Professor Robin Frankel recounts Jeffrey as “an inspirational storyteller with real-life lessons about what it means to be wrongfully convicted. It was a pleasure for me to join him on a citywide CLE tour entitled, “Tips From An Exonerated Man In Law School,” in which he shared these invaluable lessons with practicing criminal defense attorneys. I have accompanied Jeffrey on several speaking engagements, such as the New Rochelle High School Forensic Science Program and the Newburgh “Movies That Matter” lecture series in connection with his participation in the film, “Survivor’s Guide to Prison.”  Most importantly, I watched with pride as Jeffrey received the Servant of Justice Award for his role in the creation of the NYS Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct.  ​Jeffrey is a fighter, a role model, and a friend. I am so grateful to have him as an ally in the fight against wrongful convictions.”

Haub Alumni of the Month: Tiffany Zezula & Jessica Bacher

2003 Alumni & Land Use Law Center Staff

Jessica Bacher and Tiffany Zezula have a long history together. Both Jessica and Tiffany began their studies at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in 2000. During their time at Pace as students, they both immersed themselves in work with the Land Use Law Center and Professor John Nolon. After graduating in 2003, Jessica and Tiffany both joined the Land Use Law Center in a different capacity – as staff members. For the last seventeen years, they have both grown exponentially along with the Center. Jessica is now Executive Director at the LULC and Tiffany is Deputy Director.

How did each of you decide to attend law school and Pace in particular?

Tiffany: I was an Ecology Major at Tulane so was very passionate about conservation, so decided a law degree could help me pursue a career that could truly impact environmental preservation issues. Pace’s environmental program was a perfect fit to accomplish my goals.

Jessica: I was a business major undergrad at University of Florida and became very interested in environmental issues so decided to minor in environmental studies. I particularly became interested in coastal and ocean issues and wrote my thesis on Australia’s Ocean Policy after travelling there for a study abroad program.  When looking at law schools, I was immediately attracted to the strong environmental program and Pace so applied and received the Presidential Scholarship.

What was your involvement with the LULC like during your time as a student?

Jessica: Tiffany and I met our first year in law school in Professor Dorfman’s Crim Law class and immediately discovered our common interests (and also our common study habits, so formed a study group that lasted all three years and continues today!). Tiffany, in her role as President of ELS, hosted a speaker from TNC on coastal issues. Professor Nolon contributed to the discussion by providing land use solutions to coastal management issues and we were hooked on land use. We both took all the land use courses, worked at the Center, and even co-authored a PELR article called The Beach Zone that outlines land use tools for coastal resiliency.

What was your path after law school and how has it evolved over time at the LULC?

Tiffany: Professor Nolon was a mentor to both of us and we wanted to continue careers advancing the mission of the Center. We joined the Center officially as Graduate Fellows and within five years took over joint leadership. We recently celebrated our 17th year at the Center.

What are some of the projects and initiatives you are working on at the LULC?

Jessica: Today we continue our passion for coastal resiliency. We are working with EPA and FEMA on local government tools for resiliency and post-storm recovery. This also includes working with NY State on the Climate Smart Communities program and furthering it through training of local government officials with support from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, NY Sea Grant, and NY DEC.

How does Land Use Law impact communities?

Jessica: Land use plans and regulations shape human settlements; in so doing, they can increase energy consumption and vehicle miles travelled that worsen climate change, or create sustainable neighborhoods and communities that mitigate and adapt to climate change. Our work at the Center focuses on education for the local community leaders to ensure that the decision makers have the tools and techniques to further sustainable development.

How has the LULC influenced Westchester and beyond?

Tiffany: During our tenure, we have jointly trained over 3000 local land use leaders not only in this region, but across the country in over 30 training programs. We have also passed this knowledge on to hundreds of our law school students over the years. We are so grateful for our time as students at Pace and all that we learned at the Land Use Law Center and we are so eager to pass that same knowledge and experience on to current students.

You are both very involved in your community – why is that important to you?

Jessica: For over eight years we have co-led a local Girl Scout troop. We think it is important to inspire the next generation of women, teach them about the outdoors, respect for the environment, and how to give to back to the community. Our troop has earned Bronze and Silver awards for their actions and we are proud of the work we have all accomplished together.

You have been quite successful as a duo at the LULC, what other ventures have you led together?

Tiffany: Our partnership in law school has expanded to an over 20 year partnership and friendship that includes not only directing the Center, but also running a Girl Scout troop, a book club, hosting baby showers for each other, joint birthday parties for our daughters, being co-class moms for our daughters’ class, teaching continuing education classes on couponing, co-teaching law school classes, joint presentations at national conferences, taking Yale School of the Environment students on international field trips, co-publishing books and articles, and more. It all started at Pace!