by Irene Bunnell
This winter session, Harpur College offered a unique opportunity for its pre-law students. Nine successful lawyers, all alumni, spoke to students about their experiences as lawyers. The class, Current Issues in Legal Practice, took place over three nights, with each session lasting three and a half hours. The class was hosted by Jon Plasse '72 at his firm's offices of Labaton Sucharow & Rudoff LLP in downtown Manhattan, right across from Zucotti Park. This was the third year that the class has been offered. A few of the alumni speakers were participating for their second or third time.
Participating in the class were 19 Binghamton students with a variety of majors. While there were a few philosophy, politics and law students, a popular major for pre-law students at Binghamton, there were also students majoring in sociology, psychology, history, economics, Spanish, political science and accounting. This variety was mirrored in the diversity of the speakers. The nine lawyers all work in remarkably different fields, highlighting the breadth of law, which allowed the students to see how many different options there are when it comes to pursuing a legal career. Among the fields represented were securities litigation, criminal defense, intellectual property, civil litigation, medical malpractice, and labor and employment law. Each speaker had a different story about how they came to choose the legal profession and the path that took them to law school.
The students were enthusiastic and inquisitive during the class. Sammy Ahmed, a Philosophy, Politics, and Law major, said he was attracted to the course because the speakers were prominent well-known lawyers. He was excited to learn from individuals experienced and practicing in the field today. Megan Apper, a junior majoring in Political Science, agreed and said she appreciated learning from highly successful professionals. While she enjoys her classes and her professors at Binghamton, these alumni speakers are people with experience in practice, which offers a different learning opportunity. Many students attending the class knew that they were interested in law, but wanted to learn about different types of law so they could start thinking about what path they might choose once they entered law school. "I find everything [the speakers are saying] more interesting than I expected," commented Carly Schiff, a double major in Economics and Philosophy, Politics, and Law. "Fields I had never considered now seem manageable." This three-day course inspired a few of the students to look into different types of law than they had previously considered.
The speakers were just as enthusiastic about the experience as the students. The attorneys focused their presentations on describing their specific fields from their own perspectives, as well as reassuring students that their career path may not always go exactly as planned. Jon Plasse said the course was a great opportunity for undergraduates because of the different types of law that were represented. Richard Greenburg '74 and Heidi Goldstein '81, two more speakers, said that they could not emphasize enough how much they enjoyed the enthusiasm of the students, and the questions they asked. Greenburg passed on the advice that, if students are considering law school, they must think seriously about it. Money is not a good enough reason to go into this profession, he stressed. Prospective attorneys should have a good sense of what really attracts them to the profession. There is a lot of job dissatisfaction in the legal profession, Greenburg noted, and it is important that the students feel that their work is meaningful.
It is real-world advice like this that many of the students were looking for. Many of the speakers agreed that when they were undergraduates at Binghamton, they wish they had someone to tell them what the actual world of law is like. Frank Vellucci '94, another speaker said that as an undergraduate he felt clueless about law school, and he wished that he had had access to legal professionals when he was a student. He felt, and many other speakers agreed, this course would have benefited them when they were undergraduates, and considered this when they were preparing their lectures.
Heidi Goldstein said that she focused her lecture on the professionalism required of lawyers. She wanted to emphasize that lawyers behaving appropriately in a professional manner is important for these future lawyers, and the profession. She wanted to offer the students advice that was pertinent to working in the law field. This is the kind of information that the students heard all three nights, information that only current working lawyers could give them.
Shareema Abel '96, a labor and employment lawyer, wanted to give the students a taste of law school, to try and prepare them for their future academic experience. She used the Socratic Method in her lecture, which she experienced in her own law school classes. She also explained how important it was for these students to use this class as a resource. The course "gives the students a way to interact with alumni who are lawyers, even if they are not in their field. Exposure to as many attorneys as possible is important, you can ask them questions and get the real deal. This is [the students'] chance. This is not someone at law school who is going to give you fluff, you will get the real deal."
Jon Plasse also focused on how the path to law school is not always a straight one. Many speakers tried to show the students that lawyers come from all kinds of backgrounds. Plasse majored in cinema at Harpur College, but has gone on to a successful law career in class action litigation. He emphasized to the students, "If you find something that moves you, hold on to it."
All the speakers agreed that it was important to give back to the college, and its students. For the third year in a row, this winter course was a success and a great experience for both the students and speakers involved.
Last Updated: 6/3/15