by Erich Van Dussen
The proverbial long arm of the law guides every aspect of our lives. Our food is regulated for quality. Our clothes were produced under carefully established labor rules. Our jobs, our cars, our marriages—everything is affected by the law.
“No matter where you live or what you do, the framework of law in our society impacts all of us every day,” says Olena Prokopovych, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science.
That concept is at the heart of Nazareth’s new legal studies program, of which Prokopovych is the director, and which accepted its first freshman class in fall 2013. It also sums up the collective experiences of some Nazareth alumni who have found success and fulfillment in a varied array of law-related fields. In or out of the courtroom, these legal professionals are making a difference.
The odd thing about law school, says James Nobles ’96 (business administration/art history), is that it doesn’t really teach you how to be a lawyer.
“In a lot of [law school] classes, you talk about cases from 100 years ago that have no bearing on what’s going on today,” says the New York Law School graduate. “What they’re really teaching you is how to analyze the law. That’s why you graduate from law school and immediately spend 12 weeks studying for the bar exam. You still need to learn the actual laws as they pertain to your state and the cases you’re going to have.”
Today Nobles is a prominent Rochester-area defense attorney. “People come to me when they have really serious problems and they need help,” he says. A few days after this interview, he’ll defend a person accused of second-degree manslaughter.
Dealing regularly with the life-and-death aspects of trial law is another thing they don’t cover in law school, Nobles says.
“When you’ve got someone who could go to jail for 25 years to life, and … I’m the only person in the process who’s exclusively fighting for that person’s position, it can be a lot of pressure,” he says. “But in a way, it helps push me to do my best for my clients.”
When Frank Revoir Jr. ’88 (business administration) graduated from Albany Law School in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Norwich, N.Y., and began practicing law. During the succeeding decades, he was engaged in seemingly every type of law.
As a solo practitioner in a small town, “necessity required that I represent individuals and businesses in a wide variety of legal matters, in essence, becoming the jack of all trades,” he recalls. However, the overwhelming majority of his practice was devoted to family law, criminal defense work, and estate planning.
That broad-based experience served him well in preparation for his current role as the newly elected County Court Judge of Chenango County. Revoir is a “multi-bench” judge—he presides over the family court, the county court, and the surrogate’s court. “They are three distinct courts, with three separate staffs, handling an enormously wide variety of issues that directly impact the daily lives of the people I serve,” he explains.
Having just completed the first year of a 10-year term, Revoir recognizes the significance of his judicial position. “I am truly humbled by the trust that the Chenango County citizens have placed in me, and not a day goes by that I am not reminded of that fact,” he says. “Whether faced with the decision of sentencing a convicted felon to state prison, or removing an abused child from his parents, or issuing a pistol permit, all matters are important and receive my utmost attention and consideration.”
Revoir is focused on doing the best job he can over the next 10 years and believes he has found his true calling on the bench. “To sum it up, while I enjoyed all my years as an attorney, I love being a judge.”
Sara Visingard ’01 (economics) is a partner at Harris Beach PLLC, one of the Rochester area’s largest firms. She represents public and private sector employers throughout the state with respect to labor and employment law and education law matters. While Visingard’s practice generally does not take her into the courtroom, she often represents employers and school districts in administrative hearings and arbitrations.
While an undergrad at Nazareth, Visingard took advantage of the pre-law concentration that would eventually morph into today’s legal studies program. She credits her pre-law experience with sharpening her analytical skills, connecting her with on-the-job experience in the legal field (such as an internship at the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office), and opening her eyes to many legal career paths.
Visingard, who graduated from Syracuse University College of Law, is very happy with the career path she took. She is most inspired when her work involves matters of student safety. “I feel like I am making a positive difference,” she states. Defending clients and helping them stay abreast of the ever-changing laws in the labor and employment and education law realm is also fascinating to Visingard. “I enjoy what I do because it’s something different every day. It keeps me on my toes.”
Kayla Gibson Cannon ’05, also a Syracuse Law School grad, is an associate at Underberg & Kessler, LLP, another large firm serving western and central New York. Her specialty is real estate law, and her clients are diverse—she represents buyers, sellers, and even lenders. The common thread in each case, she says, is the significance and seriousness of the transaction taking place.
“This is one of the most important and certainly most expensive investments they will ever make in their lifetime,” Cannon says. “A house represents so much to a client: It’s where they go to relax, eat, sleep, and spend quality time with their families. It is where they want their children to grow up and feel protected from the world. I want to make sure that they’re represented in the best possible manner.”
While Cannon’s initial spark of legal curiosity started at age five, it was not ignited until late in her junior year at Nazareth. “I was majoring in business administration and economics, and I began to think that the law combined with my business degree would be a great way to help others.” With timely encouragement from professors Timothy Kneeland, Ph.D., and Roy Stein, J.D. (a law-school graduate and Nazareth faculty member), she crammed for her LSATs and assembled her law school applications. The rest is legal history.
Katie LaShomb ’10 set her sights on a public-service career as an eighth grader, after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. While majoring in political science at Nazareth, that goal was refined through a pair of internships in both Washington, D.C., and Rochester, N.Y.—with the Embassy of Papua, New Guinea, and with U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, congresswoman for New York’s 25th district, respectively. She completed that last experience just before graduating and joined Rep. Slaughter’s team as a community liaison and press assistant a month after leaving college. “I like to joke that I told them they were never going to get rid of me,” she says.
While LaShomb’s legislative portfolio focuses on education and domestic violence, her broader mission is simply to listen to the people of the 25th and make sure the government is working for them. “The congresswoman always tells us that this is the people’s office,” she says. “We have a public trust. We can’t abuse it.”
Sarah Malloy-Good ’07 majored in social work at Nazareth, but her mother is an attorney. She views her job as a liaison to New York State Assemblymember Deborah Glick as an ideal marriage of those two seemingly disparate careers.
“It goes back to the roots of social work—doing all we can to help others in society,” says Malloy-Good, who works in the assemblymember’s lower Manhattan district.
Her job requires a thorough familiarity with a range of fluctuating policy themes—from land use and zoning to taxes and education—anything that can impact constituents’ lives. “The phone can ring at any time with someone in our district who has an issue. We do our best to try to address those issues and offer support for them.”
Although she doesn’t rule out running for office herself someday, she’s certain that her professional future is in the public sector. “I’m a government nerd,” she laughs.
Both Malloy-Good and LaShomb agree that Nazareth’s legal studies program would have been a tempting option had it been available when they were students.
“It would probably have been a very hard decision,” Malloy-Good says, “but I’m very happy with the path I took.”
Nazareth’s new legal studies program is the result of an evolving process, Dr. Prokopovych says—one that reflects both national trends and the proven interests of Nazareth students.
Where the pre-law minor was originally designed primarily to help students prepare for law school, legal studies aims wider. “National surveys of employers emphasize the importance of solid writing and critical thinking skills,” she says. “The program answers those needs—and by helping students develop an understanding of our legal system, it helps drive their success in business, or in non-profit management, or criminal justice, or government, politics, and policy.”
The major begins with a foundation in philosophy, rhetoric, and ethics, before advancing to classwork in legal areas such as the Constitution and family and criminal law. At least one internship experience is required; and the program has been kept deliberately compact to allow for second majors or complementary studies to be added—an option that is strongly encouraged among legal studies students.
Nazareth President Daan Braveman, a law-school graduate himself, teaches the program’s Introduction to Law course. He views the legal studies program as an extension of a liberal arts tradition and one that can prepare students for an array of careers.
“People think a law degree means you are going to practice law like you see on television, but a law degree opens a wide range of opportunities,” Braveman says.
In fact, Nazareth’s president epitomizes that position. He began his career as a civil rights attorney before moving on to teach law at Syracuse University, which led in turn to the higher-education administration track that brought him to Nazareth eight years ago.
“If you had told me when I was 21 that I would be president of a college someday, I probably would have said you were crazy,” he says. “But it was all made possible by my preparation in law school, and my liberal arts education before that.”
Erich Van Dussen is a freelance writer in Rochester, New York.
Frank Revoir Jr. '88, county court judge of Chenango County, N.Y.
Kayla Gibson Cannon '05, associate at the Rochester firm Underberg & Kessler, LLP
Katie LaShomb '10, community liaison and press assistant to U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter
For more information on Nazareth's legal studies program, visit naz.edu/legal-studies.