Stepping up to make everyone’s life better

Monica Piga Wallace ’94

“I think most lawyers see ourselves as guardians of legal institutions. You need good people to step up and be the change you want to see in the world."

Lawyers make things happen.

Case in point: Monica Piga Wallace, who graduated from the University at Buffalo School of Law in 1994. After a career in private practice and public service, she now teaches research and writing at Buffalo Law and co-directs the school’s Post-Incarceration Re-entry Practicum, in which students help former inmates with legal issues as they rejoin society.

For Wallace, her law degree is tool for making life in Western New York better – a tool that she feels a responsibility to use wisely and often.

“I think most lawyers see ourselves as guardians of legal institutions,” she says. “You need good people to step up and be the change you want to see in the world.”

That means, for example, helping to lead the effort to change the racially offensive nickname of the school system where she and her family live. Used to be the Redskins; now it’s the Legends. “I think I’m on the right side of history on that,” Wallace says. “I knew it wasn’t in the best interests of the community. We fought it not only because it was the right thing to do – the name was a racially defined slur – but also because it was a violation of anti-bullying statutes and Title VII anti-harassment statutes that didn’t exist when the name was adopted.”

In another case, Wallace was at the forefront of a lawsuit that blocked a sovereign Indian nation from building a casino in the heart of her town. Her legal training, she says, helped her explain the consequences of transferring land to a sovereign nation, removing it from the tax rolls and exempting it from the laws that would normally apply there.

Most recently, Wallace took her case to public office, making a well-regarded run for the New York State Assembly. “I hope this will inspire other women to put themselves out there,” she says, “and to recognize the importance of being active in your community and having a say in issues affecting the community.”