“My love of lawyers is real. I have seen lawyers do magic with their craft, and work in so many situations where they ended up doing it pro bono whether they planned to or not.” - Hon. Barbara Howe ’80
Fresh from receiving UB School of Law’s highest honor, Barbara Howe ’80 has a new office where she can display her Jaeckle Award.
After 30 years as a New York State judge including 14 years as Surrogate Court Judge for Erie County, Howe has joined the Buffalo office of the law firm Woods Oviatt Gilman as senior counsel.
“It is a great honor to have a jurist of her experience and prominence join our firm,” said James P. McElheny, Woods Oviatt’s managing partner. “I cannot think of anyone who is better qualified and more uniquely experienced to work with our Trusts and Estates and Mediation practice groups.”
Woods Oviatt Gilman is a full-service law firm with 100 attorneys and offices in Buffalo, Rochester and Phoenix.
Howe, who became Surrogate Judge in 2004, began her judicial career on the Buffalo City Court bench in 1988, and was a New York State Supreme Court Justice from 1992 through 2003. She has held numerous leadership roles on statewide committees of the New York Courts. She played an active role in shaping legislative proposals relating to estate and Surrogate’s Court practice while serving on the Office of Court Administration’s Surrogate’s Court Advisory Committee, of which she remains a member.
In addition to her J.D., Howe holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut at Storrs, and master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from Cornell University.
Her move to private practice comes after she accepted the 2018 Edwin F. Jaeckle Award, which is given annually to a person who exemplifies the highest ideals of the School of Law and the Law Alumni Association, and has made significant contributions to the school and the legal profession.
In accepting the honor at the annual New York City Alumni Luncheon on Jan. 26 at the Union League Club in Manhattan, Howe reflected on her love for her profession.
“My love of lawyers is real,” said Howe. “I have seen lawyers do magic with their craft, and work in so many situations where they ended up doing it pro bono whether they planned to or not.”
“I think there’s an exquisite orthodoxy to the law,” she remarked. “And then, of course, I love the agility of the law to bring common sense to the table and get the job done in ways that are lawful and proper.”
Congratulations on your move to Woods Oviatt. What will you be doing at the firm?
I plan to be working mostly with the Trusts and Estates and Mediation practice groups. Having been the New York State Surrogate Judge for Erie County for the past 14 years, I was the only judge having jurisdiction over matters relating to individuals’ estates. I have seen hundreds of examples of how to do things – and how not to do things – in estate planning. I plan to apply those dos and don’ts to help individuals draft their wills and related documents.
With respect to the Mediation Practice Group, as a New York State judge for 30 years, I have seen many, many situations in which a mediated outcome can leave all parties more satisfied. That greater satisfaction from mediation instead of litigation can be seen in estate matters in Surrogate’s Court and equally in a variety of civil cases.
After three decades on the bench, what are you looking forward to most in private practice?
I am most looking forward to the challenge of doing legal things in entirely different ways – for example, giving legal advice, which as a judge I was prohibited from doing. Additionally, there might be a situation in which I want to voice an opinion about a social issue, also something which as a judge I was prohibited from doing.
What will you miss most?
I will miss the amazing people who worked at, and with, the Surrogate’s Court. These are people with whom I interacted virtually every workday for many years, and the reality is that I will not be able to see many of them very frequently going forward in all of our busy lives.
You have a Ph.D. in sociology and gave up your academic tenure with UB’s Department of Sociology to begin your judicial career. What motivated you to do so?
I gave up academic tenure in 1988 because I had the opportunity to be a jurist, but I continued to teach at UB as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Law and the Department of Sociology for years. I still bring a sociologist’s view to many situations. Of course, I never brought the sociologist’s viewpoint to making the proper decisions related to the facts and the law. But I have frequently brought to my interactions with attorneys and parties and the self-represented my sociologist’s ability to look at situations from the viewpoints of other people. And I expect to do that going forward, especially with mediation work.
What do you see as the greatest change in the legal profession since you first entered it in 1981, and how have you adjusted to that change?
There are two drastic but totally different types of change I have seen in the past 35-plus years. The first is the influx of women into the practice of law and into the judiciary, and the acceptance of women in both of those roles. Obviously, that has been a great change. The second has been the revolution in technology: computers, electronic everything, social media. I am still conservative in my use of social media. But with respect to the rest of the technology revolution in the practice of law, I have adjusted to it and totally supported it. I am proud that, early on in my time on the Surrogate’s bench, ours was the first pilot e-filing Surrogate’s Court in New York State.
You are a strong advocate for mentoring and an active participant in the law school’s mentor program. What advice can you offer our new graduates as they begin their legal careers?
To always be punctual (that means early!), well-prepared, and professional in demeanor.