State’s top judge will highlight SUNY Buffalo Law School Commencement ceremony

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will be the keynote speaker for SUNY Buffalo Law School's 124th Commencement ceremony.

Published June 19, 2014

New York State's highest-ranking judge will be the keynote Commencement speaker for the state of New York’s only SUNY-system law school.

SUNY Buffalo Law School’s 124th Commencement exercises, which will take place May 18 at the Center for the Arts on the University’s North Campus, will feature Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Last year, Judge Lippman led the nation by enacting the first pro bono service requirement for law students designed to provide additional legal resources to expand access to the justice system for low-income New Yorkers.

He will address students, families, faculty, administrators and alumni during the ceremony, which begins at 3 p.m. A reception will immediately follow in the Atrium of the Center for the Arts.

A total of 237 J.D.’s will graduate in February, June and September 2013, 107 of whom are female. Ten LL.M.’s also will graduate.

Judge Lippman, who was appointed chief judge in 2009, previously served for 11 years as the state’s chief administrative judge. His career in the court system has spanned four decades, starting as an entry-level court attorney in the Supreme Court in Manhattan. He received his J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1968.

In proposing the pro bono initiative, he said, “We are facing a crisis in New York and around the country. At a time when we are still adjusting to the realities of shrinking state coffers and reduced budgets, more and more people find themselves turning to the courts.

“The courts are the emergency rooms of our society – the most intractable social problems find their way to our doors in great and increasing numbers. And more and more of the people who come into our courts each day are forced to do so without a lawyer.”

He continued: “The new pro bono service requirement for admission to the New York bar serves to address the state’s urgent access to justice gap, at the same time helping prospective attorneys build valuable skills and imbuing in them the ideal of working toward the greater good. It is so important that the next generation of lawyers in New York embraces the core values of our profession that so fundamentally include pro bono legal assistance.”

The 50-hour requirement takes effect for those who seek admission to New York practice after Jan. 1, 2015. Many SUNY Buffalo Law students already have a significant record of public-service legal work through the school’s legal clinics, summer internships and other opportunities to gain real-world legal experience.

Hon. John T. Curtin ’49, senior U.S. district judge for the Western District of New York

Other 2013 Commencement highlights will include the presentation of the Dean’s Medal to Hon. John T. Curtin ’49, senior U.S. district judge for the Western District of New York. The Dean’s Medal is given annually to an individual who is distinguished by his or her commitment to justice and the rule of law. Judge Curtin is among Western New York’s longest-serving U.S. District Court judges and has presided over some of the area’s highest-profile federal cases during more than 35 years on the bench.

“Judge Curtin has championed issues of social justice throughout his long and distinguished career, bringing equality and the rule of law to the Buffalo community in multiple arenas. It is with the greatest respect and admiration that I pay tribute to a man of such stalwart principles,” said SUNY Buffalo Law Dean Makau Mutua.

Judge Curtin served as U.S. Attorney for seven years before ascending to the bench in 1967. He was named chief judge in 1974 and served in that capacity until 1989, when he assumed senior status.

Helen A. Drew ’88

The Ken Joyce Medal for Excellence in Teaching and Longstanding Service to the Law School will be presented to Helen A. Drew ’88.  The award, named after SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus Ken Joyce, a renowned teacher and specialist in tax law, honors teaching excellence and service among SUNY Buffalo Law School’s extensive adjunct faculty.

Drew is a longtime adjunct instructor at SUNY Buffalo Law School with special expertise in sports law. Having taught about issues in sports law at the school since 1996, her courses include sports law, drug testing in professional sports, and professional sports contract negotiation and arbitration. A well-known booster of girls ice hockey at the high school level, Drew has served as associate in-house counsel and corporate officer to Buffalo’s National Hockey League team, the Sabres, and as an associate attorney with the Buffalo law firm Cohen, Swados, Wright, Hanifin, Bradford & Brett, where she worked on NHL matters as well.

Dean Makau W. Mutua said the choice honors an excellent teacher and points up the Law School’s commitment to graduating profession-ready lawyers in diverse fields.

“Helen’s teaching truly bridges the gap between theory and practice and offers our students outstanding skills training that goes well beyond the field of sports law,” Mutua said. “She draws upon her vast legal experience in professional and amateur sports to teach students skills in negotiating, drafting, and interpreting as well as in the use of alternative methods of dispute resolution – skills every attorney needs, regardless of specialty.”

Professor Charles Patrick Ewing, who as vice dean for academic affairs oversees the school’s adjunct faculty, said, “Helen’s courses are always extremely popular with our students, and for good reason. The broad topic – sports law – is inherently interesting to most. But more than that, she is a gifted teacher who is dedicated to her students and to our law school.”