The work of promoting justice is a marathon, not a sprint, and perhaps no one knows that better than lawyers.
So, it’s fitting that a recent outpouring of gifts to support the law school’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives is focused on the long term by creating endowed funds for these efforts.
“Over the past few months, and with many thanks to our amazing donors, the law school has secured more than $1.2 million for DEI programming, scholarships and fellowships,” says Karen R. Kaczmarski ’89, vice dean and senior director of advancement. That sum includes nearly $500,000 in matching funds provided by the University at Buffalo through its Boldly Buffalo campaign.
“Diversity remains a top priority for the law school and much of our fundraising is focused on these initiatives,” Kaczmarski says. “Over the years, we’ve raised money for scholarships and programs like our award-winning Discover Law summer pipeline program. Thanks to the University’s match, many of our recent donors were able to double the impact of their gifts and help our students even more.”
Kaczmarski points out that the impact of this giving will only continue to grow because endowed funds are managed with the goal of growing their value as well as producing spendable income. Also, she notes, they’re an ideal vehicle for donors looking to give in a way that ensures their gift will do good far beyond their own lifetimes.
“Our mission to educate students to be future leaders and to create a more just and equitable society is more vital than ever,” says Dean Aviva Abramovsky. “The generosity of our alumni and friends provides us with the necessary resources to promote equity, inclusion and diversity within our law school and the legal profession, now and into the future. We are incredibly grateful for the vision and support of our donors.”
Each donor’s reason for giving is as individual as they are. Read more about these dedicated philanthropists who are making a difference with their gifts to support the School of Law’s DEI efforts.
It’s awarded at nine colleges and universities including UB School of Law, but the Marie Nesbitt Promise Prize started in Buffalo, at the law school alma mater of Vikki Pryor ’78, founder of the Change Create Transform Foundation. In the 20 years since then, Pryor and the foundation have grown a network of Promise Prize scholars, supporting their education but also their professional development through mentoring and training.
Now the foundation’s new gift, combined with UB’s matching grant, will endow the scholarship prize in perpetuity on behalf of students of color who show great potential for leadership in their careers and their communities. UB School of Law is the first school to which the foundation has made that commitment.
“It’s an important turning point,” Pryor says. “Our organization has a deep commitment to DEI work, and it’s exciting to know that the work and the support that has gone on over the last 20 years will now continue and will be able to support more students in the future and allow for their leadership development.”
Change Create Transform is small as foundations go, she says, but the hope is that its investment in the next generation of leaders – UB Law’s most recent Promise Prize recipient is Shakierah Smith ’22 – will benefit the world in unforeseeable ways.
“If you don’t plant, you don’t harvest,” Pryor says. “And no matter how small your contribution is, it’s important that you do something. It does have an impact. You may not see the impact right away or it may be something that you may never know, but it pays off later.”
When a scholarship fund at the law school bears your name, it’s relatively easy to decide how to designate your giving.
That’s how it has been for Hon. Samuel L. Green ’67. Friends and colleagues – principally Justice Green’s wife, Ernestine, and friends Cindy and Fran Letro ’79 – established the fund upon the occasion of his 2011 retirement from the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, of the New York State Supreme Court. He and others have continued to build the fund, which provides scholarship aid for a UB School of Law student, with preference given to those from groups traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession.
Now, a decade later, when he learned of the opportunity to trigger a matching gift, “I went for it,” he says – making a $25,000 commitment that was doubled by the university match.
The gift marks an important milestone, in that the Hon. Samuel L. Green ’67 Scholarship Fund has now crossed the $100,000 threshold to become an official endowed scholarship of the school. “That was the purpose, to make it a scholarship,” says the justice, who regularly receives thank-you notes from the law students who benefit.
It’s one way he’s fostering the next generation of attorneys of color – advocates sorely needed, he says. “The law profession is a great profession,” Justice Green says, “especially with what’s going on now in society, looking at all the different constitutional rights. We need people to represent those people who are being deprived of their liberties and their rights.”
Hodgson Russ LLP goes way back with the Discover Law program – back to the beginning, actually, of the School of Law’s summer program that gives promising college students of color exposure to law school life and the legal profession.
And now, the firm’s recent $30,000 gift to the school, matched dollar for dollar by UB, will endow the Hodgson Russ LLP Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fund to support the award-winning program.
“It is a struggle to attract and retain diverse talent, and that means diversity of any kind,” says Jodyann Galvin ’98, the Hodgson Russ partner who is the firm’s liaison to the program. “By supporting something like Discover Law and UB’s efforts, it gives us a direct avenue to achieving the broader goals that we can’t accomplish on our own.”
The initiative pays dividends for the Western New York legal community and the wider profession, and it also has brought to the firm two new associates who are Discover Law alumni: UB School of Law graduate Brandon Lê ’20 and Monaliza Seepersaud, who attended Emory University School of Law.
“Onboarding, within the space of one year, two Discover Law graduates is a monumental testament to the success of that program,” Galvin says, “and it really incentivized us to take a serious look at how we could do more with the law school.”
Galvin also coordinates mentors for students in the program, what she calls “a very boots-on-the-ground, relationship-oriented effort. So much of the success of any student is having guidance from experienced professionals. I’m still in touch with all of my mentees from Discover Law.”
Three decades and counting, Phillips Lytle LLP has funded an annual diversity scholarship at UB School of Law. Now, with a substantial gift doubled by matching funds, that ahead-of-its-time effort on behalf of a more diverse legal community continues to strengthen.
“It’s become more and more important,” says Kevin Hogan, managing partner of the Buffalo law firm. “Members of the industry recognize that as a society we were lagging behind in attracting diverse members of our communities to the practice of law, and that there was an economic component to it that the scholarship could partially address. This presented us with an opportunity to make a gift to endow the scholarship that we started more than 30 years ago, and it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Hogan says the firm’s endowment gift, establishing the Phillips Lytle Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Scholarship and Program Fund, will lead to even more involvement with the law school. “What we’ve learned,” he says, “is that the scholarships are an integral component of this effort but on their own fall short of achieving the goals. We’re anticipating getting more involved in mentoring and hopefully offering internship opportunities and other types of support, so that in the end we can see a more meaningful impact from a statistical standpoint.”
Investment in diversity, he says, bears fruit across the board: “We see this as benefiting our local communities, our clients, the courts, and if it does all that, it will benefit Phillips Lytle as well.”
It’s fitting that a UB matching grant doubled the impact of a significant gift by Trini E. Ross ’92. The scholarship support she enjoyed in law school – full tuition, plus a stipend – was a university-level award, and it made all the difference.
“I had a family,” says Ross, “and that scholarship meant I didn’t have to work, that I was able to have time for family and time for my studies. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t get that help, and I had been thinking for quite some time about how I could do something now to give back to the law school. Around February I learned about the matching grant from UB and that made my decision simple.”
A past recipient of the UB Law Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumna Award for public service and an emerita member of the Dean’s Advisory Council, she also has taught trial technique at the law school – including an online course this past spring semester.
The commitment by Ross, a veteran federal prosecutor and currently the director of the Office of Investigations, Legal Division, at the National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General, will create the Trini E. Ross ’92 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fund to support students with financial need from historically underrepresented communities. “In the legal profession, people of color are underrepresented, so it’s very important to me to get people of color into the law,” she says.
“But it’s not just that. Inclusion is about race, gender, economic class, all of those things – people who have something to give, who would be great lawyers but might not be able to afford law school because of family or financial circumstances. I want to have a net for people to have this opportunity.”
With a $50,000 commitment to support student summer fellowships, the UB Law Alumni Association is investing in promoting a more diverse legal profession.
The alumni group has spent much of the past year focused on social justice and racial equity issues, says Immediate Past President Anne Joynt ’05. That included organizing a training session on racial awareness for both the LAA board and the board of the GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) Group, as well as community outreach programs on diversity and inclusion issues. “A lot of our programming has been focused on these critically important topics, and we’re very eager to engage in this much needed and long overdue conversation,” Joynt says.
The alumni association’s gift is supported by a portion of association dues, funds raised through its CLE programs and its annual alumni awards presentation. Added to the university’s match, the gift will create a $100,000 Law Alumni Association Social Justice & Racial Equity Fund – an endowed fund to support students of color when they take on summer fellowships with not-for-profit or public service organizations. Such positions typically are unpaid, making it nearly impossible for many students to pursue their passions without fellowship support.
Joynt says preference for the fellowships will be given to students from Western New York. “We’re trying to encourage students to stay here,” she says.
“When we learned about the opportunity for a matching gift,” Joynt says, “it felt like an opportunity to make an impact and know that the impact would be exponentially bigger than the gift itself.”
That commitment to diversity and inclusion was also reflected as the board planned for the year ahead, recruiting outstanding attorneys of color to serve on the 2021-2022 board of directors; Joynt says the incoming board is the most diverse in the association’s history.
Margaret W. Wong ’76, touted by many as a trailblazer in the legal community, made a transformative $500,000 gift to the School of Law in 2020 to establish the Social Justice and Racial Equity Fund. Now the impact of that gift is even greater, with UB’s allocation of $250,000 as a matching gift for the portion of Wong’s donation assigned to endowment.
Wong, who heads a thriving national immigration practice based in Cleveland, says she was inspired to give in gratitude for the scholarship support she received at UB Law. “Through the years our immigrant clients have paid us, and in my heart, I swore that as soon as I was in a position to help and pay back to my circle of influence, I would,” she says.
The fund is enabling new investments in diversity scholarships and fellowships, bar exam support for students of color, the Discover Law program, and training and programming on racial justice topics.
“The Social Justice and Racial Equity Fund is putting new focus on what I’ve been emphasizing for more than 50 years. I love that society is questioning past practices, and striving to improve inclusion and racial equity. UB Law must be at the forefront of these efforts.”
Education, Wong says, “really is the best place to see change. I love the parable about teaching the disciples to be fishers of men. I help schools build their foundations so they in turn can help youth learn the tools to make the world a better place.”