It is always nice to see familiar faces when going to an unfamiliar place for the first time and that is what some first-year law students from the Rochester area will have when they report for orientation Aug. 23 at SUNY Buffalo Law School.
Nine students gathered Tuesday to meet with law school deans, judges and upper classmates in Courtroom 409 of the Hall of Justice, where Supreme Court Justice John J. Ark usually hears cases.
Justice Ark, a SUNY Buffalo Law School alumnus, said he specifically wanted to host the annual meet-and-greet luncheon in a courtroom this year, joking that he wanted the students to see one because, “if you do it right, you may never have to come into a courtroom again.”
Merrick Sadler of Rochester said she enjoyed being able to put faces to the names of people she has spoken with.
“I’m really touched that everyone has come today and that they’re taking an interest in the start of our new career and our new educational venture,” she said.
Sadler, a graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College, said she was inspired to go to SUNY Buffalo Law by one of her professors, local attorney William K. Taylor, whom she said encouraged her to apply. Taylor is also a SUNY Buffalo Law graduate.
“I think the reception is a great networking opportunity and it’s a joy to meet different judges and attorneys who graduated from the program,” said Gabriella MacDonald of Rochester, who will be entering her second year of law school, but her first at SUNY Buffalo. She is transferring from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.
Justice Ark introduced other SUNY Buffalo Law graduates including Monroe County Family Court Judge Gail A. Donofrio and his longtime law clerk Fred Infantino. He said Justice J. Scott Odorisi, who was present, is not a UB grad, but that his law clerk Leslie Swift is.
Paul Meabon of Churchville, another Roberts Wesleyan grad, is entering his third year at SUNY Buffalo Law. He is in the final days of a summer clerkship program.
Justice Odorisi, who received his juris doctor from John Marshall Law School in Chicago, said he and Justice Ark are looking into the possibility of having interns on a regular basis.
Justice Ark said Meabon is working on a case for Justice Odorisi involving the city’s red light cameras, something he deemed appropriate, joking that he has seen Meabon “go through red lights constantly.”
On a more serious note, he told the incoming students they will find SUNY Buffalo Law School is “a big deal” — and the only law school in Western New York. He encouraged his son Jake, who is entering his second year, to attend his alma mater.
Jake Ark spent much of the summer working with yet other SUNY Buffalo Law grad, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., for whom he law clerked. The younger Ark, who also served as counsel to the University of Rochester Medical Center, is a third-generation attorney, named for his grandfather who was also a judge in Monroe County.
Ilene R. Fleischmann, the law school’s vice dean for alumni and communications, said about 1,000 of the 3,000 attorneys in the Rochester area are from SUNY Buffalo Law.
Jim Newton, vice dean for administration, said in the coming months, the students will come to appreciate the faculty, their peers and former graduates who will go out of their way to help them.
“I love this event,” he said. “This is sort of our kickoff. This is the first time many of us get to meet you.”
The annual reception was started in 2001 by now retired Supreme Court Justice Thomas M. Van Strydonck, another SUNY Buffalo Law School alumnus, whose daughter Sara was just starting law school at his alma mater.
Sara Van Strydonck is now an assistant in the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office. Justice Van Strydonck hosted his last student luncheon in 2012 when he passed the torch to Justice Ark who has been attending the event for many years.
“I’m very happy that Judge Ark has agreed to continue this tradition,” said Lillie V. Wiley-Upshaw, vice dean for admissions and student life at SUNY Buffalo Law. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the new students in the Rochester area to come out. We enjoy it as much as the students.”
Justice Ark said continuing the tradition is the least he could do for the law school that “that has done so much for me.”