Family Ties: Alumni Relatives to Bestow Degrees to 16 Class of ’23 Graduates
For countless Brooklyn Law School graduates, being part of the alumni “family” is more than a metaphor. It literally means joining their parents, grandparents, siblings, or other family members who have preceded them at the Law School. At Commencement, 16 members of the Class of 2023 will follow a great Law School tradition in which alumni family members present them with their degrees.
Among these proud grads are two whose grandmothers will do the honors: Jacob Hirsch ’23 will be joined by grandmother Harriet Newman Cohen ’74; and Jacob Viener ’23 will have grandmother Phyllis Sanders ’84, and mother, Meryl Sanders Viener ’92, at his side.
Putting Public Service First
Jacob Hirsch ’23 (“Jake” to family and friends) will begin a staff attorney position with the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County after graduation, but he got his first taste of legal work at the firm started by his grandmother Harriet Newman Cohen ’74, founding partner of Cohen Stine Kapoor.
“In our family, it’s a rite of passage to work for Grandma for a few years,” said Hirsch, a former intern and later paralegal at the high-profile Manhattan matrimonial and family law practice. Cohen couldn’t have been more pleased with her grandson’s performance.
“When Jake worked for us, we invited him into our Friday brainstorming meetings because his work was extraordinary. He had great insights,” she said. The respect is mutual. “As an adult, seeing my grandmother in her element changed my perspective on who she was,” Hirsch said. “She has had an incredible career and is such a dynamic and amazing person.”
While Hirsch was drawn to criminal defense through his pro bono work at the BLS/Exoneration Innocence Clinic (in conjunction with the nonprofit Exoneration Initiative), the Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn Criminal Defense Practice, and NY County Defender Services, the skills he gained at Cohen’s practice readily translated to his chosen field, and even helped him get his first internship, with the Federal Defenders of the Eastern District of California.
“She put me in front of client communications, and I was involved in creating documents like post-nuptial agreements,” Hirsch said. “I had no legal training when I started at the firm as an undergrad, but I learned to read and condense legal documents into easy-to-absorb materials for clients. In my interview with the Federal Defenders, I connected how that experience could translate to the criminal defense setting and make clients feel comfortable. It set me on this path.”
This year, Hirsch received a Gold Award for Outstanding Public Service from the Law School for performing more than 1,000 hours of pro bono and public service work.
Cohen has had what she calls a “second-life career,” having enrolled at Brooklyn Law School (where she made Law Review) while in her 30s and raising four daughters as a single mother.
“It was like walking into a Shangri-La, after not being in the presence of educators for years,” Cohen said. Her professors, such as former deans Jerome Prince and the Hon. I. Leo Glasser, as well as the legendary Joseph Crea, she added, “were dedicated, brilliant, and cutting-edge. It was a thrill to be sitting there and soaking up what they had to teach us.”
Cohen, who went on to become one of the country’s top matrimonial and family law attorneys, has continued to share her love for the Law School as a member of the President’s Advisory Council and as a participant in the Women’s Leadership Network programs, and was the 2020 Alumna of the Year. Naturally, when it came to deciding on where to go to law school, Hirsch said his grandmother was his inspiration. “She told me about her amazing experience and professors, and my own time at Brooklyn Law has lived up to hers. It’s one of the best pedagogical experiences I’ve had,” he said. Commencement is just the beginning, Cohen said. “Jake is a shining light and a wonderful advocate. He’s going to go places!”
A Legacy of Law and Giving Back
For Jacob Viener, graduating from Brooklyn Law School is a multi-generational family tradition. Jacob (“Jack” to friends and family) follows in the footsteps of his late grandfather Stanley Sanders ’66; his grandmother Phyllis Sanders ’84, who became a lawyer following a career as a teacher; and his mother, Meryl Sanders Viener ’92 (who also was presented with her law degree by her parents). Phyllis and Meryl, as well as Jack’s father, Joseph Viener, are partners in the family’s Long Island practice, The Sanders Law Firm, which specializes in personal injury law and was founded by Stanley Sanders in 1967.
The law wasn’t Viener’s original ambition. He began undergrad work in pre-med at the University of Miami but made a 180-degree turn to study history, and took a year after graduation to teach in Israel. Then, like many other family members, he worked at the family practice and decided to set his sights on a legal education.
“I saw the variety of the job,” Jack said. “There are different problems to solve every day. And I realized that a law degree makes you think about how you look at the world.”
His decision to go to Brooklyn had a lot to do with Stanley Sanders: “My grandfather loved the school. He gave Brooklyn Law all the credit for the success he had,” Viener said.
Her son’s decision to pursue the law did not surprise Meryl Viener. “From an early age, Jack has been persuasive,” she said. “He’s good at arguing different points of view. We knew we had a budding lawyer.” That ability came in handy around the family dinner table.
“We don’t always agree on things, but it was great to get my parents’ and my grandmother’s perspectives as lawyers working in the field, to hear about their personal experiences. I always got advice from them, and they always asked about what I was learning and what caught my interest,” Jacob Viener said. Among those great interests was working with the Law School’s Disability and Civil Rights Clinic. “It’s such an important clinic. The impact it has on people’s lives makes it meaningful to take these cases pro bono,” he said.
That makes perfect sense to Phyllis.
“Jack is smart, and he cares about people,” she said. “As an attorney you have to care about your clients. The combination is going to make him a success.”
For the Sanders-Viener family, Brooklyn Law School is more than the institution where they received a great legal education; it’s where they make it possible for others to have that same opportunity. Stanley and Phyllis Sanders and Meryl Viener established the Sanders Family Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a deserving student. The family spirit of giving back, not only to the Law School but also to organizations like the UJA Federation, is something they have passed on to Jack.
“They’re very generous with their money as well as their time. That’s something they tried to instill in me and my sisters from an early age,” Jack said. “There will always be a special place in my heart for Brooklyn Law School.”
In addition to Hirsch and Viener, the graduates and their alumni family members include:
Kathryn Daly and mother Lisa Howlett ’90
Chetram Deochand and cousin Vimla Warslie ’19
Solomon Elefant and father Sheldon Elefant ’03
Alex Firstein-Rudder and father Paul Eric Rudder ’68
Brian Gardner and mother Polly Schiavone ’88
Nicole Horn and mother Lisa Salvatore ’91
Mikayla Leef and uncle Michael Cibella ’96
Jeffrey Lefkowitz and brother Andrew Lefkowitz ’22
Christian Macaluso and parents Donna Fafinski ’89 and Joseph Macaluso ’90
Jackie Perrotta and mother Linda DeCorato Perrotta ’88
Rachel Schwartz and mother Betsy Rosen Schwartz ’87
Mohammad Tahir and cousin Tahir Boykins ’16
Graeme Waples and brother Lane Waples ’22
Carly Waxman and cousin Elissa Stern ’12