Public Service Awards Honors the Contributions of Class of ’24 and Professionals in the Field

Public Service Awards

In a special ceremony, Brooklyn Law School honored public service work with awards for those in the field, as well as Class of 2024 members who have performed exceptionally by working in the Law School’s own clinics and on various pro bono projects.

The students honored at the April 2 event devoted a combined 87,000 hours to assisting immigrants, small business owners, survivors of domestic violence, people threatened with eviction, and many others in need of legal service. They worked with a wide range of government agencies and entities that provide critical public services, such as the Legal Aid Society, the Veterans Advocacy Project, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Additionally, three awards were presented for those who have distinguished themselves in public service careers.

President and Joseph Crea Dean David D. Meyer opened the event, describing the school’s public service work, including its five-plus decades of clinical work and its long list of pro bono projects, which span a range of practice areas and populations, as representing the “lifeblood of Brooklyn Law School.” Noting that housing justice was a key theme of the work of this year’s honorees, Meyer presented the Distinguished Commitment to Public Service Award to keynote speaker Steven Banks, special counsel in the pro bono practice at Paul, Weiss. Banks previously served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Social Services from 2014 to 2022, where his accomplishments included establishing the first-in-the-nation Right to Counsel program for low-income tenants.

He also spent three decades at New York City’s Legal Aid Society. While there, Banks said, he visited local law schools, including Brooklyn Law School, and would have liked to hire as many graduates as he could. He recognized that while some students would go into public service, others would end up at private law firms, doing pro bono work and making an impact in other ways, he said.

“Whatever public service path you choose, the most important thing is to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say to yourself, ‘I'm going to go to work to make a difference today,’ whatever you choose in the practice of law,” Banks said. “It is hard work to make a difference, but that’s really what your North Star has to be and can be. Do not forget what you knew before you went to law school, when you knew there were people who needed help. Your law degree gives you the ability to provide that help, no matter what path you choose.”

The Faculty Award for Excellence in Public Service was presented to Professor David Reiss by Assistant Professor of Law Naveen Thomas. Reiss, who is the founding director of Brooklyn Law School’s Community Development Clinic, was a pioneer in “using legal education as a tool to teach practical skills, to instill in students the lasting value of pro bono work, to empower underserved individuals and communities, and to promote economic growth from the ground up,” Thomas said.

“People often assume that business lawyers are focused solely on maximizing profits and promoting corporate interests detached from the realm of public service,” Thomas said. “But to the contrary, one of my principal goals as a law professor has been to dispel this notion by demonstrating to students that business law and public service are not incompatible, and that, in fact, when properly used, the first can be used to advance the second and David personifies this.”

In his remarks, Reiss shared some advice for students: “Always remember that feeling, in a clinic or when you are doing pro bono work of helping a person. Maybe they are faced with eviction, maybe they’re faced with the loss of their home,” Reiss said. “Remember that feeling of incredible personal satisfaction in yourself of making that difference. And everyone in this room has felt that.”

Even that very day, Reiss said, he felt that sensation of helping others when civil lawyers asked him to testify at a hearing next month for someone whose home was lost in a foreclosure rescue scam a decade ago, and to utilize his knowledge of a “very obscure area of the law” to shed light on this type of case. “They needed somebody who is very specialized to explain it to the judge in this hearing, and they asked me to do that, and I was very happy to do it,” Reiss said.

Rose L. Hoffer Professor of Law Elizabeth Schneider presented the Alumni Award for Excellence in Public Service to Jane Landry-Reyes ’93, who has been an assistant attorney general in the New York State Office of Attorney General’s housing protection unit since December 2019, and was senior staff attorney and supervisor at Brooklyn Legal Services for the previous 15 years. Schneider noted that Landry-Reyes was one of the earlier students in the Sparer Public Interest Law Fellowship program, which launched in 1986 as one of the first public interest law programs in the country and has since served as an anchor for public service programming at the school.

“Jane was a joy, and really part of my vision of why we started the program, because she was already committed to public service,” Schneider, who is founding director of the Sparer program said. She added that among Landry-Reyes' many accomplishments were developing and teaching an elder law clinic at Brooklyn Law School for a number of years, cofounding the Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest (BLSPI), and working to help protect those in need of housing in her roles at the Attorney General’s office, and Brooklyn Legal Services. “She has had an unwavering commitment to the issues of housing discrimination, eviction, and to representing people who need access to legal resources,” Schneider said.

In her remarks, Landry-Reyes credited Schneider, Professor Stacy Caplow—the Law School's first dean overseeing all aspects of clinical and experiential education—and others at the Law School for helping guide her career. After becoming a Sparer fellow and working with the committee members behind the program, “I realized that they would be my guides, my mentors, and my champions,” she said. “Navigating these in-house clinics gave me the opportunity to have my own caseload under the careful supervision of skilled practitioners who challenged me not only to provide superb representation but to reflect on what it meant to center your clients in that representation. This was of course invaluable preparation for post-graduation life as a lawyer.”

Landry-Reyes' first job after law school was a fellowship in Buffalo, N.Y., where she helped provide legal services to women who were working on securing public service benefits and transitioning back to employment. That experience made her realize how much she could learn from clients. “I think I learned a lot more from that community of women, and the way they were organizing for each other, even though I was the one providing a service to them,” she said.

In closing, Landry-Reyes advised students to maintain the Law School ties they have made over the years.

“I wish you all the best in your career, I encourage you to stay in touch with your mentors here at law school, and always turn to the vast network of public interest lawyers like me, who are eager to see you all succeed,” she said.

Student Awards

Two special student categories were part of the evening’s festivities: The Pro Bono Scholars devoted thousands of hours to working full-time at nonprofit organizations, while Pro Bono Project Leaders have dedicated their time and passion to running the Law School’s 20 current projects.

Caplow presented awards to the student honorees who performed outstanding service at various hourly levels, while Public Service Law Center Director Jacqueline Cheney presented the Pro Bono Leadership and Access to Justice Awards.

The student honorees are as follows:

Gold, 1,000-plus hours: Taylor Abbruzzese; Jonathan Apsan; Alexandra Berlingeri; Rosalie Calvet-Soubiran; Sarah Corsico ; Torrey Crim; John Cusker; Martharay Dallman; Molly Davis; Jonathan Doolittle; Zachary Elvove; Austen Fisher; Jessica Flaherty; Shayna Goldberg; Caroline Golub; Davon Harris; Dina Khedr; Mackenzie Kramer; Shreya Krishnamurthy; Katarzyna Krzyzanowski; Bianca Li; Brooke Magalhaes; Elisabeth Mayer; Julia McHale; Madison Moore; Sophia Overall; Alison Peebles; Stephanie Person; Stephanie Pettit; Jack Ralph; Nicole Reed; Leyna Reynolds; Rahmel Lee Robinson; Olivia Ryan; Moriah Schindler; Forrest Stakelum; Miri Trauner; Ashley Vega; Ashley Velasquez; Grace Vetromile; Meredith Yates.

Silver, 500-999 hours: Adam Ackerman; Marlon Amaya; Kevin Anthony; Youngchool Bae; Olivia Cassandro; Nicole Davidson; Sloane Forbush; Michael Futral; Jordan Gladstone; Ilya Halecky; Matthew Hans; Zoe Harrelson-Louie; Alexandria Henke; Megan Henley; Mackenzie Jacobs; Pengyu Jiang; Nicholas Kenworthy; Zoya Khan; Julia Leebove; Ian Mauro; Claire Miolene; Jeremy Nelson; Jimmy Nguyen; Caitlin Oakley; Hery Park; Olivia Pascal; Ryan Raschella; Samantha Schmitz; Brendan Sullivan; Ameena Tahir; Petro Zinchenko.

Public Service, 100-499 Hours: Noah Abdelaziz; Juliette Adams; Michelle Agiviav; Miriam Avrutin; Jillian Banks; Emma Barranca; Marina Barron; Sabrina Bernstein; Joseph Bizub; Yehuda Blumenfrucht; Naomi Boico; Zaynah Chaudhury; Joanne Choi; Aniqa Chowdhury; Robert Cortes; Anthony Damon; Maria Fischer; Jose Gerez; Stephanie Goebel; Maya Golan; Alejandro Rosa Guzman; Deeba Haeri; Kathryn Hennessey; Yizheng Huang; Julianne Hynes; Samantha Imber; Deeba Izadpanah; Paulina Jedrzejowski; Alyson Jensen; Marko Jukić; Callie Kramsky; Presley Klinger; Joanna Lamberta; Melissa Levine; Elizabeth Loizides; Ezra Mann; David Noh; Giselle Omar; Steven Piniella; Engin Polar; Jessica Ramsawak; Amina Rana; Davis Rosser; Beatrice Rubin; Alexa Scunziano; Allie Shaffer; Jake Starr; Marian Strauss; Caroline Tsai; Jowel Uddin.

Pro Bono Leadership: Noah Abdelaziz; Marlon Amaya; Olivia Baccellieri; Jillian Banks; Sarah Corsico; John Cusker; Nicole Davidson; Austen Fisher; Jessica Flaherty; Stephanie Goebel; Shayna Goldberg; Alexandria Henke; Shannon Herman; Mackenzie Kramer; Alma Lawson-Garcia; Nicholas Mead; Claire Miolene; Jeremy Nelson; Jami Nicholson; Alison Peebles; Stephanie Pettit; Samantha Schmitz; Grace Vetromile.

Access to Justice Pro Bono Scholars: Aurora Hermida; Jacqueline Martin; Alison Peebles; Laura Reynolds; Rahmel Lee Robinson; Meredith Yates.

See photos of the event on Flickr.