In 1981, Nancy Hershey Lord, Class of 1980, became the first law clerk for legendary Brooklyn-based Bankruptcy Judge Conrad B. Duberstein. Thirty years later, on February 29, 2012, Judge Lord was sworn in as a United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of New York, with chambers at the Conrad B. Duberstein United States Bankruptcy Courthouse, returning full circle to where her career began.
Judge Lord graduated with a degree in political science from SUNY Stony Brook, and then enrolled in Brooklyn Law School, anticipating a career in politics. But her ambitions took an unexpected turn: After her first year of law school, she was selected to be a judicial intern for then Bankruptcy Judge Joseph Costa. “I’d never taken a debtor-creditor class, and I knew nothing about bankruptcy law,” she recalled. At that time, bankruptcy judges were not entitled to law clerks, and as Judge Costa’s sole legal assistant, Lord was given tremendous responsibility and unparalleled experience. “It was fabulous training. If not for that clerkship, I would not be sitting here today,” she said.
Lord had planned on clerking for Judge Costa after law school, but he suddenly passed away just two weeks before she sat for the bar exam. She was hired by his interim replacement Judge Saul Seidman and then by Judge Duberstein, serving as his first law clerk. In total, Lord spent nearly five years clerking in the Eastern District, and, in her words, “falling in love with bankruptcy law.”
“Bankruptcy appealed to me because it’s interdisciplinary. You have to deal with many areas of the law simultaneously—real estate, contracts, corporate governance, debtor-creditor, matrimonial, the UCC,” she explained. “It’s like being an internist. You have to understand how all the parts of the ‘debtor’ body work so that you can take something that is ailing and fix it.”
Lord was recruited by Botein Hays & Sklar in 1983 to assist attorney Sheldon Lowe in his efforts to start a bankruptcy department. Four years later, she moved on to Herzfeld & Rubin, a general practice law firm, where under the supervision and guidance of senior partner and long-time mentor, Herbert Rubin, she was given responsibility for the firm’s bankruptcy work, becoming a partner herself in 1996. “Herb Rubin is a lawyer’s lawyer, and I could not have had a better role model or a better place to hone my skills as an attorney.”
Lord joined the Office of the New York State Attorney General as an Assistant Attorney General under Eliot Spitzer in 1999. In her 12 years at the AG’s office, Lord first served in a dual role as Section Chief of the General Recoveries Unit of the Civil Recoveries Bureau, a unit dedicated to recovering debt owed to the State, and as the bankruptcy attorney responsible for protecting the State’s interests as creditor, regulator, watchdog and contract vendee in bankruptcy and insolvency matters. She then launched and led a separate Bankruptcy Unit in the Office’s Albany Litigation Bureau, notably representing the State’s interests in many high profile cases including the New York Racing Association bankruptcy. During her tenure at the AG’s office, Lord recovered tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the State. “I loved the work at the AG’s office, and there is no other job I would have left for but this one,” she said.
Lord says that becoming a bankruptcy judge in a time of economic strife has given her an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many individuals who are struggling with the threat of foreclosure. She is participating in the Court’s loss-mitigation program that provides a court-supervised structure for bankruptcy debtors and their secured creditors to meet and discuss ways in which foreclosure might be averted through loan modification. “Both sides have the same interest,” she said. “The lender doesn’t really want the house, and the homeowner doesn’t want to give up the home. It can be a win-win situation for them to work out a deal.”
It is a program that she knows would please her former judge, Conrad B. Duberstein. “Connie was an amazing judge,” she said. “Regardless of how he ruled, those appearing before him felt that they were heard and got a fair shake. Similarly, my hope each day when I put on my robe and take the bench, is that all parties feel that, win or lose, they had their day in court.”