Alumni Profiles

Alumni Profiles

Learn more about our most accomplished alumni. They are a distinguished group of leading public officials & judges, law firm partners, public interest advocates, and business leaders. In each of our BLSLawNotes magazine issues, we profile a few of our best and most loyal assets - our graduates.

Read more about alumni in the news.

  • Irene Chang-Cimino '91
    Rebuilding New York

    On the morning of September 11, 2001, Irene Chang-Cimino '91 forgot to vote. She left her Battery Park City apartment bright and early, but she was on her way to Chinatown where she had volunteered to poll watch bilingual ballots for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). When she remembered, she was already on the subway, and figured she would vote later. "Who knows where I would have been when the Towers came down," she said. "My polling site was in the World Financial Center. Volunteering saved my life." Maybe so, but then she turned around and worked to help rebuild the city, not once, but twice; first as General Counsel of the Lower Manhattan Development Counsel (LMDC), and most recently as Lead Counsel of the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

    A lifelong New Yorker, Chang-Cimino was born and raised on the Lower East Side. She attended Stuyvesant High School and New York University where she majored in psychology. She spent four years at NYU Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry, but when research money became scarce, she enrolled in law school. She graduated cum laude and became at an active member of the Law School community, as President of the Asian American Law Students Association, Vice President of the Student Bar Association, Managing Editor of the school newspaper, and a performer in the Second Circus Revue, a follies and sometimes roast of then Dean, the late Honorable David Trager.

    After law school, Chang-Cimino spent five years in Shearman & Sterling's Litigation Group, and three years at the Civil Division of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, before becoming Deputy General Counsel of, a high profile start-up poised to go public that quickly became a casualty of the dot-com bust. It was August of 2001 and Chang-Cimino was out of a job. While planning her next steps, she joined the Board of Directors of the AALDEF, including volunteering as a poll watcher on that clear morning in September.

    With the downtown community in ruins, Chang-Cimino was without a home (Battery Park residents couldn't return), but she was certain of what she wanted to do next—help rebuild her city. When an opportunity to work at the LMDC became available, she did not hesitate. Over the course of nearly 10 years, Chang-Cimino worked her way up from Vice President for Legal Affairs to General Counsel and Secretary. She was responsible for all legal and governance matters, worked closely with municipal, state, and federal agencies on grant agreements, and completed all legal requirements for the World Trade Center Memorial and Redevelopment Plan.

    Chang-Cimino left the LMDC after a decade to join Seedco, a nonprofit dedicated to community development and community-based lending. A year later, Hurricane Sandy battered the Northeast, devastating lower Manhattan once again along with so many vital communities in the region. Chang-Cimino realized that her years in government and work at LMDC made her uniquely qualified to help. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Sean Donovan agreed. In early 2013, he appointed her Lead Counsel to the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. "Our goal was not only to help people recover in the short term, but, given the size of federal investment, to be mindful of the future in terms of how to strengthen communities and make resilient, long-term improvements to the physical infrastructure," she said.

    At the conclusion of seven months, the Task Force produced "The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy," a 212-page report with 69 policy recommendations, many of which have already been adopted. The recommendations included helping homeowners stay and repair their homes (a moratorium on foreclosure was adopted), strengthening small businesses, revitalizing local economies, and ensuring entire communities are better able to withstand and recover from future storms. "We have cut red tape, piloted cutting-edge programs, and strengthened our partnership with state and local officials," President Obama said in a press release announcing the publication of the Strategy.

    The Task Force sun set a month shy of the anniversary of Sandy, but Chang-Cimino has been offered the opportunity to continue working on the recovery, as Senior Advisor–Strategic Regional Coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a role dedicated to Hurricane Sandy and other recovery efforts in the region, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland.

    "I am a lifelong New Yorker who has seen the city change in so many ways," she said. "It means a lot to me to be a part of the recovery of the region and all the places I call home. I only hope that in the not too distant future my community development work will stop being in the context of a disaster."

  • Kenneth Shapiro '61
    Albany's Power Broker

    When Ken Shapiro '61 was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, he was a diehard Dodgers fan. When the team defected to Los Angeles, he was crushed. "It was horrible, just horrible," he said. "I swore off baseball for years after that." Perhaps if young Shapiro had brought his lobbying skills to the table, the Dodgers might still be playing at Ebbets Field. Shapiro, a partner at Wilson Elser and the founder and chair of its Government Relations Practice, is one of the most well-respected and sought-after lobbyists in New York. In May, he was named to City and State's "Power 100 List" of the top 100 most powerful "players" in Albany. He was the highest ranked lobbyist on the list.

    Shapiro attended Farleigh Dickinson College and decided on law school, "because I didn't want to go to work yet," he recalled with a laugh. But from the first day of class, he said, he knew he had found his life's work. "I loved law school," he said. "The subject matter was fascinating. I loved reading cases, and I enjoyed the dialogue with my professors, in particular Dean Jerome Prince whom I was lucky enough to have twice."

    After law school, he connected with Assemblyman Stanley Fink who urged him to join the Democratic Club of Canarsie. Soon, he was off to Albany as Assistant Counsel to Minority Leader Stanley Steingut. He remained with the New York State Assembly for 19 years, serving as Chief Counsel to three Speakers: Steingut, Stanley Fink, and Melvin Miller.

    "Sometimes you fall in love, and I just fell in love with the Assembly," he said. "It was an exciting place with some really articulate and eloquent debaters. I can still remember the debates on the death penalty and the night that the abortion bill passed. It was very moving to be part of the process."

    After two decades, Shapiro decided it was time to move on. "There comes a time when you are burned out, when you don't want to look at your phone messages," he said. "That's when you know it’s time to go." He moved into private practice, first at Bower & Gardner and then to Wilson Elser in 1994 to start their Government Relations practice. His group represents state and national associations and Fortune 500 corporations with concerns in areas as diverse as health care, energy and environment, telecommunications, taxation, insurance, transportation, financial services, accounting, education, construction, tourism, and entertainment. Longtime clients include the Big Four accounting firms and the Healthcare Association of New York State.

    Under his leadership, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has ranked Wilson Elser the number one lobbying firm in the state of New York for the past 16 years. For 13 straight years, Wilson Elser has taken in the most lobbying revenue of any other firm, according to state data. Lobbying revenue in the Albany office has jumped 56% and the Albany branch is Wilson Elser’s most profitable of its 21 offices.

    Shapiro dismisses those who disparage his chosen profession. "Like every industry, there are good lobbyists and bad ones, but lobbying is something that is part of the foundation of our government. My client for many years has been the Healthcare Association of New York State. When they needed money for a new infant unit, I fought for them." But Shapiro is discriminating in choosing his clients; if the cause affronts his morality, he says no.

    Looking back on three decades in Albany, Shapiro has no regrets. "If I could do it all over again, I would," he said. "Being in government is incredibly exciting. I was just so lucky." If only he could get the Dodgers back.

  • Good Sport: A Conversation with FSU Athletic Director Stan Wilcox ’88

    For those who don’t spend weekends glued to the games, Florida State University is among the Goliaths of college sports. Its Seminoles teams finished among the Top 15 in each of the last seven years in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which measures overall program excellence. It won six ACC regular season or tournament championships in 2012–2013, including football, and all but one sport advanced to NCAA postseason competition. In total, 31 FSU student-athletes were named All-Americans last year, and five Seminoles were named ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in their sports. It is also the only school with more than one starting quarterback in the 2013 NFL season (Christian Ponder of the Minnesota Vikings and EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills are both FSU grads). The man just hired to propel the Seminoles to the next chapter of greatness? Brooklyn Law School’s Stan Wilcox ’88.

    Wilcox started out a student-athlete himself. At Notre Dame, he played basketball for the Fighting Irish, leading them to the 1978 Final Four against Duke, and a four-year ledger of 92–26 with four NCAA Tournament berths. After Notre Dame, Wilcox made his way to Brooklyn Law School. After graduating, he took a series of powerful positions, first with the NCAA (as a legislative assistant) and then with the Big East (as their representative to the NCAA Management Council). During his 11 years with the Big East, he served on the NCAA recruiting task force, received the National Association of Athletics Compliance Coordinators Outstanding Achievement Award, helped create the Minority Opportunity Athletics Association, and served as president of the Black Coaches Association. He returned to his alma mater in 2005 as deputy director of athletics at Notre Dame and became senior deputy director of athletics at Duke in 2008.

    This New York native is now at the helm of one of the country’s most impressive college athletics departments, where he’s responsible for planning and directing the overall administrative and operational activities of the university’s 20 athletics programs.
    Just days after the Seminoles crushed the Nevada Wolf Pack 62-7 in their football home opener, LawNotes’ Managing Editor Andrea Strong ’94 spoke to Wilcox from his Tallahassee offices about his dream of playing pro ball, the challenges of being FSU’s Athletic Director, and the responsibility he feels for the welfare of his student-athletes.

    You started out playing basketball at Notre Dame. Do you still play?

    Unfortunately, I don’t. When I was at Duke, I agreed to participate in Coach K’s Basketball Academy, a fantasy camp for individuals 35 years and older. We played two games a day, and by the second game of the last day, my knees were so swollen I had to stop. My coach was Grant Hill, and I told him, I love you, but I can’t go on. It took me three months to walk regularly again. That put me into permanent retirement. These days, I golf and walk for exercise.

    Was it a dream of yours to play professional sports?

    It was. You don’t realize how good you are in a sport until you get an opportunity to participate against others on a national level in your age range. Between junior and senior year at North Babylon High School, I went to Five-Star Basketball Camp and played against some of the best players in the country. I played pretty well, and in my senior year I was recruited by the top schools and ended up going to Notre Dame. My aspirations were to play professionally, but I didn’t play as much my junior and senior years, and I was not a highly touted professional prospect. Although I did get offers to play in Europe, I was married and had a baby, and I didn’t want to keep chasing a dream that might not happen, especially since I had a family.

    What led you to law school?

    I actually never planned on going to law school. After Notre Dame, I became an assistant coach at CW Post for one year, but I felt like I needed a career. I took a job as an account executive for Serres, Visone & Rice Insurance in Manhattan. It was owned by Joe Monticello, whose father was a Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice, and Gerald Esposito, who was the Brooklyn Borough President for many years. They encouraged me to work for the courts and to go to law school. Through them, I took a position in Brooklyn Supreme Court as a senior court analyst with Judge Yoswine. I worked there for eight years and for four of them, I attended BLS in the evening program.

    You went to law school to find a “regular career” and yet it led you back to the world of sports.

    True. But I knew I wanted to get back into athletics. I was thinking of maybe being a sports agent or of working for the front office of a professional team. I happened to go back to a Notre Dame football game and ran into an old friend who was an attorney with the NCAA in enforcement. She told me that they were interested in hiring people with legal backgrounds.

    I worked at the NCAA for five years, helping membership understand the rules and regulations and helping them craft and change legislation. I got a bird’s-eye view of how that organization operates. From there I was recruited to work for the Big East Conference as an associate commissioner. I grew the regulatory side of the services they provide to their member schools. After 11 terrific years, I went to work for my alma mater, Notre Dame, as deputy athletics director, and worked with Dr. Kevin White who became my longtime mentor.

    What did you learn from your mentor, White?

    White has a total understanding of what it means to be an effective athletic director. From him, I learned how to navigate the politics that go along with running an athletics department. That’s not just the politics on your campus with professors, deans, presidents, and all the various constituents and stakeholders. He taught me the “big picture” politics of your position within the conference. You have to be selfless enough to make decisions that may not be best for your institution, but that are in the best interests of your conference and the NCAA as a whole.
    He also taught me that an AD needs to be a good steward of the budget and has to look to the future to add to the fan experience and create amenities that add new streams of revenue. I also learned the need to have a master facilities plan. Student-athletes are savvy consumers. They want the best facilities to play and practice in, and want the best training and medical attention. If you are falling behind in those areas, you will lose prospects that you need to create winning programs.

    You’ve been at FSU since September 1st. What’s it been like?

    It’s a big job with a lot of public relations components. Last week, which was only my third week on the job, there was an athletic Board of Trustees meeting, a Gathering of the Chiefs Appreciation Party (a mix and mingle with boosters, donors, coaches, and student-athletes), dinner at the President’s House, and a Hall of Fame banquet in which we inducted seven former student-athletes. Before the home opener, I attended a dedication of our new indoor practice facility for our football program and did a radio show. Then I was on the field to shake the hands of the Hall of Fame inductees. In between all of that I’ve been trying to get to all our athletic events: soccer, football, tennis, golf, and cross-country. It’s busy, but I love it down here.

    Being an AD means dealing with serious issues too. Sports Illustrated recently published an in-depth series about players who received under-the-table income from boosters. How do you deal with this at FSU?

    We are all in glass houses when it comes to that, but one of the areas that is a strength for me is compliance. FSU puts a lot of resources into compliance, which for me, in considering the job, was very important. There are three challenges in being an AD: student-athlete balance, economics, and compliance, which is a shared responsibility of everyone who has anything to do with athletics, from top down. I have to set the tone for the entire department and we have to be vigilant in communicating this to the entire community.
    We also have to self-police so if there is a violation, it is reported to the NCAA or conference office. You can get into big problems when you don’t do regular maintenance. I stress that to all my student-athletes, coaches, staff, and everyone when I give a talk to benefactors and boosters. They have to hear that message. You might think you can help out a student-athlete, but you may be jeopardizing the entire program, and you don’t want to be that person.

    You mentioned student-athlete balance and economics as the other challenges you face?

    I tell student-athletes all the time, just as you compete for MVP on the field, you have to take that same mentality and energy and apply it to academics, because when your playing days are over, the education piece will always be with you. That’s what will get you a job.
    The economics challenge is what we call “the arms race.” Athletics is about people having opportunities to flourish in a sport that they love and providing the necessary tools and funding that each coach and program needs to be successful. That is what I have to provide. But we don’t want to be in a position where the faculty can’t get funding because it’s being siphoned off for athletics programs. We want to be an auxiliary unit where we can turn money back to university. The constant challenge is to figure out ways to capture new resources.

    Do you have any advice for current students who might want to have a career in sports law?

    It would be helpful, while in law school, to seek paid or volunteer internships at law firms with entertainment/sports departments, or with professional sports teams, leagues, the NCAA, NAIA, collegiate conferences, or institutions’ athletics departments, specifically in the area of compliance. It’s also helpful to join an entertainment or sports lawyers association. At the end of the day, my advice is to follow your passion. Then, it doesn’t matter how many hours you put in the day because your passion for doing the job takes over.

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