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    10.31.14 Leading the School: The 1901 Society
    1901 Society Logo

    This year marked the beginning of exciting new changes to the 1901 Society, an influential group of alumni and friends of Brooklyn Law School from a wide range of backgrounds and careers in private practice, government, business, and industry who have made an ongoing commitment to support the Law School (1901 Society members donate $5,000 per year; Associates, who are recent graduates from the last ten years, donate $1,000 per year).  The Law School has refocused the 1901 Society so that members now have the opportunity to invest in the school in a more meaningful way and can play a more active role in shaping the future of BLS.

    In addition to invitations to a variety of academic and social events, members are now taking part in “Leading the School” events, designed to solicit their input on a range of issues the Law School is facing. At these interactive planning sessions, members, in partnership with Dean Allard, the Faculty, and the Board of Trustees, work together on key challenges for the Law School and strategize as to the best ways to address these.  

    The opportunity to make a lasting impact on the Law School has been met with an unprecedented outpouring of support from the alumni community. Last year, the 1901 Society had three Associate Members (recent graduates with the last 10 years); it now has 23, along with a robust membership of 119 members, which has grown substantially in the last two years.

    “Our graduates have the opportunity now to become truly engaged with the direction and the future of the Law School,” said Jared McDuffey, Acting Deputy Director of Development.  “There is so much value that can be gained by listening to our alumni in this meaningful way.”

    Alumni, for their part, are eager to contribute. Sean Comerford ’12, counsel to a claims management company, Canopy Claims, is one such example. “I had been thinking about more ways to get involved in the continued health of the law school without simply writing a check, and then I learned about the 1901 Society,” he said. “The 1901 Society events and brainstorming sessions are a refreshing change from the simple ‘donation drives’ and email blasts that much of higher education tends to direct to alumni. Inviting alumni to engage with the law school and voice concerns or give suggestions not only assists in the networking aspects of the Society membership, but also avoids the typical pitfalls of other forms of alumni engagement.”

    For Comerford, the connection to BLS is particularly strong; his late father, Brian Comerford, was a longtime and beloved tax professor. “I have memories of visiting BLS with him and spending time in the classrooms, and meeting my dad's colleagues, long before I entertained studying law myself. BLS helped contribute to my family's livelihood while I was growing up in a very direct way, and working on the 1901 Society's projects is a way for me to return a little of that.”

    Vinoo Varghese, Class of 2000, is also an ardent supporter of the Law School and a member of the 1901 Society. A 2014 NYLJ Rising Star, Varghese runs a successful criminal defense practice and has represented high-profile defendants in noteworthy matters. Grateful for the education and opportunities he was given through BLS, Varghese has continued to support both the Law School and its students. He has not only given financially, but he has frequently served as a speaker for panels at the Law School, as a Moot Court Honor Society Judge, and he has led and advised the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association for more than a decade. He joined the 1901 Society last year because, he explained, “I wanted to give back even more and I thought joining the Society was an even stronger statement of support for the School and its students. The 1901 Society is an important way to engage successful alumni for the betterment of the School.”

    Varghese’s sentiments are echoed by other graduates. “I attribute a large portion of whatever success that I have had in my career to my education at BLS,” said Brian Davis ’77, a partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa, LLC, the largest legal recruiting firm.  “The 1901 Society is an opportunity to contribute to the mission of providing a first-class law school education.  It provides me with the significant opportunity to have some input into the direction of the future of the School.”

    To kickoff these changes, members were invited to a premiere event, “Shakespeare and the Law,” held on April 7 at the Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Brooklyn’s most exciting new addition to the cultural renaissance. The evening included a backstage tour and cocktail reception, and a unique discussion moderated by Dean Allard among esteemed Shakespearean scholars and experts on the legal matters presented in Shakespeare’s collected works. The evening included breakout conversations among members facilitated by BLS faculty and students.

    “I think these are the best kind of events,” said Comerford. “Networking opportunities that don't necessarily force discussion of the school but foster a community of people with a particularly strong connection to the school and encourage them to have their own conversations.”

    Building on the success of the premiere event, the 1901 Society held its second highly interactive working session, “Leading the School: Addressing Jobs and Law School Affordability in the New World of Law,” on September 18. The event, which was held at the Forchelli Conference Center, brought together graduates to problem-solve two of the Law School’s most important topics: meeting the challenges of the new legal employment environment and improving law school affordability. Members discussed innovative strategies for increasing students’ job prospects and addressing the affordability of a legal education.

    “I joined the 1901 Society because I am committed to supporting BLS – its students, its leadership and its tradition of excellence,” said Colleen Caden ’99, a partner at Pryor Cashman specializing in immigration law. “The Society provides alumni like myself with a unique opportunity to socialize, network and collaborate. While we re-connect with those we know and develop new friendships, we will be striving to ensure that those who come behind us have the same opportunity to experience the many great things a legal education at BLS has to offer.”