While the law school experience has always been critical to our training as both strong client advocates and skilled legal technicians, it often undercuts or discounts the very reason that many of us were first drawn to the profession – service. Service to our clients, service to the community, service to our profession.
For 1985 alumnus Tom Zampino, that initial attraction to service was only reinforced in his first year by property law professor, Sam Fetters. Tom still remembers Professor Fetters’ exhortations that lawyers are an integral part of a much larger community. Professor Fetters reiterated for students to remain mindful of the out-sized power and influence lawyers exert within it and over others. The law, after all, affects nearly every aspect of our lives every single day.
Before starting Syracuse Law in 1982, this Long Island native, attended SUNY at Stony Brook, majoring in political science and minoring in business administration. During his junior year at Stony Brook, Tom’s business law class, taught by adjunct Professor Elliot Kleinman, rekindled his strong and early interest in the law. He later served as an intern at Kleinman’s general practice law firm for a number of months, all but cementing his love of the profession.
Upon graduating in 1981, Tom took a year off before applying to multiple
law schools, mostly so that he could save some money and fully prepare for the LSAT. It paid off. Syracuse University awarded Tom a Graduate Fellowship, allowing him to attend the law school for two years completely tuition free. It also supplied a modest living stipend during those two years. Tom remains grateful to Syracuse University because, without that Graduate Fellowship and stipend, he likely would never have been able to afford those three years.
Like most law students, Tom had no idea of the type of law that he wanted to practice. Like many of his fellow classmates, he was excited to hear Professor Peter Bell talking about the then-starting salaries of New York City, big-firm associates. He immediately began to plan his strategy to look for a job back home.
But before heading back home, Tom first had to plan for his 1L summer. Syracuse’s Law in London Program seemed ideal and he signed up for this seven-week, international legal adventure. While in London, Tom first worked with solicitors at the Greater London Council (GLC), which at that time was part of London’s municipal governing structure. He later interned with prestigious Queens Counsel barristers, regularly attending court and observing the lawyers and judges sparring in full legal regalia, wigs and all.
The Law in London program gave Tom a broad overview of the current British and early American legal system. But perhaps his fondest memory there was meeting with actor Raymond Burr, who was then starring in a local production. Tom and several of his classmates waited patiently by the stage door and, much to their delight, Mr. Perry Mason himself spent a good long time speaking with these impressionable American law students. Perhaps no one had had a greater and earlier influence over Tom’s choice of a legal career than did the fictional Perry Mason. The circle was now complete.
Upon returning to law school for his second year, Tom wrote onto the Law Review. The research and writing skills learned
(and self-taught) there have proved invaluable. It’s an experience that Tom looks back on with a sense of accomplishment.
Tom’s 2L summer was spent in NYC working for a mid-sized, Park Avenue firm as a summer associate for Reavis & McGrath, which today, after several mergers, is known as Norton Rose Fulbright. At the end of that summer, Reavis & McGrath offered him a full-time position upon graduation. He immediately accepted.
After graduating from Syracuse with honors in 1985 and passing the NYS bar, Tom worked at Reavis & McGrath for the next 20 or so months, concentrating in corporate and securities law. Because his wife Rachel had then gotten into Harvard Law School, they together re-settled in Boston for what turned out to be the next six years. Of course, that meant that Tom had to take another bar exam, but one that he found, relatively and gratefully, to be just a bit easier than the NYS bar.
In Boston, Tom first worked at Goodwin Proctor & Hoar, now just “Goodwin,” in its corporate and healthcare departments. After two years there and seeking a change, Tom noticed an opening on the legal staff of the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission. He was offered and immediately accepted that position where he then worked for the next four years drafting and defending government employee ethics opinions. He served for a time as both Acting General Counsel and Deputy General Counsel.
The most significant Ethics Commission case that Tom defended in court concerned the applicability of the Commission’s authority over employees of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), a matter that was quickly taken up by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court because of its broad and highly publicized impact. Tom’s first and only outing before that august body remains today a highlight of his legal career, having withstood a very hot bench and walking away unscathed. While the Court ultimately ruled against the Commission’s assertion of authority over MBTA employees, the Court did adopt most of the jurisdictional test that Tom himself had crafted from other government sources and then argued should apply in the case before it. Before leaving the Commission, Tom published a book on its practices and procedures.
After six years in Massachusetts, family concerns were calling him back to New York. Not wanting to return to the big firm, corporate life, Tom reached out to a small boutique firm that specialized in NYC real estate taxes, Podell, Schwartz, Schechter & Banfield. He spent the next 24 years there, the last ten as a partner. A brief stint as a (losing) candidate for the NYS Assembly rounded out his years there.
In 2017, an exciting opportunity opened that allowed him to step back into big firm life but still practice in the small, highly defined specialty that he has grown to love. As Special Counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, located near Wall Street, Tom gets to work with some extraordinary colleagues across multiple disciplines and to represent many top notch, sophisticated, super-premier clients. He now has the best of both worlds.
Tom’s legal training has held him in good stead throughout the years. While his practice mostly involves the world of numbers rather than of words, he stills largely credits Law Review with his love of writing; something to which he has devoted more and more time as he now explores the delights of writing poetry (perhaps one day to be published).
His advice to law students? Remembering what Sam Fetters admonished his class all those years ago: always be mindful of the influence that we, as lawyers, exert over others. It is a great opportunity but an even greater responsibility. And keep in mind that we are a service industry. We are here to zealously serve both our clients and the legal community. But know that we are always at our most effective when we treat each other – colleagues, clients, and adversaries – with respect, dignity, and civility at all times and in every encounter.
This story was written by Alumni Editor Stefani Joslin and is the twelfth installment of Syracuse Law Review’s new monthly feature, “Alum of the Month.” Stay tuned for next month’s feature on another noteworthy Syracuse Law Review alumnus.