Historically, the path to a legal career was pretty straightforward: Go to law school, set up shop, practice law. Small firm, big firm, corporate, government, non-profit–the settings varied, but newly minted lawyers had a pathway firmly in sight.
All those options remain in place, and across the board, bright lawyers are reinventing how legal work is done in those traditional settings. UB School of Law graduates are no exception, working in dynamic ways whether at their own boutique firm or a multinational corporation.
But our alumni are taking the possibilities even further. They are running biotech startups, counseling clients and practitioners on digital marketing and their social media reach, connecting heavy hitters in business. Some of them are rethinking the whole paradigm that connects lawyers and clients.
Check out these 10 UB School of Law alumni who are bringing their innovative spirit to their life’s work—and changing the world along the way.
It was “midlife ambition,” Stephanie (Cole) Adams, JD '99, says. “I knew if I wanted to build the kind of practice I could feel burgeoning in my brain, now was the time.” She was in-house counsel for Niagara University at the time, and says “many people told me I was crazy to leave the wonderful job I had. Being an in-house counsel is like going to five law schools at once and working with the best of the best.
“But I live in the West Side neighborhood, and increasingly amazing things were happening. I just could feel it, and I wanted to do my own thing.”
The result is something special: the human-centered, people-friendly, community-conscious law firm that bears her name on Buffalo’s West Side.
In sixth grade, being disruptive could get you sent to the principal’s office. For an entrepreneur like Raad Ahmed, JD '13, it’s a badge of honor.
Through his legal technology start-up, LawTrades, Ahmed wants to do nothing less than change the way lawyers and clients find and work with each other. Launched in 2015, the company is a legal marketplace—it connects small businesses needing legal help with carefully screened attorneys who have the right expertise, then provides a chat platform, document storage, project management, billing and other web tools to make the virtual transaction seamless. (A companion business, LawTrades Apex, serves larger corporate clients.)
Before law school, Jennifer Beckage, JD ’07, BS '99, flourished as an entrepreneur, owning and running a successful technology business and helping to lead its sale to a publicly traded company. So when she founded Beckage PLLC in 2018, she understood, more than most, the importance of providing clients with practical legal advice on data privacy and data security issues.
Now her law firm does everything from helping global companies with regulatory compliance, managing their tech vendors and setting up incident response procedures, to being on call in a crisis, even to representing companies in subsequent litigation.
The first client Adrian Dayton, JD ’08, ever brought into his law firm, he found on Twitter.
The social network was in its infancy back then, and Dayton—who had written a book and was casting about for ideas on how to get it published—was surprised to read a tweet from a fellow author who was seeking a contract lawyer. “That was a light bulb moment for me,” he says. “Anyone in the world could have responded, because Twitter was searchable. I was the only lawyer who responded. I realized there was an entire market out there that was accessible through Twitter and no one even knew it existed.”
After losing his job at a major law firm in Buffalo, Dayton struck out on his own with a new mission: to help firms tap the potential of this new wave of social media to grow their business.
Minara El-Rahman, JD '08, BA '04, came to law school by way of the world of fashion, which she has loved since her childhood growing up in Queens, the daughter of Bangladeshi parents. She was a public relations and marketing manager for a footwear company before she decided to go law school—realizing, she says, that the law is integral to protecting the work of creative people.
She was in her third year at UB School of Law when she asked her professor in an intellectual property law class if she could create a fashion law blog instead of writing yet another paper. He said yes–and she soon discovered that she had found her calling.
Every judge knows that there’s a fine balance between dispensing justice and mercy. From his seat on the Buffalo City Court bench, Hon. Craig Hannah, JD '95, strives for that balance every day – and has taken innovative steps to not just sanction convicted offenders, but to rehabilitate them.
Hannah was recently named the city's Chief Judge, becoming the senior jurist among the City Court's 14 judges. But his first-in-the-nation Opioid Intervention Court, created in 2017, is perhaps his highest-profile innovation.
The court takes non-violent offenders who are addicted to opioid drugs and helps them to turn things around. As a presiding judge, Hannah played tought-love parent, seeing his “clients”—his word for them—in court over a period of months as they went through drug rehab and otherwise stabilize their lives. The result: fewer petty thieves in expensive prison confinement, and more lives and families made whole.
By the time she started her leadership development company, Change Create Transform, in 2011, Vikki Pryor, JD '78, BA '75, had done several things: worked as a government tax attorney, held senior positions in the insurance industry, served on a series of high-profile boards. She had wisdom to share about how executives can make their companies work better.
She also knew that magic happens when people engage each other. So she built her New York City-based company on a web platform that enables members to share ideas and strategic counsel from their own experience.
Jonathan Smyth, JD '15, knows a good idea when he sees one.
Smyth was an innovation assistant in UB’s technology transfer office, and in his final year at UB School of Law, when he recognized a new concept for cancer treatment with tremendous potential. A graduate student in biomedical engineering, along with his professor, had developed a novel platform for delivering chemotherapy drugs directly to the patient’s tumor. The drugs are activated when light is applied–targeting the cancer while minimizing the harsh side effects of traditional chemo.
Smyth joined forces with the developer and their team won first place in UB’s Panasci Technology Entrepreneurship Competition. Now the company they founded, POP Biotechnologies, is going through the rigorous process that they hope will lead to regulatory approval for the platform.
There’s a concept in the electronics industry called “future-proofing”—the challenge of designing a product that will hold up even as technology improves.
It’s something Jordan Walbesser, JD '10, BS '07, thinks about, too, in his work as in-house counsel for Mattel Inc., the toy industry giant.
“For me, what’s interesting is that the technology far outpaces the law, and it requires flexibility and forethought and risk tolerance,” he says. “You’re trying to draft something or create a deal today that’s going to hold up in the future. And so it’s really important for an attorney like myself to be on the bleeding edge of what’s happening in technology. It really does a disservice to your client if you’re not aware of what’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years.”
Nate Yohannes, JD '12, was in California when he found himself, through a mix-up, riding in an Uber with a Microsoft human resources executive. They got to talking. And soon after that, he was working for the company.
Good luck? Maybe. But Yohannes says it’s more about recognizing opportunities, leaning into them—“and then betting on yourself.”
As director of corporate business development and strategy for Microsoft Artificial Intellegence, he led engagements pertaining to partnerships and M&A for the engineering team that builds products involving computer vision, mixed reality and conversational AI. The role ranges widely: “finding companies to partner with and/or acquire when we have a gap in our AI offerings. I can recommend companies to invest in to our venture capital team. Our job is to go out and find ecosystem partners to work with.”