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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.

  • Michael Grohman

    For twenty years, Michael Grohman just wasn’t interested. “Thanks, but no thanks,” he recalled, was his standard line. He didn’t have the time, didn’t have the money. He was starting a family, working beastly hours, and building a reputation as one of the city’s most esteemed trust and estate lawyers. And then one day, he changed his mind. He didn’t say no. He asked how he could help.

    “It took twenty years for me to start giving back to the Law School,” he said. “Until then my most active participation was going to reunions. It wasn’t until I had reached a certain level of success that I could reflect, and I realized that I would not be in this position but for the fact that I got this incredible foundation from Brooklyn Law School. That is where this all started.”

    Grohman graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1983 and then earned an L.L.M. in Tax from New York University. Grohman spent two years working as a tax attorney at what was known as Price Waterhouse, and afterward, as he remembers it, “stumbled into a job at Shearman & Sterling where they happened to have a need for attorneys in their Individual Clients group.”

    After four years at Shearman, a tax lawyer was transformed into a valued estate planner and advisor. Grohman then spent seven years at Crummy Del Deo, now the Gibbons law firm, and joined Duane Morris’s New York office in 1996, shortly after its opening. Grohman now runs the national Estates and Assets Practice Group, representing a variety of clients from closely held businesses to celebrity athletes and entertainers. Grohman is also the firm’s hiring partner and has been instrumental to the growth and success of this 700-lawyer international firm. In 2007, Mr. Grohman was included in Worth magazine’s annual listing of the top 100 attorneys in the U.S. for estate planning.

    Since his “Aha” moment, Grohman has become the model alumnus. A generous supporter of the Law School, he is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association, and a Representative in the Law Firm Challenge. In this role, he is fostering alumni involvement in the Law School in many ways, from mentoring, to networking, to encouraging gifts to the Law School.

    “I am now in a position where I can really help graduates,” he said. Grohman does what he can to help students find work, whether it’s with letters of recommendation, internships, or by opening doors to full time employment as he did for Spensyr Krebsbach ’08, a former mentee who is now a litigation associate in Duane Morris’s New York office.

    “Michael was an invaluable mentor, and it was my good fortune to be paired with him,” said Krebsbach. “He helped me shape my resume, walked me through the interviewing process, and opened doors at Duane Morris that would otherwise have been closed.” Thanks to Grohman’s involvement, she was hired as a summer intern and was given the opportunity to rotate through a variety of practice areas until she found her calling as a litigator.

    “It’s no secret that if she just wrote to us requesting an interview, there would be little chance of her getting one. We recruit for lateral partners here in New York, but not recent grads,” said Grohman. “That was the very beginning for me of realizing how meaningful my time and effort could be to someone else.”

    It is that spirit of making a difference and giving back to the Law School that Grohman so distinctly embodies. “Michael is incredibly enthusiastic about the Law School. He is always thinking of new ways we can reach out and keep the alumni network strong,” said Krebsbach. “He encourages all of us to extend a hand and to think outside the box to do almost anything we can to work with the Law School, especially the mentor program. Personally, I can’t wait to be a part of it and help a student the way Michael helped me.”

    Grohman remains unwavering in his commitment to the BLS community. “I have been practicing long enough and that alone doesn’t do it for me,” he said. “It pays the bills, sure, but I like to give back. Now it’s my turn to help. It’s an obligation that I enjoy.”

  • Ross Intelisano

    In 2006, Ross Intelisano made a prediction. A seasoned securities arbitration lawyer with a reputation as one of the leading authorities on securities fraud and Ponzi schemes, Intelisano looked into the future and saw a financial crisis of unimaginable proportion. He put his vision on paper and published an article in Bloomberg Law Reports entitled “Hedge Fund Fraud — The Future of Securities Arbitration?” in which he predicted, one year prior to the Bear Stearns High Grade Funds implosion, that broker-dealers would roll out proprietary hedge funds that were bound to unleash havoc on the financial system. Unfortunately for the market, and for the countless number of investors hurt by Bear Stearns, Intelisano was right.

    In 2007, as predicted, Bear Stearns’ High Grade hedge funds crashed, with $1.6 billion in losses. Intelisano was there to pick up the pieces, taking on Bear Stearns on behalf of Racetrac, a multi-billion dollar private company that had lost $5 million in Stearns’ High Grade Structured Credit Strategies Hedge Fund. In December 2009, after a 16-day arbitration in Atlanta, Intelisano won a $3.4 million arbitration award on their behalf. The award was groundbreaking for two reasons: It was the first verdict in any forum relating to the High Grade Funds, and it was rendered after portfolio managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin were acquitted in a federal criminal trial.

    While the Racetrac arbitration was an historic case, it was not the first time Intelisano had been on the pioneering end of an arbitration. He has long been a crusader for defrauded investors. After graduating from the Law School in 1994, Intelisano joined Pressman & Associates, a one-man shop where he began to practice securities and employment law. Three years later, he was recruited by Eppenstein & Eppenstein, a premier securities arbitration firm, where he served as co-trial counsel on Engel et. al. v. Refco, the legendary commodities fraud case. The 100-day arbitration, on behalf of 13 individuals and family-run businesses, generated a $43 million judgment in 2001. It remains the largest collected arbitration award ever rendered on behalf of retail investors against a brokerage firm.

    In 2003, he joined forces with Eppenstein colleague John G. Rich to form Rich & Intelisano where he continued to try landmark cases, most notably working on behalf of investors who lost over $25 million in the $300 million Bayou hedge fund Ponzi scheme run by convicted fraudster Sam Israel. In Bayou, Intelisano once again did the unprecedented, filing a group arbitration case not against Israel, but against the registered investment advisor who had recommended Bayou to investors, for failure to perform adequate due diligence. The case, which was settled in mediation, was the first time in the world of securities arbitration that anyone had implicated an investment advisor in a Ponzi scheme.

    And then came Bernie Madoff and a Ponzi scheme so large that it dwarfed anything the securities world had ever seen ($18 billion is the latest estimate). Intelisano’s phone started ringing. “I spent hours consoling investors, listening to all of these tragic stories of middle class people who had lost every dime they had saved over a lifetime,” he recalled. “I knew they would never get it back. It was the lowest point of my career as a lawyer.”

    While he knew he would not be able to help investors sue Madoff (their restitution is being handled by a court-appointed trustee), he brought back the “investment advisor theory” he advanced in Bayou, and is currently representing a group of 12 victims in claims against investment advisors to Madoff feeder funds. The hearings begin in June.

    With the Madoff cases ahead of him, and the victories in Racetrac and Bayou behind him, Intelisano has become one of the country’s most well respected experts in the world of hedge fund fraud. He has appeared on The Today Show, Anderson Cooper 360, Dateline NBC, PBS’s Frontline, Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo, and is regularly quoted in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

    Looking into the future, Intelisano believes the horizon remains clouded over with the potential for serious fraud.

    “Over-the-counter derivatives, credit default swaps, oil futures, all of these products that the government is worried about regulating are very complex and are improperly being sold to retail and institutional investors. Firms aren’t watching the shop. No one is.”

    Prediction noted.

  • Leah Ornstein

    In 1932, 514 students graduated from Brooklyn Law School, and only 21 of them were women. Leah Ornstein, who celebrated her 100th birthday on February 26, 2010, was one of them.

    Born in Manhattan, Leah is the daughter of a real estate developer who was eager for a son to help run his legal affairs. Eight daughters later, a son, Jacob, finally arrived, and her father’s wishes seemed to have been answered. But when Jacob died tragically at the age of 19, her father made a bold decision. Leah would go to Brooklyn Law School.

    After graduating, she became her father’s (literal) in-house counsel, advising him on a myriad of legal issues relating to the sale and purchase of real estate. A maverick in many ways, Orenstein stayed single until she was 36, when she married Julius Leoniff, a machinist with whom she would have two sons: Jack and Robert. When Julius was forced to retire early for health reasons, the couple started their own real estate business, buying and selling houses and developing empty lots.

    “She was never afraid to speak her mind before it was fashionable to do so and never afraid to confront injustice or unfairness,” said her nephew George Grifka.

    On February 27, the day after her 100th birthday, her son Jack hosted a “Leah Olympics” at his home, which was attended by 100 guests, including many friends from her temple, and from the retirement village where she lives in Florida. The “Olympic” festivities included mini-golf, horseshoes, and croquet. Her fierce skill on the golf course won her a trophy for the day’s only hole-in-one putt.

    “She went to law school to become a savvy businesswoman at a time when women became secretaries and men ruled the world,” said her niece Edie Cohen. “She was an entrepreneur.”

  • Bernard Nash

    For the past three years, Bernard Nash ’66, a partner with Dickstein Shapiro LLP, has been singled out by Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business as “the leading practitioner in the country” in representing clients before State Attorneys General. The award serves as an annual reminder of all Nash has accomplished. Under his leadership, his firm has become the country’s largest and premier practice devoted to resolving State Attorney General disputes.

    Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Nash is the son of a dairy delivery truck driver who attended City College intending to become an accountant. As it turned out, he gave up his CPA plans and instead enrolled in Brooklyn Law School. “I preferred the law to accounting. It was much more freewheeling and expansive,” he said.

    After graduating, Nash took a job with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington D.C., serving as trial attorney and special counsel from 1966 to 1971. He moved from the SEC to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly as counsel from 1971 to 1977, where he was responsible for drafting the landmark Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976 and for developing and executing the legislative strategy that overcame two filibusters prior to enactment of the bill. In a National Law Journal article, Nash was credited with “masterminding the strategic efforts while at the same time providing the technical and parliamentary expertise required for passage of” the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. In 1977, he started his own firm, Nash, Railsback & Plesser, which merged to form Dickstein Shapiro LLP in 1988.

    In some ways, Nash’s daily docket may seem no different than his Beltway peers. He is handling antitrust cases, consumer protection suits, intellectual property issues, environmental challenges, and constitutional conundrums. But the similarities end there. What sets him apart are two things: the clients that seek his counsel—a list which includes companies like AT&T, Pfizer, Time Warner Cable, Pepsico, Intuit, HBO, and Time Inc., and the types of cases he is often charged with handling: those of first impression.

    “With the cases that I work on, it’s not about finding precedent, it’s about finding a strategy,” Nash explained. “We are shaping and making the law. These are high-profile clients and big-ticket issues and we have to be very innovative. I don’t care if it’s a merger, an antitrust case, or a First Amendment issue, they all require out-of-the-box thinking.”

    For instance, in Delaware v. New York, a 1993 case, Nash represented 37 intervenor states in a case of original jurisdiction before the Supreme Court. While he lost before the Court (6–3), he then set to work lobbying for legislation that would effectively overturn the Court’s decision. Fearing that legislation would negate the Court’s ruling, the states of Delaware and New York paid Nash’s clients a $200 million settlement. “This is an example of the out-of-the-box thinking that can really turn a loss into a win,” he said.

    One of his most famous cases—that of journalists Judith Miller and Mathew Cooper—brought him before the Supreme Court yet again, this time in a battle over a federal common law reporter’s privilege. Nash coordinated an amicus brief signed by 35 Attorneys General in support of his client Time Inc.’s petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, concerning refusal by journalists to divulge confidential sources to prosecutors investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer’s identity.

    While certiorari was denied, Nash was grateful for a vantage point that put him squarely at the heart of the discourse. “The Judith Miller case was very high profile and very politically charged, and it was exciting to be a part of it. Unfortunately, I was not on the success side of the ledger, but I got to work with the icons of the Supreme Court bar and it was just pretty thrilling.”

    For Nash, who continues to craft arguments and lay the groundwork for the future, a loss is not a defeat. Rather, it is an opportunity to one day return to the nation’s highest court to make the case of first impression.

  • Thomas K. Small

    In the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 8, incredible stories of the tragedy’s bravest heroes—donors, rescuers, doctors, and Samaritans—have flooded the media. But closer to home, just a few blocks from Brooklyn Law School on Pierrepont Street, a solo practitioner with a neuromuscular condition is fighting a battle for survivors of the earthquake who have been largely overlooked: those with disabilities.

    Thomas K. Small ’93, whose practice specializes in helping people with disabilities, whether receiving home care under the Medicaid program or gaining access to governmental services or public entities, has long been an advocate and a beacon of hope for individuals with disabilities. But his most enduring legacy may be his current groundbreaking effort to raise money and collect supplies for disabled survivors of the Haiti earthquake.

    “I was very moved by the images on television and really wanted to be a part of making a contribution to the organizations providing relief,” he told BLS librarian Harold O’Grady in an interview. “Given my connection with disability law and culture, I wanted to try and target my efforts to benefit those people with disabilities affected by the earthquake in Haiti.”

    With the help of Portlight Strategies, Inc. (www.portlight.org), an aid group dedicated to serving those with disabilities, Small has spearheaded an effort to raise money to help transport medical supplies and equipment to Port au Prince and is also running a collection drive to gather medical equipment—everything from crutches to canes to wheelchairs. To date, the organization has raised $7500 and shipped 15 container loads of medical supplies to Port au Prince.

    Small’s passion for helping disenfranchised disabled people comes largely from personal experience. Small spent the majority of his youth in a children’s hospital in Westchester County. Once he turned eighteen, he was to be sent to an out-of-state nursing home where he would live out the rest of his life. But Small had other plans. He was determined to attend college and live independently. He attended SUNY Farmingdale and went on to SUNY Albany, eventually graduating from Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and later from Brooklyn Law School.

    In the years since graduating, Small has achieved his goal of living independently, and has become well known in his field. In addition to his legal work, he is the co-host of “The Largest Minority,” a biweekly radio show on WBAI (99.5FM) that deals with social, legal, and cultural issues of being disabled. But he is perhaps best known for helping to get wheelchair lifts installed on MTA buses by staging a wheel chair sit-in with some friends, blocking a downtown Brooklyn street in the 1990s.

    As for his work in Haiti, Small said he is grateful to help where he can. “I just feel there is work to be done, and I try to do the best that I can do,” he said. “I have certain gifts, and I try to use them to help the world.”

    To listen to Small’s interview with Harold O’Grady, visit www.brooklaw.edu/blogstory.

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