“Night People Speak.”
So went the title of a cover story by Glenn M. Miller ’92 in a September 1989 issue of the New York Law School Reporter.
At the time, Miller was the Student Bar Association’s Evening Division Representative—a role that gave him a platform to advocate for his classmates. In his article, Miller wrote that more workshops and panel discussions should be held in the evenings. He also praised the Financial Aid and Student Affairs staff for working late to avail themselves to evening students.
Reached by phone recently, Miller immediately recalled writing the piece. “Access—That’s what we wanted,” he said. Indeed, the first section of his 1989 column was titled “Access.”
After NYLS, Miller continued teaching history and launched an immigration law solo practice.
“I can’t tell you how intellectually satisfying it was to be at NYLS,” he said. “It continues to be intellectually sustaining. I still go to the library periodically and pull articles for my teaching.”
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In this section, 10 of Miller’s fellow “Night People” reflect on life as an evening student throughout the years.
Robert Freeman ’55
I graduated from New York University in 1951 and went to work for an accounting firm on 40th Street. One of the owners pulled me aside and said, "Bob, I don’t think you’re made to be an accountant, but I can tell you have a propensity for law." It seemed like a good idea to me. My father had also gone to law school at night, so I had a sense of the challenges.
My law school class included four or five New York City police officers, and more than half of the class was studying under the GI Bill. I would leave work at 5:00 p.m., catch the Lexington Express, and head down to campus, which was on Williams Street at the time. The first class was at 6:00 p.m., and last class was at 9:00 p.m. I got home to New Rochelle at about 10:30.
What I remember most is feeling breathless. We were always running: running to the subway, running to class, running to catch the New Haven train. It took weekends to do the homework properly. When we had to brief cases, my classmates and I would split up the cases and use carbon paper to make copies of each other’s notes.
NYLS was tough, but I enjoyed it and count myself very fortunate. It helped pave the way for my career as an energy efficiency consultant. Together with my partner, who was not a lawyer, I came up with a new kind of government contract. We went to Washington, and we sold it to the Army Corps of Engineers. It was called a performance contract, which meant that we funded equipment to make Army bases more energy-efficient, and our payment was a share of the government’s energy cost savings.
I’m proud of the recognition NYLS receives today, and when I’m in New York, my wife and I always try to stop by and visit.
Robert Freeman ’55 is an energy conservation consultant at Concord Energy Consultants Inc. He previously founded Co-Energy Group and served as President and Chair until he sold the company in 2000.
Hon. Alton Waldon Jr. ’73
Growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, I dreamed of becoming a lawyer. As a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I enjoyed my classes related to the law. My favorite teacher at John Jay introduced me to a graduate of NYLS. He befriended me and encouraged me to take the LSAT. I did and was accepted to NYLS.
During the Evening Division orientation, then-Dean Walter Rafalko, told us to look to the left and then to the right. "Two of you will not be here at the end of the semester," he said. At that moment, as perspiration trickled down my nose, I promised myself that I would be there.
When I entered law school, I was a married father of three. I worked as a Lieutenant in the New York City Housing Authority Police Department, assigned to desk duty from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. I could not have made it through without the encouragement of my best friend and loving wife, Barbara DeCosta Waldon. One afternoon, I was so fatigued, I could not imagine being able to go to take my exam. Barbara and my children dressed me and pushed me out the door. I took that exam.
I was driven as a student. One of my favorite experiences was representing NYLS in the Law Student Division, a nationwide network of law students that exchanged ideas with one another seeking improvement of our craft. It allowed me to travel on behalf of NYLS. I was also proud to receive the Thurgood Marshall Fellowship from the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.
Many of my classmates were much younger than I was. Knowing that I was competitive with them improved my self-confidence. I learned how to think on my feet, hold my head high, and speak in front of others. The Evening Division created many opportunities for me and others to grow.
Hon. Alton Waldon Jr. ’73 served in the House of Representatives, the New York State Assembly, and the New York State Senate. He was appointed as the Deputy Commission of the New York State Division of Human Rights. He also served as a Commissioner of Investigation and as a Director of the Crime Victims Board. At NYLS, he founded the Black Law Students Association. He was married to Barbara DeCosta Waldon, sister of Benjamin DeCosta ’75, whose reflection is also included in this collection. She passed away in 2004.
Benjamin R. DeCosta ’75
I have a degree in physics and worked on atomic clocks for a few years before deciding to go to law school. I was motivated by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.
While I studied law, I worked full-time for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. I began as a management analyst, but after my first year at NYLS, I became a law assistant. My life was law during the day and law at night. I gained excellent experience working on major issues that established precedents.*
Somehow, I found time to involve myself in the School community. I was President of the Black Law Students Association and my class’s representative on the Student Bar Association. After I advocated for greater diversity in our student body, the Dean at the time, E. Donald Shapiro, appointed me to the School’s admissions committee.
A memory that stands out was my torts class with Professor Joe Koffler. He was a take-no-prisoners type. One day, he called on a number of students, one by one, asking them to stand and answer a question about a case. He was very dissatisfied with their responses. I raised my hand, and he said, "DeCosta, what do you have to offer? Some of the best students in the class have just failed to get this right." I told him that I wasn’t able to answer his question because the case we were discussing was not relevant to it. He smiled and said, "Thank you, DeCosta. You may sit." I think that episode earned me my SBA position.
As a leader and a public servant, I’ve had to make difficult and sometimes controversial decisions over the years. Being an evening student at NYLS reinforced my natural drive to be confident and to stand up for what I believe is right. The experience was key to my successful career.
Benjamin R. DeCosta ’75 runs DeCosta Consulting, LLC, which provides strategic advice on all aspects of aviation. He previously oversaw Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, as well as Newark International Airport. He also held leadership roles at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and in the Koch Administration.
*Editor’s Note:Two of the high-profile cases DeCosta worked on at the Port Authority involved a ban on Concorde jets landing at JFK Airport and a restriction on the solicitation activities of members of the Hare Krishna movement in three New York-area airports.
Cathy Hershcopf ’85
I only considered going to law school at night. When I enrolled at NYLS, I already had a Master of Social Work and was working full-time for New York State. I chose NYLS because the School had a deep relationship with some of the biggest developers in New York, and I wanted to pursue real estate.
My classmates were mature, committed, and diverse. The No. 1-ranked student in my class was a C.P.A. at a "Big 5" accounting firm. The No. 2 student was nearing retirement after having served as the Vice Principal at a New York City school. And I was No. 3! There were several police officers in my class. So many of my classmates were people whom I would never have met in my day-to-day life but whose work and life experience enriched my life immediately. In fact, my longest-standing relationship outside of immediate family is my best friend from law school. We met the first day at NYLS, and we studied in the same study group. Thirty years later, we are still the best of friends. What the Evening Division provides for people in New York who would not be able to go to law school otherwise is an amazing feat.
Cathy Hershcopf is a corporate restructuring partner at Cooley LLP, where she represents buyers and sellers of distressed assets and companies and creditors with restructuring challenges.
Allen Cappelli ’88
While I attended NYLS, I worked full-time for then-Governor Mario Cuomo. The governor was a big supporter of legal education, and I was grateful to be given time and space to focus on school. Still, it wasn’t easy. Some days, I commuted from Albany back to New York City to attend class. Plus, I had just gotten married, and we had twins.
My class included nurses, postal inspectors, accountants, and teachers. The challenges we faced in our jobs prepared us well to deal with the pressures of law school. We didn’t have time to worry; we just focused on getting our work done. The combination of education and experience made us well-rounded students.
I loved the fact that NYLS has a strong emphasis on public service. After I graduated, I continued to serve in the Governor’s Office, and I went on to hold a number of public service leadership positions over the years. I have also practiced criminal law for the last 20 years. I still think about lessons I learned from Professors Robert Blecker and David Chang, whose teaching had a profound effect on my understanding of criminal justice and the Constitution.
One of my proudest moments was presenting my son, Evan Cappelli ’12, with his NYLS diploma at graduation. You can’t imagine how thrilling that was. Today he’s an Associate at Paul, Weiss. I’m thankful to NYLS for these experiences.
Allen Cappelli ’88 is a practicing attorney from Staten Island, a New York City Planning Commissioner, and a member of the New York City Advisory Commission on Real Estate Tax reform. His nearly four decades of public service include serving as a board member for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and working for Governor Mario Cuomo and the Manhattan and Bronx Borough Presidents.
B. Keith “BK” Fulton ’98
I wouldn’t have been able to do law school without the Evening Division. I had a demanding job as the founding director of technology programs and policy at the National Urban League, and I was a busy parent with adopted twins. I wanted to attend a top media law program. NYLS fit the bill and then some.
I already had degrees in engineering, architecture, and management science; adding the legal scaffolding complemented and completed my training. Before law school, I didn’t fully appreciate the impact of the rules that govern how technology advances and who gets access to it. At NYLS, I learned how those rules could be improved to benefit more people. I grew from a savvy technologist into a leader who could come in at the 30,000-foot level and talk strategy and then get down to a granular level and talk about specific tactics.
Today, as the founder of a media and film production company, my law degree helps me review 200-page scripts quickly, understand legal documents thoroughly, and negotiate with A-list talent confidently. We just launched our new TV network, SoulVision.TV, and I’m writing all of the streaming agreements. I’m supposed to be retired!
I am still friends with many people I met at NYLS. Some of them, like Marianne Spraggins ’76, I’ve modeled my life after. Her uncle started one of the first Black-owned film companies, the Frederick Douglass Film Company, and she’s become a close friend and mentor. For my classmates and me, NYLS wasn’t about mean-spirited competition. It was about becoming great lawyers, advocates, policymakers, and leaders in all walks of life.
BK Fulton ’98 is Chair and CEO of the independent film company Soulidifly Productions and the founder of SoulVision Magazine and SoulVision.TV. He previously held executive roles at AOL, Time Warner, and Verizon.
Thomas Prol ’01
I never planned to be a lawyer. From 1994 to 1996, I was a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Nepal working on environmental and health education projects. But as I saw the relentless attacks back in the United States against my LGBT community, including Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I was motivated to pursue my law degree. I wanted a tool that would help me undertake what I saw as my life's mission of advancing justice and equality.
I attended NYLS at night while working as an enforcement officer and environmental scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is three blocks from the NYLS campus. I immersed myself in the legal community, which was challenging as an evening student but doable, since my employer was flexible and since NYLS provided such a broad array of opportunities.
My NYLS experience planted the seeds for who I am today. In my third year, I was elected to represent all law students in New York State on the American Bar Association’s Law Student Division Board of Governors. I was also selected as the national representative of law students by the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources and chair of the section’s law student programs committee. In addition to honing my focus on environmental law at NYLS, with mentoring and advising from Professor Art Leonard, I became an advocate for LGBTQ equality. I used my vacation leave at work to take advantage of the School’s excellent array of externship opportunities, including externships with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn and the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
NYLS’s Evening Division offered me one-of-a-kind opportunities. Where else can you study with the nation’s leading LGBTQ civil rights scholar? When I ascended to the Presidency of the New Jersey State Bar Association, I reflected on how I am not only a better lawyer, but a better person, for the education and values instilled in me at NYLS."
Thomas Prol ’01 is a member at Sills Cummis & Gross in Newark, where he focuses his practice on environment, land use, and related matters. He is a member of the American Bar Association's House of Delegates. Previously, he was the first openly gay President of the New Jersey State Bar Association; in that role, he spearheaded a number of LGBT rights initiatives. He is also a founding member of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey-based LGBTQ civil rights organization, and has held leadership positions on the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association and the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York. He is also a past Director of the NYLS Alumni Association.
Kirk Burkhalter ’04
NYLS was the only law school I applied to. I lived in Manhattan, and I was a Detective working in the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. I was impressed by the fact that NYLS had a strong and established evening program. A couple of my NYPD colleagues had attended NYLS, including my then-Chief. He spoke highly of the School and wrote me a letter of recommendation.
I never found it difficult. It was challenging, of course, but I became so enamored of my studies that it was all-consuming. When I was at school, I didn’t worry about work and home.
Sometimes I had to work nights undercover, and I would leave class and go right back to work. Then, in my second year at NYLS, 9/11 happened. I was working recovery, getting to the site at 4:00 a.m. and logging 15-hour days, barely staying awake in class. My professors and the administration were absolutely fantastic to the first responders.
Now, as a member of the full-time NYLS faculty, I enjoy teaching our evening students. They’re more resilient than they know. That’s important because the world doesn’t look at you as an ‘evening’ student. You’re a lawyer, period.
When I think about being part of a 125-year-old Evening Division, two words come to mind: pride and connection. The technology might change, and the names of our teachers and classmates might differ, but we’ll always share those common bonds.
Kirk Burkhalter ’04 is Professor of Law at NYLS. Before his academic and legal career, he served 20 years in NYPD, retiring as a detective first grade.
Asha Smith ’07
I had a great time at NYLS, and I’m still close to my former Evening Division classmates. Everyone who was there wanted to be there. We were in the trenches together, and we were supportive of one another. There was a shared understanding of what it took to succeed.
While I attended NYLS, I worked for the president of a commodities clearing firm at the New York Mercantile Exchange, a labor and employment arbitrator, and a solo practitioner. I pieced together different jobs in order to make law school possible.
Working for tough executives prepared me to be very organized as a law student, so balancing work and school wasn’t a stretch for me. I had already learned time management and organizational skills. I had also previously attended graduate school at night while working part-time. I knew it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I also knew I was going to do it. And I did.
I came to NYLS to be a public defender. Being at NYLS only strengthened my goals. I’m proud that I’ve built a name for myself, including as a bar association leader, but there is still so much I want to accomplish. I’m grateful that the Evening Division at NYLS exists. The fact that the Division is 125 years old is a reflection of the fact that for a very long time, working professionals have had the ambition to become lawyers.
Asha Smith ’07 is a Fellow of the New York State Bar Foundation. She is also a Director of the New York County Lawyers’ Association and Co-Chair of its Criminal Justice Section. In addition, she is Chair of the Judicial Committee and Co-Chair of the Legislation Committee of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association.
Hanna Rubin ’13
The biggest challenge of being in the Evening Division was learning how to be a good law student—finding the time and committing to the effort. Fortunately, my classmates showed me the way. My second semester, I was in a writing class with another evening student, Maria Lefelman, and we became partners on a project. She told me that for the rest of the semester, we would spend Sundays in the library, that we would meet there regularly at 1:00 p.m., and that we would take one break. And that’s what we did. It taught me that to be a successful evening student, I had to give up some things and focus.
I love what I do now, and being an evening student made that possible. I am at the intersection of compliance and technology for charities in New York State, and that’s fascinating. Many compliance requirements that had been paper-driven are coming online, and I am a part of that effort. Nearly 18 percent of private-sector employment in our state is in the nonprofit sector, and this work supports a huge part of the state’s economy.
The Evening Division is a big part of what makes NYLS a school for New Yorkers—for real people with varied backgrounds and dreams, who choose to become lawyers in this city, often at enormous personal sacrifice. It’s the New York City success story in microcosm. It’s the golden door. I don’t mean money; I mean opportunity. Think of the words carved on the base of the Statue of Liberty—people’s lives change because they have successfully completed this program.
Hanna Rubin is Director of Registrations for the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau. She is also a current Director of the NYLS Alumni Association.