Giving Through the Years: Michael A. Kaplan L’11
Our alumni’s generosity underwrites the College of Law’s success. For many alumni, a tradition of lifelong giving is often tied to personal stories and fond memories of their alma mater. And what better time to reflect on their College of Law days than on the occasion of a class anniversary!
Here, alums celebrating years ending in one share their philanthropic journeys. Tell us yours by emailing us at SULaw@syr.edu.
Michael Kaplan is a partner at Lowenstein Sandler LLP focusing on litigation in the areas of bankruptcy and restructuring litigation, business litigation, products liability, and specialty torts.
As a student, you helped to implement important changes to the Advocacy Honor Society—what were they?
When I took over, I felt there was little organization in the Advocacy Honor Society, and, in my view, there was nothing distinctive about it—purely just people who were good at arguing, and there were a lot of us who met that standard. This seemed absolutely wrong. So we did a complete reinvigoration.
First, we set a GPA minimum. This was because I hold the firm belief that academics are the most important thing when you go to Syracuse. Then we created the 1L advocacy competition, now called the Hancock, Estabrook First Year Oral Advocacy Competition to give first years an opportunity to hone their skills and establish credentials. It is rewarding to see it still thriving.
We also changed the Mackenzie Hughes LLP Edmund H. Lewis Appellate Advocacy Competition in a couple of ways. We stopped using a ready-made problem from a book that also delivered the answers. A classmate Jared Mason, volunteered that year and wrote the problem, and he set the precedent! We also packed the final round with some serious judicial firepower. We brought in seven actual judges (i.e., members of the judiciary), reaching out to alums who had been elevated in their judicial careers. It was a nice way to honor and engage alumni. It made for a truly great competition.
With respect to the Lionel O. Grossman Trial Competition, we assigned one presiding judge and then two judges in the jury box. It always bothered me immensely that there were three judges sitting up on the panel for what was a trial. We wanted to model reality but also wanted the benefit of additional evaluators, so that solution seemed as simple as it was appropriate and realistic.
Lastly, we created the Frank H. Armani L’56 Advocacy Award, another collaboration between the honor society and the alumni relations team. The award was established for a deserving competitor who would embody the character of advocacy that Frank showed throughout his career. I was glad that he could present the initial award. And to this day, he and his family often attend the final round!
Which law professors had a lasting impact on you?
Lisa Dolak L’88 who I had for civil procedure. For four solid four weeks every time I raised my hand, she told me I was wrong. She really made me work and taught me that a cursory level understanding wasn't enough to be successful. The other was Lucille Rignanese L’99 who was my LCR professor. She was a huge supporter of mine and just an unbelievable human being who really understood the art of legal writing. I owe the entirety of my legal writing ability to her.
When and why did you start to give to the College of Law?
It was pretty much right away. At first, I donated my time, because that’s all I really could give when I was a judicial law clerk. When the building campaign started, that’s when I made a meaningful financial contribution, which extends to this day, also in support of the Law Annual Fund.
How did it feel to celebrate your 10th class reunion and have your firm sponsor Law Alumni Weekend 2021 as the first-ever title sponsor of a Law Annual Weekend?
Being the first is always great; having others follow suit and expand a platform is even more rewarding. The idea to sponsor that weekend started as an off-the-cuff comment, but good on our alumni engagement team for following up on that because why not have my firm become the first title sponsor? I think it was fantastic for the College of Law and fantastic for the firm. And, I would be remiss if I did not thank Lowenstein Sandler LLP for its unwavering support.
I hope to see someone take up the mantle next year. This was a great marketing platform for the firm and me personally. Anyone interested, can call me and I’ll tell you how to do it!