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August 30, 2017 Articles

JIOP Alumni Spotlight: Joseph M. Hanna

Joe is known nationally as a leading voice for diversity in law and business, as well as for community service.

By Tracey Foglia

Joseph M. Hanna is a partner at the 300-lawyer firm Goldberg Segalla, where he serves as chair of the firm's Diversity Task Force, Sports and Entertainment Practice Group, and Retail and Hospitality Practice Group. An active leader and mentor at the ABA, Joe is cochair of the Young Lawyer Leadership Program and former chair of the Minority Trial Lawyer Committee. He is the founder and president of Bunkers in Baghdad, a nonprofit that collects and sends golf equipment to U.S. soldiers and veterans worldwide to provide recreation and aid in injury rehabilitation.

Joe is known nationally as a leading voice for diversity in law and business, as well as for community service, with recognition for his efforts in these areas coming from the ABA, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, the New York Bar Association, and other organizations.

Q&A with Joseph M. Hanna

Can you please provide background on why, and how, you became an intern with JIOP?
I learned about the ABA JIOP program from a poster in the Career Services office at the University at Buffalo, where I went to law school. The clerkship was in Houston—I'd always wanted to clerk outside of New York State, and my sister Ramona and my brother-in-law Fred lived in Houston with my nieces and nephews, so it felt like a natural fit for me.

During the application process, I interviewed with Larry Vilardo, then a Buffalo attorney and now a federal judge in the Western District of New York. I don't think Judge Vilardo knows just how profoundly it impacted me, but that interview was a career-altering event for me. I still remember he told me his parents "didn't have two nickels to rub together," but he worked hard and made his way to Harvard Law School. He then had a successful private practice, helped found a firm, and was an editor for the major ABA magazine.

His life story resonated with me. We were alumni from the same high school. I was one of four kids and, like him, my parents didn't have two nickels to rub together. It was so inspiring to me to hear, straight from him, how far he had come and what the ABA meant to him. I was already a student member of the ABA, but that conversation really kicked off my involvement in the ABA and, ultimately, my career.

Then it was on to Texas. I had another eye-opening interview, with Deb Grumm, who was law clerk to Judge Elizabeth Ray in the 165th Judicial District Court in Houston. I was fortunate to be accepted for the JIOP internship with Judge Ray, and that summer was one of the best of my life.

What was your most memorable experience while interning with JIOP?
Honestly, it was the first day of the internship—the first time I walked in that courthouse. It was a beautiful, older building, right in downtown Houston. There I was, my first time working in a big city. I walked in, showed my ID and badge, went up to the chambers, and it hit me: I was an employee of the court.

I can still recall that feeling, from just looking around and meeting Judge Ray for the first time, to sitting in the jury box, taking notes as the lawyers came in in their suits to argue motions. I felt like I was a lawyer—and I knew in my heart that felt really good.

How did your JIOP experience shape your professional career?
Again, a lot of it comes back to having the opportunity to sit down with Larry, to hear his story and learn how far he'd come with the ABA. That really set the tone for my JIOP experience, my ABA involvement, and my career. Without the first two, I don't know what my career would look like, but every day I'm thankful that I invested the time and took advantage of those opportunities early on.

I got the chance to clerk with a judge who deeply cared about the program and wanted to provide the best possible experience for her clerks. Through the JIOP program, I gained experience with motions from both the plaintiff's bar and the defense bar, and I got a better idea of what the profession is like, what lawyers do day in and day out.

That inspired me further to seek leadership opportunities in the program and in the ABA. As a JIOP alum, I volunteered with the program to interview students, connected with a lot of great people through its alumni program, and kept in touch with Program Director Gail Howard, even at the end of law school and into my first year as an associate.

The result of all that: It strengthened my leadership skills, created opportunities for me to get into leadership positions, and taught me to speak confidently in front of people. Most importantly, it helped me learn how to network and gave me plenty of opportunities to do so.

What advice would you give to students who will be interning in judicial chambers?
Never shy away from asking questions of the judge, the judge's clerk, or your fellow interns. The judge and clerk will welcome your questions, and it's the only way to learn what you need to get out of the experience because everything moves quickly and there are so many moving parts. If you don't ask, next thing you know the summer could be over. Take the opportunity when it's there.

Again, the networking aspect of the JIOP program, or any internship really, is a crucial element. I cannot stress that enough. If the judge asks you out to lunch, go. If there's an opportunity to spend time with your fellow interns, for example, to go out after a day of work, take that opportunity to engage with them. These are going to be the judges and partners at various law firms in the future. Take the opportunity to start building that network now: You'll be miles ahead once you've passed the bar, and your choice to engage as an intern will continue to pay off throughout your career.

What advice would you give to JIOP alumni who are interested in pursuing philanthropic work while balancing a legal career?
If there's something you're passionate about, you should go for it. It's not easy, but it's worth it to be a positive example and to make a difference somewhere in your community or for a cause that is personal to you.

Obviously, all of our jobs have different expectations associated with them. If you're a plaintiff's attorney, it's going out and getting clients, and making sure you're serving their needs. If you're in-house, it's to represent the company you're working for. If you're in private practice at a big firm, it's helping your clients succeed while meeting your billable hours. On top of that, you may be starting a family or have other commitments.

You have to make sure you're doing your best to balance your work and your life, and you have to set aside time to pursue outside things that interest you. Tom Segalla, a named partner at my firm who has a long and distinguished career, sets aside time on Saturday mornings to tackle things like this. He calls it "Tom's time." That's imperative for young associates or people in any walk of life, if they want to contribute outside of work.

If you set time aside for yourself—say, those two to three hours on a weekend morning before everyone's awake, or if you go into the office early before anyone else is there—those few hours can equal whole days of productivity. The key is to dedicate the time and stick with your plan.

Tracey Foglia – August 30, 2017