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Coming Soon to Your City: Sharon Stern Gerstman

By Christina Couto

There's a good chance Sharon Stern Gerstman will be visiting a city near you in the next year.

Gerstman plans to visit attorneys and bar associations in all of New York's 62 counties during her year as president-elect. That amounts to a little more than one county per week.

"My plan is to reach out and connect with our members and non-members and listen to them as to what they see are the issues of the day, what the State Bar can do to help them and what issues the State Bar should take on," said Gerstman of Buffalo (Magavern Magavern Grimm LLP).

It's not the first time a president-elect has attempted such a feat. Past President Maryann Saccomando Freedman (1987-1988) had a similar goal. "I don't know if she succeeded, but I know she tried to hit them all," Gerstman said.

At the time Freedman became president-elect in 1986, Gerstman worked in the same building, just three doors down. Both worked at the New York Supreme Court, Eighth Judicial District in Buffalo. Gerstman was a principal law clerk and matrimonial referee.

It was not until Freedman encouraged Gerstman to get involved in the State Bar's Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) and Law, Youth and Citizenship committees that Gerstman joined the State Bar in earnest. (She briefly joined following her move to Buffalo in 1981, but did not renew until three years later.)

State Bar Service

Gerstman has been active ever since, serving as treasurer since 2013 and as an Eighth Judicial District vice-president on the Executive Committee. She is a member of the House of Delegates, Finance Committee, CPLR Committee, Dispute Resolution Section, and Torts, Insurance and Compensation Law Section. She also is a member of the Operations and Compensation Subcommittee.

She is a Life Fellow of The Bar Foundation and has been a member of its board of directors since 2008. Gerstman is past chair of the Committee on CPLR and the Special Committee on Lawyer Advertising and Lawyer Referral Services. She also co-chaired the Task Force on E‑Filing and the special committees on Lawyer Advertising and Strategic Planning.

Legal Endeavors

Gerstman credits, in part, her ability to participate in bar activities to her former boss.During her 29 years at the court, Justice Joseph Mintz "encouraged me to do anything and everything I wanted to do," she said. "He encouraged all my bar association activities." Mintz also encouraged Gerstman to pursue a teaching position at Buffalo Law School (she has been an adjunct professor since 1987) and her academic writing. She is the author of multiple publications about tax law and CPLR.

Gerstman concentrates her practice in mediation and arbitration and appellate practice. She joined the firm in December 2010 and says that she is "very lucky to have found such a great place and to be in total control of my own schedule."

Gerstman also is active in the American Bar Association, where she has been a member of the House of Delegates since 1990. She has served on its Board of Governors and the Councils of two sections and as a member of multiple committees.

Almost a Doctor

Born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, Gerstman graduated from high school at 16 (she skipped a grade) and from Brown University at 19. A self-admitted math and science geek, Gerstman was accepted -- and planned to attend -- medical school. But, realizing she was not 100 percent sure of the decision, she changed her mind and went to law school.

Gerstman, the youngest in her law class at University of Pittsburgh School of Law, is still the youngest person in Pitt history to have received a J.D. She said her undergraduate philosophy degree served her well. "I can't imagine better training for law school," she said.

Her first legal position out of law school was as an instructor and then a professor of administrative law at the University of Toledo College of Law.She obtained her LL.M. at Yale Law School.

"I decided I really liked teaching," Gerstman said. Her search for a tenured position led her to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. There, she was an assistant professor of taxation, real property, future interests and appellate advocacy.

While living in Kansas City, Gerstman met her future husband, Daniel, at a bridge tournament in Cleveland.Playing bridge was a way to meet people as she transitioned jobs, she said. "Bridge was my social outlet."

The pair met on Memorial Day weekend and were engaged by the Fourth of July weekend. They married just over a year later, the following August, and Gerstman said moving to Buffalo, where her new husband lived, was "perfect."

Life in Buffalo

Gerstman had hoped to teach at SUNY Buffalo, but no positions were available. She took a job in the tax department at Jaeckle, Fleischmann & Mugel LLP for a year before transitioning to the Eighth District Judicial Court. Six years later, she joined the faculty at Buffalo Law School, while maintaining her position at the court.

Gerstman and her husband, who works in insurance and is a professional bridge player, have a son, Ari, who will receive an MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in May. He is married to Valerie Baron, an attorney.

In her free time, Gerstman is an avid knitter. She also plays tennis and enjoys hiking and biking in national parks around the country.

The Year Ahead

Gerstman says she plans to support President Claire P. Gutekunst in her membership efforts. "Claire has talked to me about her membership drive," Gerstman said, saying that she will continue the initiative through her own term as president, keeping Gutekunst's appointees in place.

As Gerstman begins her state travels in June, her goal will be listening to the needs of attorneys. She considers meeting in person, through the Internet and on social media as key ways to connect with lawyers.

"Wherever lawyers are in this state, I think we need to come to them -- in reality or virtually," Gerstman said."I think it's really important -- and it's an important part of many younger lawyers' lives," she said.

So, put out the welcome mat and turn on your computer. The president-elect is on her way.

NYSBA's senior media writer.