Meet Justice Jennifer G. Schecter – The Commercial Division’s Newest Addition
Meet the newest Justices of the Commercial Division! Lawyers at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP are interviewing the newest members of the Commercial Division bench to learn about their professional and personal backgrounds, why they decided to become judges, and what they expect of the lawyers who appear before them. Our second interview is with Justice Jennifer G. Schecter, who was elected as a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court in 2015 and assigned to the Commercial Division in 2018. This is a multi-part series, so stay tuned as we publish interviews with other Justices.
I. Family Life
Q: Tell us about your family?
A: I am the oldest of three siblings. Two live in Israel and one lives in Long Island. We moved around a lot as kids. I had the opportunity to live in Israel for some of my childhood, and also spent time living in both New Jersey and Silver Spring, Maryland. I am very close with my family.
Q: What did growing up as the only daughter in a family of four kids teach you?
A: I learned how to speak up. For me, that was the beginning lessons in advocacy.
Q: What are some things you did as a child?
A: We grew up big fans of the Washington Capitals. I went to my first hockey game as a young girl and I was hooked. We also watched the New Jersey Devils when we were living in New Jersey. We lived close to the Devils’ practice facility and would sometimes watch them practice.
II. Law School
Q: Why did you decide to go to law school?
A: I loved advocacy and communication. Someone put the idea of becoming a lawyer into my head and I decided to jump in. To me, it was a great way to make change and make a difference.
Q: What was your favorite class in law school?
A: Contracts, which I will see a lot of in the Commercial Division. I was also a teaching assistant for Contracts and eventually went back to Seton Hall to teach a class to Masters students about Contracts. The class teaches business people how to deal with lawyers.
Q: Did you have any experiences in law school that stick out to you?
A: I did an internship at a leading New Jersey law firm that I really enjoyed. I was absolutely enamored with the practice of law.
III. Time Practicing at Skadden
Q: Tell us about your time at Skadden.
A: I really liked the rotation system at Skadden. I eventually ended up in general litigation. I found litigation to be the most creative. I very much enjoyed learning the art of persuading people.
IV. Clerking for Judge Judith S. Kaye
Q: Tell us about your experience clerking for Chief Judge Kaye.
A: It was truly an extraordinary experience. My fondest memories are the times that we spent in chambers. Judge Kaye was an amazing person from whom I learned about law and also about life. She was absolutely brilliant. I remember discussing cases scheduled for argument with her and she would not have even read my bench memo but would know the controlling precedent in every area of the law. I remember thinking, “How does she know all these cases?” I have never met a person who can retain all the knowledge that she did. Sometimes I felt like I should pinch myself as it was hard to imagine that I was discussing and analyzing important legal issues with the Chief Judge.
Q: What lessons did you learn from Judge Kaye?
A: Judge Kaye taught me to think outside of the box, not to be afraid, and to come up with creative solutions to problems. She never gave up. If someone put an idea in her head, she just felt like “let’s do this.” It was as if bureaucracy didn’t exist in her world.
Q: Is there anything that you will take from Judge Kaye in terms of judicial style?
A: I would say three things: 1) do what is right; 2) do not forget about common sense; and 3) make sure the end result makes sense.
V. Clerking for Justice Eileen Bransten
Q: Tell us about your experience clerking for Justice Bransten.
A: It was a very different from clerking for Judge Kaye, but amazing in its own right. When I first started, Justice Bransten was not yet on the Commercial Division so I had the opportunity to work on all different kinds of cases. Justice Bransten gave me a lot of hands-on experience and I actually conducted a conference (with her supervision of course) on the day of my interview. Justice Bransten really taught me the difference between a trial court versus the highest court in the state.
Q: What are some lessons you learned from Justice Bransten?
A: Justice Bransten was the person who really taught me the nuts and bolts of a trial-level court. I had never dealt with issues like deposition rulings and discovery disputes before clerking for her. She was the person who really taught me how to effectively manage a trial docket. Justice Bransten also taught me about the importance of settlement and to consider the needs of the litigants.
VI. Thoughts on Her Current Judicial Experience
Q: What are you currently working as you transition to the Commercial Division?
A: Right now, my focus is on developing my individual rules. My primary goal is to promote efficiency in the litigation process. I want to be mindful of lawyers’ needs and of clients’ costs. I also want to craft rules that minimize the number of outstanding motions. I understand that litigants value certainty and a final decision.
Q: What are some things that you like to see from lawyers appearing in your Court?
A: Preparation and knowledge of the case is crucial. Another important thing is reading the judge well. For example, if an issue is going well for a lawyer, it may make sense to just stop. Lawyers should also keep in mind, that it is important to understand that I have read the papers and they should listen to what I am saying and take cues from it.
Q: What do you like to see in briefs?
A: I like briefs that are concise. You need to hit the main points. I don’t love legalisms. I prefer a brief that is simple and direct.
Q: What are your thoughts on settlement and the role of judges in settlement?
A: In general, IAS parts provide more of an opportunity for judges to get involved in settlement. I like settling cases because settlement brings certainty and order for the clients. In some ways, there is nothing more satisfying than settling a case.
Q: What types of cases were you handling in your prior assignment?
A: It was a general IAS part, so basically you name it. I have done slip and falls, constitutional law cases, and Article 78 proceedings. Toward the end of my tenure, I was assigned more commercial cases that did not meet the monetary threshold to qualify for the Commercial Division.
Q: What are your thoughts on encouraging younger lawyers and particularly female lawyers to have opportunities to play active roles in court?
A: I would love for that to happen. I appreciate that in the Commercial Division there are cases that are worth a tremendous amount of money. Nonetheless, I hope that lawyers realize that judges appreciate when younger lawyers get an opportunity to argue in court. When I was a younger lawyer, I really appreciated the opportunities that I had to appear in court.
VII. Charity Work
Q: Tell us about the work that you do in the community.
A: I really enjoy charity work. When you do something that makes a difference, it makes you feel good. I have served on the Board of The Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert, which is an organization where lawyers and judges have the opportunity to come together and assist individuals who have breast cancer and their families. In addition, I participate in DOROT, which is an organization that provides seniors with food, friendship, and opportunities. I really enjoy DOROT because of the wonderful people that you meet.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the people you have met through DOROT?
A: I met a gentleman who had worked his entire life in the Clerk’s office at 60 Centre Street. I did not tell him I was a Judge, but did tell him that I worked for the Court. It was very interesting to hear his views and insight on what worked and did not work in the court system. I also visited a woman who recently passed away at 104 years old. It was fascinating to hear from her what it was like to live in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s.
VIII. Final Thoughts
Q: How do you think being a law secretary will assist you in your transition to the Commercial Division?
A: Immensely. I think being a law secretary is the best preparation for being a judge. We know the job. Judges really rely on law secretaries for everything and as a result you are trained quite well for the bench.
Q: Did you always expect to be a judge?
A: Definitely not. It was only once I had the experience of clerking that I knew that being a judge was what I wanted to do because I could make a difference and have the most impact. One thing that has stuck with me as I am now transitioning to the Commercial Division is something that Judge Kaye once said to me. She told me that someday I would be a Judge on the Commercial Division. I had trouble imagining it, but it was as if she just knew.