168th Commencement: Watch Live
The Albany Law School community came together on Tuesday, March 27, to celebrate three women—two of them graduates of the law school—for their commitment to the ideals of Kate Stoneman, the first woman admitted to practice law in New York State and the first female graduate of Albany Law School, Class of 1898.
Photos: 24th Anniversary Kate Stoneman Day
Cristine Cioffi, Class of 1978, and the Honorable Joanne Winslow, Class of 1986, joined the prestigious ranks of Stoneman Award recipients at the law school's 24th Anniversary Kate Stoneman Day. Martha Albertson Fineman, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory University, accepted the Miriam M. Netter '72 Stoneman Award in absentia.
More Work to Be Done
Cioffi, a name and founding partner of Cioffi Slezak Wildgrube P.C. and chair-elect of the 5,000-member Trusts and Estates Section of the New York State Bar Association, said though much has changed for women during her legal career, "the challenge before us is how to keep the needle moving forward on a daily basis."
"When I went home after Albany Law School to Schenectady, to practice law in 1978, there were five women attorneys in the local bar association," Cioffi said. After being hired as a firm's first woman attorney, she found herself working through her maternity leave—the partners thought she would have plenty of "quiet time" to comb through client files. "The attorneys at this firm weren't bad men, they just had no precedent to follow, which made me realize that it was my job to change the paradigm."
Cioffi founded in 1995 what is now an all-female law firm. In 2016, Cioffi Slezak Wildgrube received the Susan Rosenthal Women in Business Award from the YWCA of Northeastern New York.
"Forty years later, I am proud to have done my part," she said. "I'm part of a law firm of all women, and with my wonderful partners, we successfully manage the business of a small firm and offer a flexible workplace."
Cioffi is a past president of the New York Bar Foundation, which under her leadership expanded the female membership of its board. She also is a past chair of the Board of Trustees of Ellis Medicine, a trustee and founding member of the Foundation for Ellis Medicine, and a former Schenectady County legislator.
"The energy in this room today is positive—like-minded men and women gathered to celebrate the expanding role of women in our society," said Cioffi, who was introduced by Kathryn Grant Madigan '78, a classmate and fellow founding member of the Albany Law School Ms. Demeanors rugby club. "Let's carry this mission and energy forward when we leave today."
Opportunity to Effect Change
State Supreme Court Appellate Justice Winslow began her remarks by paying tribute to her grandparents and parents, "who instilled in me a strong work ethic, the importance of education, values that include honesty, a dedication to equality for everyone, and a deep commitment to doing the right thing."
Throughout her career, Justice Winslow has shown a dedication to diversity initiatives through mentorship, outreach, and education. She has served formally and informally as a mentor and role model to members of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys (GRAWA), guiding and assisting other female attorneys in their career advancement. During her time as a prosecutor she was described as a mentor to the younger attorneys, especially female litigators, and earned a reputation as a hands-on leader.
"I'm truly humbled by accepting this award," Justice Winslow said. "It honors someone and celebrates something that's so important in this school's history. I will do everything in my power to continue to live up to such an example."
Justice Winslow was designated to the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department in 2017, nine years after being elected to the Supreme Court for the Seventh Judicial District. Prior to joining the bench, she spent over two decades as an Assistant District Attorney with Monroe County, where she started as a trial attorney in the local and felony courts. In 1993 she was named Deputy Chief of the Local Courts Bureau. Thereafter, she was promoted to Chief of the Elder Abuse Bureau, Deputy Chief of the Major Felony Bureau, and finally Chief of the Major Felony Bureau. In some instances, she was the first woman to hold the position.
"Justice Garry referred to me as a trailblazer and I'm humbled by that," Justice Winslow said, referencing the introductory remarks offered by the Honorable Elizabeth Garry '90, Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division for the Third Judicial Department. "I also have been fortunate to have achieved many firsts. But being first does not define success. It does provide you, however, with opportunity. It is what you do with that opportunity that makes a difference."
Justice Winslow currently serves as co-chair of the groundbreaking Richard C. Failla LGBTQ Commission, to which she was named a member by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in 2016.
"You don't choose a path as a trailblazer," she said. "It chooses you."
Watch the 24th Anniversary Kate Stoneman Day celebration in full, including the keynote address prepared by Professor Fineman—described as a mentor to many and a force in the academy—and delivered by her protégé, Albany Law School Professor Donna Young: