Alumni Spotlight

At 96, Sommers ’49 May be the Oldest Practicing Alumnus

Donald Sommers

By David Singer
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Donald Sommers turned 96 in July. He still shows up in the office every morning after 68 years of practicing law in Albany. He keeps a cane in the corner of his office, out of reach from his desk because he never uses it. He stopped golfing at 95 but plans to get back on the course after his current ailment passes.

He has served clients, the children of his clients, the grandchildren of his clients, and now their children. He has tried cases against area lawyers, those lawyers' children, and even a third generation.  

"We used to try a lot of cases back then," he said recently, from his office that abuts Washington Park in Albany. "Things were a lot less formal. If you needed an extension, you picked up the phone and asked the judge for an extension. Now it's very different and you better have a good reason to put your client before a jury."

His son Andrew joined the Sommers & Sommers law firm some 36 years ago and moved into their present office—"February of 1989," Sommers said, remembering specific dates from decades ago throughout the conversation.

"He has always taken in lawyers with broken wings," said Andrew, describing how his father would recognize young, floundering lawyers in court and commit to helping develop their skills and confidence.

"There's an older lawyer in town who still tells me how my dad helped him 40 years ago," Andrew said. "When the man won a multi-million dollar verdict later in his career, he told me he was just following my dad's original advice."

"The key is to be yourself," the older Sommers said, describing his profession and personal style as diplomatic and gentle.