Alumni Spotlight

Enrolling at Albany Law School set Towne ‘75 on a path to make a difference in the world

Jim Towne '75

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James T. Towne ’75 recently returned home after embarking on a humanitarian mission to help the people of Ukraine, whose lives have been upended by war following Russia’s invasion in 2021. After graduating from Albany Law School in 1975 and falling in love with the Capital Region, Towne settled in the Albany area, launching a successful career as an attorney. Towne has had a storied 45 year career, to say the least: among other areas, he has worked on everything from a broad range of litigation matters; equine, assisting racing and gaming clients in the U.S., Canada and the Bahamas, to Native American law, providing legal services on a myriad of not-for-profit projects, and a variety of employment matters. He is also the founder and Principal of The Towne Law Firm, a general practice firm with over two dozen attorneys headquartered in Albany, New York.

Jim Towne in Ukraine

“If you want to sum up my life, nobody deserves the happiness in life I’ve had and the opportunities that an Albany Law School degree has afforded me. It is just magical. Fundamentally, attorneys are people who serve other people, try to make something better, try to accomplish something, and try to ameliorate suffering and pain. But basically, try to do positive things as best you can. For me, that has spilled over to a lot of support for legal services to the poor and underprivileged both in the U.S. and abroad” Towne said. “Ukraine was sort of a Bouillabaisse putting all those things together. I’ve been asked if we made a difference. I think we have. Ukraine is flooded by internally displaced persons (IDPs).  We made a successful effort to assist the wheelchair bound IDPs, many of whom are developmentally disabled children.”

During his time in Ukraine, Towne witnessed the incredible resilience and determination of the Ukrainian people.

“To watch what they do to get through the days and nights dealing with living in a warzone was inspiring,” Towne said. “Sixty-five to seventy percent of the soldiers who are amputees insist on going back to the front. They believe in the benefits of democracy and are willing to die to preserve it.”

Recounting his experiences, Towne said the reality of what the Ukrainian people have been going through for over two years and continue to go through brought him to his knees. While Towne was there to offer a helping hand to those in need and raise money for children in need of prostheses, he witnessed firsthand the gravity of the war. “The suffering due to the carnage was overwhelming at times and remains so for me,” Towne said.

Towne in a Ukrainian bomb shelter

“We sheltered nine or ten times, and the first time was a rather frightening experience just because you don’t know what to do. I read up in advance and recognized that I needed to sleep a little differently and to prepare with little things like lace latches on your boots. You learn to sleep with your clothes on. The first time the sirens go off you really appreciate the time saved by preparing, and you don’t go to bed until you know where the nearest shelter is,” Towne said. “The first time I went into a shelter, I was rather petrified. I looked around at 30 or 40 other people sheltering with me- some were sleeping, some were playing chess, some were listening to music, a couple were reading books- and then you calm down when you realize that the decision about your safety was made when you got on the airplane in Albany, so worrying is useless. I keep in touch with several of my shelter-mates because I worry for them knowing what they are still going through.”

Long before Towne was helping Ukrainians in need, he fought for the underdog, providing legal services for the poor and underprivileged. As a 19-year member of the Board of the Legal Aid Society, Towne has been a two-time recipient of the Legal Aid Society’s Distinguished Services Award and a nominee for the ABA’s National Pro Bono Publico Award. He credits all his success and life experiences to one decision after being discharged from the United States Navy, enrolling at Albany Law School.

Ukrainian child receiving treatment

“It was the most incredible decision of my life. I love the Capital District,” Towne said. “So, what did Albany Law School do for me? It got me into a community that is multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-religious. It is completely different from where I grew up, and I love it.”

For Towne, Albany Law School afforded him opportunities he wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. And now, after all those years, all of the accolades and successes, all of the travel and humanitarian work, he looks back at where it all began.

“I never envisioned my life would turn out how it has. In no small measure because of Albany Law School and the opportunities it afforded me,” Towne said. “I’ve lived a life that has been rewarding beyond my dreams. Forty-five years ago, 

I never envisioned I would be asked to set up and head a trust in Africa, a privilege I have had for over 20 years.  You think I’d be going to the Czech Republic and teaching law classes there without the opportunities afforded by my ALS degree? You think I’d be going to Ukraine? I certainly didn’t, but here I am.  I can thank ALS for opening both doors, and my eyes which has led me to a life I am forever grateful for having received. It has been one hell of a journey.”