When the Honorable Gail Prudenti recently hosted the third annual Outstanding Women in Law Awards and Dinner at Jericho’s Cottage at Milleridge, she honored 50 female attorneys, judges and professors for their work in helping children and families in crisis. Laura Curran, Nassau’s first female county executive, was the keynote speaker and most importantly, money was raised for the Center for Children and Families and the Law. In addition to being Dean of Hofstra Law, Prudenti is executive director of the center and given the work it does to provide more effective representation for children and families in crisis, she felt it was crucial to provide as much support as she could after being hired to take over stewardship of the law school back in 2015.
“When I came to Hofstra three years ago, I observed that children and families are in crisis and they need help almost every day. I took a good hard look at the center and its projects. One of your responsibilities as an executive director of a center is to raise money. So I said to myself that we really have to have an annual event so we can keep our projects going and cover the basics of the center. I looked at what other places, like schools, were doing and who they were honoring and I thought it would be nice to honor outstanding women in the law,” she explained. “I thought it would be fabulous to do it to benefit the Center for Children and Families. I thought it would resonate with them and with the legal community, the law firms they work in and the public service agencies they work for.”
With the ultimate goal being that Hofstra Law School’s centers pay for themselves, the money raised at this event is ideally used to cover basic essentials ranging from maintaining a secretarial staff, running a lecture series or paying for summer stipends to paying down a percentage of the center’s phone bill. All this on top of getting grants from private foundations like HRC (Human Rights Commission). Ideally, these annual grants enable the center to make sure that representation can be provided to families with guardianship issues pertaining to disabled children, adults with traumatic brain injury or people starting to suffer from Alzheimer’s, which has become more and more of a crisis in recent years. It’s a very hands-on approach for second- and third-year law students that Prudenti is passionate about.
“These kinds of projects that need funds are called practicums. This is where we can teach students the law in the area of guardianship classes, which is what I teach,” she said. “We teach them the law in the area, but then they have the practical experience of representing real clients under our supervision and the supervision of professors. They then go to court and represent the client from start to finish and we make sure the clients get the very best representation. It’s a win-win. It’s so wonderful for our students and a wonderful experience. I believe in getting everybody practice-ready. It’s a changing legal atmosphere and practice law has changed and is going through changing times.”
Parenti’s love of the law dates back to when she was a precocious 5-year-old accompanying her contractor father to a closing at the Sag Harbor Savings Bank. When she noticed that her father was the only person without representation, she declared her intent to become a barrister. With unflagging encouragement from her dad, the Blue Point native wound up earning her law degree from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, which also awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Law in 2004 and an honorary appointment as professor in the School of Law. Parenti’s judicial career kicked off in 1991, when she was elected to the New York State Supreme Court, where she served until 1995. From there, she began her term as the first woman elected Surrogate of Suffolk County. A designation as an Acting Supreme Court Justice that included presiding over a dedicated Guardianship Part followed. A six-year stint as the Surrogate was followed by her re-election to the Supreme Court bench. Along the way, mentoring by people like the late Judge Ernest Signorelli, Judith Kaye and Jonathan Lippman (both former Chief Judges of the New York State Court of Appeals), enabled her to succeed and ascend to her current position. Buoyed by this encouragement and support, Parenti has high hopes for Hofstra Law.
“I can’t tell you how many professors have helped me in a world that really isn’t my world. I never saw myself in this world. I am definitely the untraditional dean. And I wasn’t sure how my skill set would transfer, but I have to say with the help of the tenured and contract faculty in this administration, I really have accomplished what I wanted to do and more in the first year [and beyond],” she said. “It’s just a great place to be right now and things are going in the right direction. Our job placement numbers are really fabulous, we’re fifth in the state in what I call the gold standard of a real lawyer’s job. We’re doing well—applications are up with students. We’ve been the most selective we’ve been in five or six years. But it takes a constant focus and a strategic plan that you have to stick with.”