Students Explore Federal Practice Hands On


By his own admission, Connor Winship ’22 is a big fan of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs. He discovered them early in his 1L year, when he joined the St. John’s Law division of the Federal Bar Association’s Eastern District of New York chapter (FBA EDNY).

The FBA is a national membership organization for attorneys in federal practice. As a student member, Winship could take CLEs offered by the FBA EDNY for free. And, so, just a couple of months after starting law school, he made the short trip from his Long Island home to the Alfonse M. D’Amato United States Courthouse in Central Islip to learn from, and network with, seasoned federal practitioners.

It proved to be a formative experience that came full circle last month when Winship presented his paper, “Who Pays? NDAs in Sexual Harassment Settlements,” at a virtual panel program co-sponsored by the FBA EDNY and St. John’s Law.

“That first CLE I attended in Fall 2019 was a Civil Practice Update that included a discussion of Section 162(q) of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” Winship explains. “The legislation prohibits companies from writing off sexual harassment settlements as business expenses if the settlement was subject to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The discussion also covered New York State legislation that creates a waiting period for plaintiffs to enter into NDAs in sexual harassment settlements, among other provisions. It was a very frank conversation that highlighted the practical shortcomings of these federal and state efforts. For me, it was eye opening.”

When Winship shared what he had learned in the CLE program with friends and family members, some of them told him about their own experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Moved by their revelations, as a St. John’s Law Review staff member this year, Winship decided to write his scholarly note on NDAs and sexual harassment settlements. For months, he worked on the paper with Professor Robin Boyle, who, in addition to teaching legal research and writing at the Law School, serves as faculty advisor to its FBA student division. When she told him about the FBA EDNY panel program, Winship jumped at the opportunity to present his work.

“The panel program, titled Student Scholars in Areas of Federal Practice, came about thanks to the leadership of FBA EDNY executive board member Troy Kessler and with the support of FBA EDNY board liaison Ellen Tobin and St. John’s FBA division president Sierra Fischer ‘21,” Professor Boyle says. “After faculty colleagues recommended student scholarly papers, I worked with the FBA EDNY team to select the final slate of eight student presenters, who wrote on a wide range of federal practice topics.” In addition to Winship, those student presenters and paper topics were:

  • Brendan Beirne ’22, “Hoodwinked: A Note on Robinhood, FINRA, and Protecting New Investors”
  • Zach Benaharon ’21, “A Glance at U.S. and European Union Autonomous Driving Regulations: Centralizing Regulations Can Help Steer Autonomous Driving In the Right Direction”
  • Joseph Benincasa ’21, “Title VII after Bostock v. Clayton County- How this Decision may be Catastrophic to Women’s Professional Athletics”
  • Evan S. Biegel ’21L, ’22G, “Principled Patenting: Recognizing Machine Inventorship For Unforeseeable Discoveries”
  • Sam Gagnon ’21, “Children’s Right To Feel Safe At Home And At Home In Their Bodies: A Proposal to Protect Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Children’s Right to Access Gender-Affirming Health Care”
  • Gabriel V. Niculescu ’22, “Changing the Second Circuit’s Analytical Framework for the Enforceability of Forum-Selection Clauses Designating a Foreign Forum”
  • Roger Wong ’21, “Qualified Immunity & Police Reform:  Do Not Let Perfect Stand in the Way of Good”

During the program, the students showcased their work before an audience of lawyers, judges, professors, classmates, friends, and family. FBA EDNY board members Cynthia Augello, Joan Foley, Troy Kessler, Russell Penzer, and Ellen Tobin served as moderators and commentators. “It was a moment when St. John’s Law students brought to the attention of the bench and the bar timely federal issues and their well-reasoned proposed solutions,” says Professor Boyle, adding, “I could not have been prouder of them.”

As he looks forward to serving as president of St. John’s student division next year, Winship appreciates all he has learned and gained through his affiliation with the FBA—from the first CLE experience that inspired his scholarly note through his presentation at the recent panel program. “Having this chance to interact and forge connections with esteemed federal practitioners is such a privilege,” he says. “I’m grateful to St. John’s Law and the FBA for making it all possible.”