Photographer: Andrea Ceraso
A resident of Pound Ridge for 21 years, Sherry Levin Wallach is both Deputy Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County, and President of the New York State Bar Association. As the bedrock of her fundamental belief in the rule of law, Sherry is heroically devoted to there being equal access to, and application of, justice.
Either of her positions would strain any mortal:
In Westchester, the Legal Aid Society is the primary provider of legal representation for the indigent in felony criminal matters, handling over 4,400 cases in just the first half of 2022. As Deputy Executive Director, based in White Plains, Sherry is responsible for training and managing the legal staff and caseload, and the budget, operations and administration of an overburdened and underfunded organization.
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary Bar association in the United States. As President, Sherry is working on initiatives including improving representation of clients living with mental illness and trauma, modernizing the State’s criminal justice system, enhancing equality for the People of the U.S. Territories, improving ethics of practice for local public sector lawyers, and exploring the legal side of digital currency, Web3 and the Metaverse.. She has an office in Albany, and is also required around the State, and even on a national level, representing the New York State Bar Association.
Sherry manages both positions with aplomb. “I truly believe in ‘equality for all’, and focus my efforts trying to – as the New York State Bar Association motto says – ‘Do the public good’,” Sherry explains. “I went to Westbury High School on Long Island in the ‘80s, when it was one of the communities that was heavily impacted by the illegal drug trade and the problems that come with it. I watched too many good kids make a bad decision – and saw the often- permanent negative course that results, and particularly when a person does not have the means to navigate the legal system. Too many people’s lives are destroyed by a system that’s not rehabilitative and often doesn’t allow for a second chance. Did you know, for instance, that – after serving time – a person convicted of a crime cannot find housing due to the fact that they have a conviction. These experiences helped shape my resolve to do what I can to help make the system work for everyone.”
She describes her path, saying “I went to George Washington University and Hofstra Law School, and then got a whole lot of trial experience working for four years in the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office. I had a stint at a medical malpractice firm in New York City, but shortly after becoming pregnant with my first child, Sebastian, my then husband and I decided to trade a cramped apartment for a nice house in the country. We moved to Pound Ridge right before 9/11 and I started a small private law practice, based out of Mount Kisco, together with my friend Andrea Carrapella Rendo, who I’d met while getting our
nails done at a salon in Scotts Corners. I had my second and third kids, Tyler and Riannah…and divorced my now ex-husband… during the early years of that practice. We were Wallach & Rendo LLP for 14 years, and used to call ourselves a ‘family friendly’ practice – mostly because we were both moms raising families and had to fulfill our professional careers in a way that was also friendly to our families. After we closed Wallach & Rendo, LLP, I worked for a short time working Of Counsel to a law firm in White Plains and another based out of Rochester, New York, and doing some work representing the City of New York. In 2019, after working for many years on committees at the New York State Bar Association with my now boss at Legal Aid, Clare Degnan, she offered me the chance to be Deputy Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County- and really have a hand in every facet of the organization’s good works. I jumped at the job! …I’ve been involved with the Bar Association ever since I became a lawyer and have been deeply committed to its work. In my early years, working on a Bar Association Committee to improve New York’s Youth Courts, I got to work with, learn from, and be mentored by the late Former Chief Judge of New York Judith Ann Kaye. She remains a legal and professional icon to me – alongside Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I got elected President of the Bar Association because I’d been on so many committees, developed so many programs, and held so many leadership roles in the organization that I simply couldn’t fairly be denied!”
Her altruism is palpable. She’s confident and determined, serious and forthright. She’s pleasant and personable. …With none of the noxious lawyer-characteristics that serve as fodder when folks tell ‘lawyer’-jokes. As Judge Brandon Sall, the Westchester County Surrogate, whose Court serves as the safeguard of justice for decedents, observed: “Sherry is the kind of lawyer – and the kind of person – who makes the legal system work. Someone working hard to protect the rights of others. Her work with Legal Aid in the last few years has been admirable, and I’m already impressed with her initiative and leadership as the new President of the Bar Association. I’m proud to call her a friend.”
“I understand that I sound idealistic, but I really love the law, love the practice of law, and love the rule of law.”
I’ve always wanted to do something where I feel like I’m making a difference – and I feel like I’m making a difference providing access to justice at Westchester Legal Aid and through my years of bar association work. At Legal Aid, I manage over 45 attorneys. I’ve always liked to teach, and to mentor young attorneys, and have coached mock trial teams and mentored at mock trial competitions throughout my career. It’s the ultimate way to invest in the future of our profession. When I graduated from law school, I coached mock trial teams at a high school in the Bronx, and then I taught at Hofstra School of Law’s National Institute of Trial Advocacy.
Most recently, I coached the Pace Law School Team. And I co-founded, chaired, and continue to organize and teach at the New York State Bar Association’s Trial Academy program, which originated at Cornell Law and is currently hosted at Syracuse
University’s School of Law. At Legal Aid, my work teaching and guiding the young attorneys really makes a difference for our clients! And I’m proud, among other things, that we instituted a first-of-its-kind Legal Aid Office in the Westchester County Jail which – although currently still interrupted by covid – serves as a model for greater efficiency in – quite literally – bringing access to justice to those who are incarcerated there! And my role as President of the Bar Association allows me to be at the forefront of changes to improve our legal system. I like dealing with the legislative end of things and having a hand in our policy making, and I’m cognizant that the New York Bar Association has a global voice that the international legal community wants to hear.
Though Sherry’s two- job schedule is now quite demanding and might not be considered as ‘family friendly’ as her old practice in Mt. Kisco, she still makes time for activities like horseback riding with her daughter Riannah, who’s a junior at Harvey – where all three kids have gone to high school. Her two oldest children, Sebastian and Tyler are in college – Lafayette & DePaul. Sherry is the prototypical ‘Single-SuperMom’. “We’re big equestrians,” she says. “We currently have three horses. I competed in the Junior Hunters when I was a kid, have spent the last 15 years riding in the local Hunter Paces, and have competed in major events like Devon, Harrisburg and the Hampton Classic. And Riannah is a competitive rider and jumper. We rode this morning! My three children and I also all hike, kayak, ski and scuba dive wherever and whenever we can. Sebastian is captain of the Lafayette ski team, cyclist and rescue diver. Tyler is a film student, artist and advanced diver. I love nature, and sharing time in nature with my kids…and I love this area!” And about herself Sherry reveals, “My favorite band is the Grateful Dead – I’ve been to over 75 shows! And I absolutely love to scuba dive – I have over 100 dives! For me it’s the ultimate, and I can’t get enough of it!”
Somewhat uncharacteristically – at least for most attorneys – Sherry says she has no interest in the next position of power or in politics. Though she might make a terrific Judge or Legislator or Public Advocate or Attorney General, she laughed off each suggestion, saying “I really love doing the work I’m doing to make society a better place.” Only in a light moment did Sherry allow, “…Unless I can do something like open the first law school in the U.S. Virgin Islands!?! …I love teaching…and that would mean a lot of diving!”