Visiting Jurist Lecture – Hon. Mary Kay Vyskocil ’83 (SDNY Bankruptcy)

By: Christopher Arcitio | Editor-in-Chief, with contributions from Michael Manzo, Mia Piccininni, Nandini Chowdhury, Katherine Sullivan || Staff Members

On Tuesday, February 7, 2017, St. John’s Commercial Division Online Law Report (“CDOLR”) staffers were invited to attend a guest lecture by alumnus and guest—the Honorable Mary Kay Vyskocil, a Bankruptcy Judge in the Southern District of New York. Judge Vyskocil is a 1983 graduate of St. John’s Law School and has practiced law at the prestigious law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in the firm’s litigation department before her appointment as a United States Bankruptcy Judge. In her three decades of trial practice, Judge Vyskocil has primarily focused on the most significant reinsurance cases for major corporations.

The aim of the Visiting Jurist Series is to bring prominent members of the judiciary to campus and share information on their own career paths and offer perspective on the practice of law. This guest lecture with Judge Vyskocil was no different. CDOLR Staffers Michael Manzo, Mia Piccininni, Nandini Chowdhury, and Katherine Sullivan were all in attendance that evening. First, Judge Vyskocil began the lecture with a brief overview of her background prior to entering law school. Staffer Nandini found it “particularly interesting to hear that she came from a family involved in teaching, and had gone to college with the intention of becoming a teacher before eventually deciding to attend law school.” When Judge Vyskocil arrived at St. John’s, she became instantly involved in activities such as the St. John’s Moot Court Honor Society. The Judge also recalled the experiences of a typical law student, something relatable to Staffer Mia: “Hearing about Judge Vyskocil’s experience at St. John’s was very relatable [to me] as she recalled her experiences from studying in the library, preparing for the bar exam, and accepting her first job at Simpson Thacher.” It only took Judge Vyskocil seven years to rise to the rank of Partner at Simpson Thacher, an interesting fact that stood out to Staffer Michael.

After three decades with Simpson Thacher, Judge Vyskocil then jumped on the opportunity to apply for an SDNY Bankruptcy Court vacancy. Luckily for the audience members, Judge Vyskocil provided incredible insight on the process of applying for such a prestigious vacancy. Staffer Nandini recounts her take on Judge Vyskocil’s path to the bench: “Judge Vyskocil mentioned that unlike other judges within federal courts who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, bankruptcy judges are appointed by the court of appeals for each circuit. She explained the rigorous vetting process she had to go through, which included being thoroughly examined by the FBI for several months.”

After describing her path to the bench, Judge Vyskocil ended the lecture with honest and candid advice that current law students may take and apply in their own careers. Judge Vyskocil was first candid and honest about her new role as a Judge. As Staffer Katherine recalls, Judge Vyskocil will oftentimes rely on the knowledge and expertise of her own support staff and law clerks: “[S]he explained that she relied on her two law clerks to help her find the law and the expertise that these clerks have.” She attributed her current success as a Judge to her support staff and law clerks, describing them as “invaluable to her process of deciding cases and law,” an enlightening aspect of the lecture for Staffer Katherine.

The honest and candid advice that Staffers Mia and Michael took away from Judge Vyskocil’s advice was to “stay hungry” when it comes to seizing opportunities. Staffer Mia specifically recalls Judge Vyskocil “encourage[ing] those of us in the audience to trust and rely on our common sense and to keep a craving for knowledge and desire to work hard.” In the eyes of Judge Vyskocil, law students should “be confident in exercising [their] own personal judgment,” advice that Staffer Mia will hold with her throughout the rest of her time at St. John’s.

As a Judge for the Southern District New York, Judge Vyskocil presides over bankruptcy matters on a daily basis, oftentimes acquiring new knowledge in the field of bankruptcy law. “Judge Vyskocil shared that she approached problems in front of her with a very methodical, common sense approach to get her answer, and normally that answer was the correct one,” an aspect of the lecture that was “very telling” for Staffer Katherine.

Upon reflecting on the lecture, each staffer left the event with newfound inspiration. Staffer Michael described the event as both “informative and motivating.” Staffer Katherine described the lecture as “very interesting” because of the immense knowledge she acquired from the Judge. Staffer Nandini found comfort in gaining the “insight into the trajectory of an experienced attorney’s career and how versatile the legal profession can be.”

Significantly, Staffer Mia enjoyed hearing that Judge Vyskocil “attributed much of her success to the values instilled in her at St. John’s.”

The St. John’s School of Law Commercial Division Online Law Report strives to ensure its staffers receive exposure to the practical realities of the legal profession, including the opportunity to meaningfully connect with professionals in the commercial law field.

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