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Florence Sinofsky ’10 Makes the Most of Life’s Surprises

Florence Sinofsky was 10 years old when her father, an IBM engineer, was transferred from France to Boca Raton, FL. Arriving two-thirds of the way through the school year, she attended a neighborhood school where she learned English “and some really interesting things, like how to kick out of a sinkhole – we were in Florida, where water was ever present and dangerous.” The next year, Sinofsky had to ride a bus an hour each way to a new school. Her parents were public education advocates and, as newcomers to the U.S., lacked the background to understand what was going on and why some parents abruptly transferred their children to private school. It was not until her first year at Rutgers School of Law–Newark that Sinofsky realized she had experienced “busing” first-hand.

Florence Sinofsky '10 

Florence Sinofsky ’10 

“I spent sixth grade in a black school at the other end of town,” she says, “where discipline problems were endemic (and I know, as a first-hand participant in the trouble-making!), where I taught my teacher how to compute the area of a square, and spent a year looking through art books and forgetting how to study. It left an indelible impression: that I favored naifs and impressionists over other painters and that the most important title was ‘Coach’. But mostly, I was free to be myself.”

Sinofsky returned to France at age 12, considerably changed by her American experience. “I learned later,” she says, “that social constructs get imprinted on a child around the age of 11 – and I was now stamped with the ‘wrong’ stamp.” At 14 she announced to her parents that she would return to the U.S. once she finished her studies. After receiving her M.B.A. in international business and marketing from ESSEC (a French grande école, or elite school, for educating future business leaders), that’s exactly what she did.

Sinofsky’s great-grandfather was a judge and her uncle a tenured professor of international law at the Sorbonne, yet it was more serendipity than “stamping” that eventually sent her to law school. “There is nothing I like more in life than giving advice,” she reports, “though for some reason I never even considered being a lawyer.” That was true until her mother, following their visit to a notary (in France, a lawyer with jurisdiction over civil law matters), commented that the woman reminded her of Florence. A casual observation, it “opened a world of new possibilities that I had not considered before.”

At the time Sinofsky was building an impressive résumé, moving up the ranks at Citigroup following management positions with MasterCard International and PSE&G. She researched becoming a notary, discovered that all French schools required her to be less than 26 years old (“not a feat I could ever hope to accomplish”), so turned to the U.S. where exploring a paralegal career “very, very quickly morphed into considering becoming a lawyer.” With children to care for and the need to maintain an income, Sinofsky decided she would have to go to school at night. She sought advice from a female executive who, although enthusiastic about Sinofsky’s goal, told her she couldn’t possibly handle both a career and law school at night with a family, and that she would lose the prestige she had accumulated over years in the business world.

Although Sinofsky pushed the thought aside, it kept returning. She signed up for the LSAT but a major snowstorm on her scheduled date closed all test sites. “I took that as a sign,” she says, “and forgot all thoughts of law school.” Critical projects at work, where she was a senior vice president, occupied her attention. Upon leaving the financial services firm, “I had many more pressing things on my mind than law school, and thought the idea was over for good.” But it wasn’t. The CEO of Sony Cards, for whom Sinofsky was on a consulting assignment, encouraged her to consider law school, and “the dream came back with a vengeance.” She applied for the LSAT that same day, just making the cut-off for the February 2006 test, pulled her application together in two weeks, and took the test cold. “I did not know you were supposed to take a class to prepare for it,” she says. After three months and no word from Rutgers, she called and learned that her application had not been processed due to confusion around her maiden name. “I don’t know if that helped,” she comments, “but soon thereafter I received my acceptance letter.”

There was to be one more bend in the road to law school. The same week she was admitted to Rutgers, Sinofsky received an offer to work as a director for Planet Payment, an international data and payment processing business. “I talked to the CEO about the conflicting decision I had,” she reports, “and he convinced me that the future was brighter at his place.” Sinofsky deferred for a year. “When the little green reminder came a year later, I meant to throw it away. But I did not quite. I spoke to friends, family, and lawyers. My best friend was unequivocal – ‘you are worth it’. Still I hesitated. And two months later, realizing that I did not want to come to the age of 75 and wonder what would have happened if I had taken the other path, I was on my hands and knees in my home office, looking all over for that little green card.” The decision was made. It had taken five years since that visit to the French notary.

With the exception of a few classes, Sinofsky has found that her corporate background has had limited application to her legal studies. The greatest difference between her perspective and that of less experienced classmates “comes mostly from life experience, from having been out in the world and knowing that things do not happen textbook fashion or rationally.” She found that her personal life had a far greater application to her studies. Sinofsky is married to Bruce Sinofsky, an Emmy winner for his movie Paradise Lost, about a crime and trial in the South, who came to present to her Criminal Law class.

    Among the things she loves about the law school, “in no order of preference, are: the friendships I have made and that I will cherish always, the staircase at the law school (and I am not the only one who feels that way!), understanding what mens rea means, learning about the Constitution and constitutional law, the evanescence of international law, the Jessup Memorial Prize, and having an article published.”
A key life experience has been juggling law school with raising four children, managing a household, and maintaining a marriage. “The truth is,” she says, “that managing everything has not been easy,” especially as a 1L when her husband was out of town until final exams. Most week-end days, she feels lucky to get more than four hours for studying. “I have become inordinately enamored of any children’s activities that last longer than 20 minutes,” she confesses, “a complete turn-around from my previous impatient attitude. I have come to love long lines at the doctor’s office, whole afternoons at the skating rink, anything where I can plop down and read while they are occupied at being children.”

As for her best experience at Rutgers, Sinofsky says, “There are way too many to choose from.” She volunteers that among the things she loves about the law school, “in no order of preference, are: the friendships I have made and that I will cherish always, the staircase at the law school (and I am not the only one who feels that way!), understanding what mens rea means, learning about the Constitution and constitutional law, the evanescence of international law, the Jessup Memorial Prize, and having an article published.”

The article, titled “The July 23 French Constitutional Changes: the Exception of Constitutionality,” was published in the first issue of the new publication International Law Student News (Spring 2009). Of the Jessup Prize, Sinofsky says, “We should have gotten first place.” She was one of five members of the Rutgers Law School team in last winter’s Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition that received the Fourth Best Memorial Award in the northeast super regional rounds. The team was coached by William Schroeder ’86, special counsel at Sullivan and Cromwell LLP and an adjunct professor of Transnational Litigation and Dispute Resolution.

As she did last year, Sinofsky is working as a law clerk for Solaris Health Systems. She is also a senior editor of the Rutgers Race and the Law Review. Other honors include an Arthur R. Khan Merit Fellowship and an Executive Women of New Jersey Scholarship.

Sinofsky’s decision to enter corporate law grew out of her summer associate experience last summer at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP where she argued a family law case before a referee and sat in on an M&A closing. “Both experiences were phenomenal,” she says, “but the M&A closing is the one that made my blood flow faster.”

Sinofsky describes her future in the legal profession as wide open. “I could draw three potential future lines, at a minimum, in terms of where I could be in five years. The only fact I know for certain,” she adds, “is that I hope I will still be with S&C, tempered with the knowledge that life is always full of surprises.”