Monthly Feature: Get to Know... Jennifer M. Schwartzott
July 30, 2020
When Jennifer Schwartzott went to her 10-year high school reunion and told former classmates she was a lawyer, they replied, “Of course you are.”
As far back as the Western New York native can remember, she knew which career path she planned to follow and made no bones about it. But her decision sprang less from a prepubescent fascination with the rule of law and more from, well … TV.
There were a lot of lawyers on the shows she watched.
“Growing up in a small town, I didn’t have a great deal of exposure to professions,” Jennifer said. “But I loved that show ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and also ‘Law and Order.’”
Being a lawyer “just seemed really neat,” she said. “And I was big on fairness. My friends just thought I was odd. In my yearbook, I had a quote about democracy, while they all wrote things like, ‘That was a great time at Darien Lake.’”
From an early age, Jennifer remembers feeling drawn to the adversarial process – less the arguing than the persuading. “It was always appealing to me to take a position and advocate for it,” she said. “If you asked my mother, though, she’d probably say I liked to argue.”
Either way, her path seemed sure as she lit out toward Central New York in the mid-1990s: first stop, Ithaca College to study politics with a minor in French and then maybe a year in the Peace Corps before continuing on to law school.
But plans last only as long as reality cooperates, and an unexpected diagnosis at 19 upended Jen’s.
“I had what the doctor told me was ‘good’ cancer,” she said. “Hodgkin lymphoma.”
Despite the optimistic prognosis, Jen had to take time off in her sophomore year, just when many undergraduates feel they’ve begun to hit their stride, to undergo six months of chemotherapy. At the time, stepping away was terrifying and “a little nuts” for the active, soccer-playing co-ed.
“It’s humbling to be in the prime of your life from a health perspective and have difficulty walking around,” she said. “I think at the time I was focused on just surviving and getting through the day and not making things too traumatic for my family.”
With the clarity of hindsight, she now views that experience as foundational.
“I think it really developed in me at a young age the importance of taking every day for what it is,” she said. “Regardless of what you do, have a good time doing it. If I’m going to do something, I’m all in.”
That carpe diem mantra followed her to the University of Maryland School of Law, where she enrolled after Ithaca College. (To avoid any interruption in her health insurance coverage, she gave up those Peace Corps dreams.) While many classmates fixated on grades and tests, she happily immersed herself in the experience of learning.
“I approached law school differently than a lot of my peers,” she recalled. “I remember shouting in the locker room one day, ‘I’m here to learn!’”
After graduation, she got a job with a Baltimore law firm, and jumped at the chance to work alongside more experienced attorneys. After several years of handling toxic torts and litigation for large, national companies, Jen returned to Western New York in 2010 to work for a small firm in Rochester, where she expanded her practice by taking on medical malpractice matters and, quite accidentally, some school district clients.
She basically inherited the school clients from a retiring colleague who, impressed by her dedication to hard work and responsiveness to clients’ needs, asked her to take the baton.
“What I love (about school law) is the people,” she explained. “The clients are smaller districts, and I’m dealing directly with superintendents and principals, and they’re great people. When they call you it’s because they really need someone to talk through their issue with.”
Bond’s robust school law practice is part of what drew her to the firm in 2018, to work with the litigation, health care and school law practices. Her clients followed her here.
“Jen is an exceptional partner in the work,” said Dr. Catherine Huber, superintendent of the Alexander Central School District. “Intelligent, savvy, strategic and thoughtful, Jen fiercely advocates for the district and our students. We've dealt with some very challenging issues and Jen is there at every turn – offering guidance, providing a sounding board, collaborating on strategy and supporting the work of the district as we strive to create the best conditions possible for all of our students.”
Jen works from the firm’s Rochester office – that is, when she’s not telecommuting.
Pre-COVID, Jen liked to travel with her husband and two children, ages 10 and 12. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve instead focused on restoring their 100-year-old Tudor revival house and visiting their cottage on Lake Ontario.
“It’s our COVID delight,” she said. “We’ve gone every weekend, since there are no soccer tournaments or concerts or anything.”