At retirement, Associate Dean of Career Services Irene Dorzback reflects on 38 years at the Law School

In 1983, a few days after starting work at NYU Law as associate director of the LLM Division, Irene Dorzback attended the retirement party of Gerald Wallace, the founder of NYU Law’s Graduate Tax Program. Reflecting upon her career, Dorzback, who retires this month as associate dean of the Office of Career Services (OCS), says that several observations she made at the event have served as a compass throughout her 38 years at the Law School.

Irene Dorzback
Irene Dorzback

She was struck, Dorzback recalls, by the size of the crowd at the gathering and the bulging binders of tributes written for a man who had transformed careers. Witnessing the camaraderie that the tax program had created among alumni across the country, Dorzback says that the roadmap for her job was clear: to create community among NYU Law students and to strengthen and expand these relationships as alumni.

Dorzback first found her calling in higher education while enrolled in a PhD program in Romance linguistics at the University of Michigan. As resident director of a dormitory, she was troubled by the complex struggles facing her residents, including eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, grief management, relationship challenges, and anxiety. “I thought, ‘How am I supposed to write a dissertation on the French nasal phonemes from 1350 to 1550 when there’s more important work right in front of me?,'” she says. After leaving the PhD program with a master’s degree, Dorzback earned a master’s degree in education with a focus on higher education counselling. She then moved to New York City to pursue her love of dance. Dorzback has often reminded students that they can make room for all that they are—noting that she has balanced her career in education with national swing dance competitions, cruise ship dance instruction, and participation in the Law School’s Law Revue.

In 1978, Dorzback took a position overseeing the cooperative education program at NYU Tandon, where she  developed engineering placements at major employers such as NASA, Kodak, General Foods, Hughes Aircraft, and IBM, among others, while earning an MS in management. Arriving at the Law School in 1983, she spent 12 years working with LLM students and 16 months overseeing the Office of Residential Life and Special Events before becoming assistant dean and then associate dean of OCS.

During her tenure, Dorzback has forged connections with hundreds of law firms and legal recruiters and counselled over ten thousand students. She says that her passion is helping those students and alumni who, like her, have taken a more circuitous career path or sought to combine various aspects of themselves into a career. Her central focus in counseling students, Dorzback says, has been to help them think creatively about their past experiences, encouraging them, as they consider their career goals, to pay attention to what causes them joy, frustration, or pain.

Evan Fried ’11 says that Dorzback was instrumental in helping him define his career interests. As a 3L, he says, he came to realize that joining a large law firm after graduation wasn’t the right path for him. “I wanted to do something different. But I wasn’t clear on what that ‘different’ was,” he says. “Irene spent countless hours working with me, exploring what I wanted, and helping me to realize that what I value is autonomy, creativity, and agency.” After graduation, Fried took a role in litigation finance and now works at the five-attorney firm Slarskey, focused on what he calls “the entrepreneurial practice of law.”

“Irene helped me to use [NYU Law’s] network to find what I wanted,” he adds. “She taught me that a career path doesn’t have to be direct; it can follow your interests directly. Now, every year, she sends me a few students and alumni, and I try to pass on what she’s taught me, how to find what it is that you’re looking for if you don’t know what that is.”

“Irene’s advice when I was preparing for Early Interview Week was absolutely invaluable,” says Shivani Morrison ’21. “She encouraged me to reach for firms that I thought were out of my range based on grades alone, and her kind words gave me the confidence I needed to ace my interviews.” This fall, Morrison says she is headed to one of her “reach” firms. “I know I’m just one of many students whose careers and self-confidence she directly impacted for the better,” says Morrison.

Dorzback says that she’s most proud of helping students during the economic downturn that started in 2008. During this time, she made hundreds of calls to employers to discuss individual students’ strengths, and also informed firms regarding students who would accept offers if extended so that NYU Law could maximize the yield for both employers and students. Many third-year students had their start dates deferred by law firms, so Dorzback developed the Public-Private Alliance for Law Students (PALS), a program to introduce these students to public interest organizations at which to spend their deferral year. When one large law firm folded, Dorzback found new employment for 12 second-year and seven third-year students who had already accepted offers to join the firm. “All were settled two weeks before the firm’s dissolution in May 2012,” she adds.

“Irene went beyond the boundaries of what I think NYU could have expected to help my class find jobs in a really tough market,” says Anthony Badaracco ’10, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney. “She really helped me specifically, in all sorts of ways…and now, I’m doing the antitrust work that I’ve always wanted to do—and I won’t forget everything that she did to help get me started.”

Building community has also been an essential part of Dorzback’s career. She notes that she enjoys connecting a student who is struggling to find a job with a graduate who has faced and surmounted similar obstacles. “Staying in touch with as many alumni as I do, creating matches is easily done,” says Dorzback, elaborating that these connections often last far beyond the specific circumstance that brought the student and alumnus together. She also points to the 16 months she spent as director of residence life and special events. To strengthen connections between students, faculty, and residence hall staff, Dorzback hosted parties and events to celebrate residents and staff and developed a meal plan that enabled students to dine together in D’Agostino Hall. “We were truly family,” she says.

Dorzback says she is proud of the team she cultivated at OCS, noting that nine of her 15 colleagues have been at OCS between eight and 39 years. “My hiring philosophy mirrors the approach that I encourage employers to take–to evaluate whether an employee is motivated, resourceful and creative rather than to hire by credentials alone,” she says. “And we have the most amazing team. My colleagues are ‘smart with heart,’ creating informative career programs and counseling with compassion.“

Looking forward, Dorzback says she has no plans to slow down and is working on multiple potential projects. To support NYU Law graduates who take public service jobs, she has established the Dorzback Fund to Raise the Bar to provide financial assistance for employment-related expenses such as bar preparation, travel, and professional attire. “I will miss the special energy of the Law School,” she says. “I will miss the everyday connections.” 

“What I love is having built connections strong enough, both with firms and with students, that I am able to reveal the worthiness of a student to a firm,” Dorzback says, “And also to reveal the worthiness of a student to themselves. That’s what really makes a difference.”

Posted December 14, 2021