Member Spotlight

Joe Rochman

Joseph Hayes Rochman (he/him/his)

Current Title and Employer:

I am a term staff attorney at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit where I am almost at the end of my two-year clerkship. This summer, I am excited to be joining Barket Epstein Kearon Aldea & LoTurco, LLP practicing civil rights and criminal defense law. 


Tell us about your involvement with our bar association.

I started volunteering at LGBT Bar NY’s clinic during the fall of my first year in law school.  I found that being a part of the clinic was a great way to stay involved as a law student and to meet practicing attorneys who were openly LGBTQ.  I loved having the opportunity to work with dedicated attorneys like Brett Figlewski, LGBT Bar NY’s former legal director, and Shain Filcher, LGBT Bar NY’s new executive director.  In my spring semester, I continued volunteering when the pandemic struck, and we quickly adapted to running the clinic virtually.  I also worked with Professor Arthur Leonard writing for LGBT Law Notes, which was a fantastic opportunity to gain legal writing experience and publish as a law student.  Dean Crowell, the dean of my law school, New York Law School, who is also openly gay, also encouraged me to develop a close relationship with LGBT Bar NY.

Getting to know and learn from these and other attorneys was meaningful for me not just as a law student but also as I started my legal career.  As a gay man, I looked up to them as leaders in the profession, representing to younger people that you can be both accomplished and true to yourself.  When I was growing up and as a young adult, I knew of only a few openly LGBTQ people in “professional” careers.  In fact, school counselors and others warned me that being open about my sexuality could be detrimental to my career.  Eric Lesh, the then-president of LGBT Bar NY helped me land a judicial internship with the late Judge Feinman during my 1L summer.  Judge Feinman ended up marrying my husband and me, and I made life-long relationships with his clerks at the time. Becoming close with an openly LGBTQ judge at the height of his career was quite literally a once in a lifetime opportunity. Representation matters. 

I hope to have the chance to influence young LGBTQ people pursuing legal careers too. I plan to volunteer more with LGBT Bar NY in various capacities after my clerkship ends. 


Who supported you on your path to becoming a lawyer?

Of course, my husband Eric and my dog Luna were there for me the whole way through law school.  My family and close friends also joined me on my journey, and I am so thankful for them.  But I think the path to becoming a great lawyer is long.  Establishing good relationships with attorneys (and non-attorneys too!) has really helped me grow as an attorney and an advocate. I have been lucky to meet many wonderful attorneys, especially at LGBT Bar NY events, through my law school, my law school internships, and in my current role at the Second Circuit, who have given me advice and guidance.  The list is long! 


What does a day in your professional life look like?

At the Staff Attorney Office, I work on pro se appeals.  Staff attorneys typically serve two-year terms and function as law clerks to the judges, writing substantive memos and drafting proposed summary orders for panels in areas of law including constitutional law, civil and civil rights law, criminal law, agency law, federal appellate procedure, and habeas corpus.  Because my work is exclusively appellate work, I do a lot of research, writing, and editing.  

I would highly recommend the Staff Attorney Office to any interested law students.  It is a great place to begin your career because you gain expertise in different areas of the law and develop excellent legal writing skills. Another benefit is that unlike an elbow clerkship, you learn to write at a high-level and a fast pace for a panel of judges who you will not know in advance, which strikes me as being an asset for any future litigator. 


What do you love the most about your current position? 

Having insight into how the court works has been an invaluable way to start my career.  I love the opportunity to work on pro se cases, which the Court takes seriously. In this role, you learn how to assess the merits of a case from a neutral perspective and produce high-level work for the judges.  I have also had very impressive and accomplished supervisors who are career appellate lawyers to learn from. 


How has being openly LGBTQ+ impacted your career?

Being openly LGBTQ has changed pretty quickly in the last decade or so, but there is still lots of work to be done. My experiences as an openly gay man, particularly before I went to law school, gave me a deep sense of empathy for people from all backgrounds. This will serve me well when I go onto my next job as an advocate and have the opportunity to fight for people’s rights. My experience will help me understand what it’s like for my future clients to navigate some of the most difficult times in their life. 


What movies/shows are you currently streaming? 

I am watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 16! This has been a fabulous (as always) cast of talented and hard-working drag queens.


Who inspires you (legal or non-legal, LGBTQ+ or ally)?

I find inspiration from so many people, lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Of course, I’m so grateful to see so many openly LGBTQ litigators and judges. Their work and dedication is inspiring. I am also inspired by queer artists—particularly drag queens—who create something beautiful in the face of so much adversity. 


What advice do you have for new lawyers?

Get out of your comfort zone and try new things.  You never know what you’re going to be capable of or what you’re really going to love doing if you don’t try.  Make connections with people, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know for advice (especially me!), some people may not respond to you, but the ones that do will likely be lifelong friends and mentors.

Find activities and communities that ground you.  Volunteer with organizations that are not centered around the law, such as arts or service-based organizations.  We are so lucky in New York City to have so many LGBTQ organizations.  Remember, the law is only one aspect of our lives.  


Any LGBTQ+ Book Recommendations (legal or non-legal)? 

Reading LGBTQ history is so important.  One book that I purchased and I’m looking forward to reading is The Women’s House of Detention by Hugh Ryan which tells the story of the women’s prison in Greenwich Village and the people that were imprisoned there.  You would never know the story because the site is unmarked, like most historical stories of LGBTQ people.  


What is your favorite part of being a member?

My favorite aspect of membership with LGBT Bar NY is that it cultivates a strong community of LGBTQ and allied attorneys, judges, and others.  Being a member is a great way to get to know others at the many events and CLE’s that LGBT Bar NY hosts throughout the year.  LGBT Bar NY’s staff and volunteers also work tirelessly to represent the needs of the LGBTQ community and the legal community in New York and beyond.