The First Building Bridges Program Launched by Albanian American Bar Association, Noli Library and Cultural Center

Rafaela Prifti

Six Trailblazing Albanian-American Judges shared insights and experiences of their legal careers last night at Suffolk University Law School, Boston. Launched by Fan Noli Library and Cultural Center, the first Building Bridges program was a networking event presented by Albanian American Legal Students Association (AALSA) and Albanian American Bar Association (AABA). Speakers, guests and law students sat at the school’s Sky Lounge in person and others attended virtually by Zoom from 6 to 8 pm.

Here is a summary of the main points:

-There is a good number of judges, attorneys and officers of law who are Albanian-Americans or of Albanian descent who sit across the country, literally from Attorney Hatixhe Grbeshi in California to Judge Toro, currently in New York. The majority of them have common backgrounds: their parents came from Albania with little schooling, they were children of immigrants and none of them had any lawyers in the families, which means they charted their own course to the legal professional.

– The event moderator Supreme Judicial Court Justice Serge Georges, Jr. who, in the spirit of the meeting, declared himself  “an honorary Albanian” summed up the experiences of Judges Toro, Shaban, Shkreli Zaganjor, Kaplanes and Tochko, with a succinct statement: “There is no secret sauce in becoming a good lawyer or judge: You need to be on time, and 2. You need to be prepared!      

– Their parents or grandparents instilled in them values associated with the Albanian culture such as “putting in the hard work”, applying “a strong work ethic” and “persevering despite challenges and hardships.”

– Being a judge is a tough job in terms of the weight your decisions carry on the lives of other people, and also in realizing the limitations of your strength, as Jugde Zaganjor said, yet it can also be rewarding in terms of helping the community feel safer whether through youth programs, as retired Judge Tochka explained or even getting tax situations resolved, as was a case relayed to the audience by Judge Toro.

– What the six Albanian American judges have in common including the first Albanian female Judge in the US Shkreli is that “they did not get to that position on their own.” They were supported and mentored by people who put their trust in them and encouraged them to go further by taking the next step in their professional careers, as Jugde Kaplanes, who sits in Massachusetts put it. Consequently, it makes sense that “his office has the most interns,” said the moderator Justice Serge Georges. 

As a practical takeaway for law students and others who aspire to go into the legal path, connect and reach out to inquire about internship opportunities or job shadowing at the Albanian American Bar Association.

AABA was founded in 2010 in Boston, MA. Building Bridges is the a brand new program launched in collaboration with Fan Noli Library and Cultural Center.