It’s hard to imagine a Rochester without Justin L. Vigdor.
Like the iconic character of George Bailey, played by James Stewart in the classic holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Vigdor has enriched virtually every aspect of life in the Rochester area.
Thanks to what amounted to little more than a twist of fate that brought Vigdor to town, the Flower City enjoys an impressive collection of organizations and events that have become synonymous with our communal identity.
Vigdor, 92, is celebrating 70 years as an attorney, now of counsel at Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC.
“The list of accomplishments in Justin’s professional life is staggering and truly remarkable. All in service to others,” said Edward P. Hourihan Jr., managing member of the Rochester office of Bond, Schoeneck & King.
“Justin has had an illustrious career as a lawyer, representing businesses throughout the region and beyond in major corporate transactions. If one were to measure the value of all he has given to the community over several decades, it’s simply enormous,” Hourihan said.
Longtime friend Mary C. Loewenguth, clerk of the court for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, called Vigdor “a remarkable man.”
“I do not think there’s an attorney in town that does not hold him in high regard. He took care of his clients and he took care of the community,” she said.
Vigdor, who grew up in the Bronx, was inspired to pursue a career in law by his father, Irving Vigdor, who was also an attorney, and encouraged by aptitude tests in high school that illuminated his talents.
After earning his law degree at St. John’s University, Vigdor worked for a short time at a small firm in Long Island City and applied for jobs at Wall Street firms, but they weren’t hiring Jews or Black applicants back then, he said.
During the Korean War, Vigdor served as an Army lawyer. His first assignment was in the Judge Advocate’s Office in the headquarters of the First Army on Governors Island.
Later he worked in the Pentagon working as a defense attorney representing soldiers in court martial appeals.
After that, the colonel overseeing Vigdor was promoted to general and Vigdor went on to become his aide.
Before he left the Army, Vigdor was offered an opportunity to stay in the military and be stationed anywhere he chose. But by that time he was married and had a child. So Vigdor and his wife, Louise, decided to look for a place to settle down.
He applied for jobs at firms in Syracuse and Rochester and decided to accept the first job offer he received, which was in 1954 at MacFarlane & Harris, a Rochester firm that no longer exists.
By the 1960s, Vigdor was a partner in the law firm Mousaw, Vigdor, Reeves, which had about 15 lawyers. That firm later because Mousaw, Vigdor, Reeves, Heilbronner and Kroll.
After a series of mergers and transitions, Vigdor eventually moved to Bond, Schoeneck & King about seven years ago.
Nowadays, his practice is focused on general corporate work and business matters, not-for-profit organizations and alternative dispute resolution.
“I’m sort of retired. I only work a few hours, a few days a week,” Vigdor said.
The list of Vigdor’s awards and affiliations with community service organizations is enormous.
Vigdor received the New York State Bar Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in January 2014. He’s a past president of the Monroe County Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association and both organizations have awards named after him
He has been a member of the New York State Uniform Law Commission since he was appointed in 1989 by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo.
And he is one of the most prolific fundraisers for worthy causes the Rochester community has ever seen.
He led the multi-year campaign to create the Telesca Center for Justice that houses several public legal service providers at one location.
He’s been chairman of the Rochester Fringe Festival for 10 years and he has served on the boards of dozens of community service organizations over the years.
Vigdor was a driving force behind the establishment of the Al Sigl Community of Agencies. Early in his career in Rochester, Vigdor joined the board of what was later known as the Mary Cariola Children’s Center and he later became its president. The organization provided education to children with developmental disabilities.
In the early 1960s, Vigdor worked with a group of human services agencies to expand the mission and coordinate their services. Vigdor led the effort to combine the agencies at one location and helped raise the funds needed.
The result was what is now called the Al Sigl Community of Agencies, which provides services to more than 50,000 adults and children with special needs and disabilities.
When he was president of the Monroe County Bar Association in the late 1970s, Vigdor started work on a project that eventually became the Telesca Center for Justice, which employed a similar philosophy to co-locate several public legal service organizations in one place. It took almost 20 years, but eventually, after more than $2 million was raised, the idea became a reality.
Vigdor said he tells young attorneys that the law “is a very gratifying profession.”
“You can do a tremendous amount of good for the community. You can help existing agencies by getting involved in them and they will come to value your expertise and you’ll have a lot of gratification,” he said.
“It may not be monetary gratification, but you’ll have intellectual and spiritual gratification,” he said.
“You’ve got to remember that you’re an important asset to the community. You’ve got to give the community time and expertise if you can,” he said.
[email protected] / (585) 232-2035
Justin L. Vigdor
Title: Of counsel, Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC.
Education: University of Maryland, bachelor of science degree; St. John’s University, bachelor of laws degree; New York University, master of laws degree.
Family: Wife, Louise; son Robert; daughters Jill Feldman, Lisa Peck and Wendy Hess.
Quote: “You’ve got to remember that you’re an important asset to the community. You’ve got to give the community time and expertise if you can.”s