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“Out of Office”

March 28, 2011

by Blaise Bryant

After 21 years of service, Alice K. Berke decided it was time to close the law offices of Alice K. Berke P.C., a firm she ran on Madison Avenue under the landmark maroon awning.

Berke has no regrets about retiring from the practice of law. For the first time in both of her childrens’ lives, she just recently had the opportunity to volunteer on a school field trip.

“It was so cool,” said Berke.

(Blaise Bryant)

Berke remains very active locally. She sits on the board of directors at the Capital District Association of Rental Property Owners. Her colleague with the group, Bob McRae, described Berke as a “smart woman.”

Growing up in Rockland County near Westchester, Alice Berke had not the slightest dream of becoming a lawyer. Her hobbies were sketching clothes, ice skating, and writing poetry. Her family moved to Niskayuna when she was 12 after her father received a promotion to chief administrator at the Department of Motor Vehicles. She graduated from high school at 16.

After high school, she took her love for fads to the art program at Cazenovia College where she earned an associate’s degree in fashion merchandising. She said she didn’t do well in all of her courses though.

Berke transferred to the University at Albany and changed her major to English. While there, she pursued

(Blaise Bryant)

interdisciplinary studies and worked in retail, but she “hated it.” She knew she had to choose a more practical career path.

“When I went to Albany and was doing English, I had the knowledge I was going into law,” Berke said.

After graduating from UAlbany, Berke went to St. John’s University in New York City to do her graduate studies in law. While she knew she needed a career that was both intellectual and practical, for her, law school was neither.

“Law school was torture,” Berke said. She spent her time reading 100 cases and through discussion figured out how the laws worked.

Graduating from St. John’s was only the beginning for Berke. After law school graduation she underwent the two-part bar exam which included questions about New York state law, as well as ones about other states’ laws.  After she passed the state exams for both New York and Connecticut, along with the multi-state portion of the bar exam, she became a lawyer in both states in 1987.

Her practice though, was anchored in New York, and she worked only one Connecticut case when she represented a lawyer who was about to lose his license. Berke worked in general practice exclusively, and took pride in being “one of the few remaining generalists during the age of specialization.”

In the early 1990s, Berke opened her first law office on Quail Street. where she converted a one-room studio apartment into an office. Just when things were looking good for Berke, she, along with her law career suffered a major setback. While visiting a client just a few buildings from her office, Berke fell on a broken step and broke her spine. For the next few years she endured two major operations.  Since she was heavily medicated, she hired another lawyer to save the business. Trusting another lawyer was a very scary endeavor, she said.

After roughly 10 years of having the law office on Quail Street, Berke decided it was time to move to a bigger and better location. She bought her second and final office at 930 Madison Ave., a 2,500-square-foot office which included eight offices and two conference rooms.

During her practice of law, Berke received three awards: the Distinguished Alumni Award from Cazenovia College in 1991, the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award from the Albany Council on Business development in 1994, and the 40 Under 40 Award from the Capital District Business Review in 2002. She was acknowledged for her involvement in the law, in and in the community, as a member of several boards of directors, as a teacher, and as an advocate for universal health care coverage and mental health parity.  teaching students the law practice, sitting on boards of directors, giving back to the community, and lobbying for both universal health care coverage and mental health care parity.

The entrepreneurial spirit award, she said, recognized the “person who calls all the shots, who makes all the rules, who signs all the pay checks, and who goes to the store to buy toilet paper when the office runs out.”

She also taught as an adjunct professor at Bryant & Stratton Business school from 2000-2001.”She is a great woman and was a great teacher,” said Brian Logan, a long time law professor there.“

Berke has two children: Benjamin Salem 13, and Nakayla Salem 8. She described Benjamin as a mensa who outmatches her in every aspect of negotiation. Berke also once noted that as a runner up in a poetry contest, after she wrote a poem about Benjamin’s first laugh. An article called “Tiny Bubbles” about that poem was published in the Times Union.

Last June, Berke closed her Madison Avenue office and sold it to the nearby College of Saint Rose. The building will soon be demolished to make way for a new dormitory project. This week, the Albany City Fire Department begins training exercises at the old offices before demolition.

Next on the frontier: Berke plans to open a retail clothing store. She has all the stock and is now looking for a location. Plans for the store will eventually be posted on her web site at -30-

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