Pace Law School Student Success StoriesOct 26, 2022
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John Lettera is a 1999 magna cum laude graduate of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and served as the Managing Editor of Law Review. He is the CEO and Founder of Fairbridge Asset Management, formerly RealFi Financial LLC. Fairbridge is a leading, technology driven, alternative investment management firm with expertise in real estate credit strategies. Mr. Lettera’s involvement with the law school has been tremendous. He is a member of the Law School’s Board of Visitors and an Adjunct Professor at Haub Law. Most recently, he made a generous donation to the Law School which will serve as a five-year grant to name its Investor Rights Clinic after Fairbridge Asset Management—Fairbridge Investor Rights Clinic. He has also been an adjunct professor at the Law School since 2010, teaching courses in Real Estate Finance, Corporate Finance, and Venture Capital. Mr. Lettera has also supported the Law School through hiring many alumni over the years, generously sponsoring alumni events, and volunteering with the Center for Career and Professional Development. In 2013 and 2022, he received the Distinguished Service Award as part of the annual Law School Leadership Awards Dinner in recognition of his ongoing support.
How did you end up choosing Pace to pursue your legal education?
Pace was a perfect fit for me, as I wanted smaller class sizes and the chance to establish close relationships with other students and my professors. I wanted a collaborative environment, and I relished the opportunity to engage with other students and work together to complete projects.
You have an interesting professional background, can you speak about that briefly?
I’ve been investing in real estate since 1990, and as an attorney, I’ve specialized in this area for over 23 years, so I have a lot of insight and experience in handling complex transactions—bridge loans, equity and debt financing and investing, acquisitions, etc. Unlike a lot of global bankers or financiers, I like to think outside of the box, more like an entrepreneur than a banker. I learned very early on that this type of investing is very legal intensive so law school was a natural progression and one that has served me very well.
What impact has your legal education at Pace had on your career?
Pace gave me the knowledge and foundation to get recruited to Milbank while also instilling in me the intellectual passion to venture out on my own. Being a part of Pace continuously reminds me that the practice of law is a profession besides being a business and as lawyers we can do good besides just doing well. Thanks to Pace, that commitment is firmly embedded in the culture of its students and in the future of the legal profession.
You are also an adjunct professor at Pace—how do you find that experience?
I always enjoyed classes taught by adjunct professors. I liked learning about their experiences firsthand; it allowed the students to view the world they want to enter through their lens. As an adjunct professor myself, I speak directly to how theories learned in class apply to real life applications and point out the pros and cons of different scenarios that students may not be able to anticipate at their current level. My love for learning fuels my passion for teaching. I am addicted to the challenge of how to get students even more engaged in learning. I can’t teach every student in the world, but I can make a difference for the ones I teach. Knowing that the impact I can have on their lives can stay with them throughout their years of schooling and beyond is incredibly inspiring.
You have been a generous supporter of Pace over the years—thank you. Why do you feel it is important to give back?
There are so many reasons including showing my appreciation for the education that Pace provided me and to give others a chance to have a similar experience. Also, I compare my degree to having equity in a company; I have a personal interest in ensuring that Pace’s prestige grows. For my corporate finance students, it is like owning an investment where valuation changes based on reputation rather than earnings. The onus is on us, alumni, to bolster the reputation of our alma mater to protect and enhance our investment over time. Giving back is also an opportunity for me to channel my passion and allow it to thrive on campus long after I’m gone. It is a way to invest back in areas I wish to see Pace flourish.
What are different ways, aside from financial, that you feel an alumni can and should support their law school?
Alumni often think that they are not ready to support Pace. This is usually on the premise that monetary contribution is the only way to give back. While financial support is an important way to engage, contribution with your time can be an equally enriching experience, if not more. Volunteering to be mentors and guest speakers allows alums to stay current and engaged with bright minds of the future. Those interactions can lead to potentially hiring interns or future lawyers. Also, be sure to hire current and graduating students as this is the best way to promote Pace.
Over the years, I have hired countless students from Pace. Today, I am proud to say that several of my former students have top positions in my company, including a partner with the asset management company, general counsel with the mortgage company, counsel to the asset management company, and the list goes on. I also continue to support externship programs where several students work with my company for credits.
What advice would you have for a future or current law student?
I tell my students that the most crucial variable to your success in business is you. Experience has taught me that if we go to work every day on the internal, the external success we crave will undoubtedly show up along the way. The remarkable thing about working on ideas like inner passion and purpose is that your progress comes out so authentically in all manners of external interaction. When people can genuinely feel that you care about what you are engaged in, you are a persuasive salesperson, without actually trying to sell anything. It takes a lot of courage to work on the internal, but as Anais Nin so eloquently put it, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”. Success, however you choose to define it, is a continual work in progress. While many factors come into play when building a business, I believe that the most important ones have nothing to do with innovation, balance sheets, finance, or marketing. The most important variable to your success in business is you. You are the author of your own life, and it’s never too late to replace the stories you tell yourself.