Unusual and Highly Specialized Practice Areas
Think back to the day when you decided to become a lawyer. Do you remember why the profession appealed to you?
There are a multitude of reasons why we decide to pursue law, but many of us were drawn to the profession to satisfy our craving for intellectual challenge. Usually by coincidence, rarely by design, attorneys often find surprising opportunities to work in unusual or highly specialized practice areas that consistently present new and interesting challenges.
This was the case for Abram Bohrer of Bohrer & Lukeman. Upon law school graduation, Mr. Bohrer began his career with a large regional general practice firm. After only one year, he started his own firm, and shared office space with an older gentleman who would later become his mentor. His parents ran a freight forwarding business, which piqued his interest in aviation law, but he never expected to become a leader in the field. As luck would have it, shortly after starting his practice, he received a call from a woman who had been injured in flight while using an airplane restroom. He viewed the case as a simple personal injury matter. An insurance adjuster offered a rather pithy settlement. By sheer coincidence, a leader in aviation law was visiting his mentor and suite mate at the time. After introducing himself, Mr. Bohrer bemoaned the fact that the insurer offered him so little to settle the personal injury case. After a brief conversation, he learned that the case could be litigated under the Warsaw Convention, which governs international commercial air travel. Armed with this knowledge, he delved into all the information he could find and quickly obtained a settlement multiple times the amount of the initial offer. Today he is one of the few attorneys in the entire country who has successfully tried to verdict a case involving the Warsaw Convention. His website, Flightinjury.com, contains a wealth of information for people interested in this specialized practice area.
A typical day for Mr. Bohrer is filled with issues involving jurisdiction, products liability, federal pre-emption and conflict of laws. Knowledge of the Montreal and Warsaw Conventions is important, but to really succeed, knowledge of the industry, an understanding of mechanics, weather, and accident reconstruction using scientific formulas becomes critical. The pressure created by large accidents is challenging, but Mr. Bohrer is rewarded knowing that he is helping ordinary people with no bargaining power against large airlines and corporations.
John Fabiani, a partner at Fabiani Cohen & Hall, LLP primarily practices insurance defense, but a small percentage of his business involves equine law. This practice area involves everything from insurance issues to partnership disputes, misrepresentation, and syndication of interests in valuable racehorses.
As the owner of several horses, Mr. Fabiani always had a personal interest in the racing industry. As a young attorney, he created his own opportunity to practice equine law when a partner left the insurance defense firm where he worked. Using his skills of persuasion, he managed to persuade his boss to allow him to handle the departed partner's equine cases. His wish was granted, but Mr. Fabiani is quick to point out that knowledge of the law was not sufficient. Understanding the industry was a major key to success. He devoured every trade publication available at the time and learned about practical issues such as equinne fertility and health through farm managers, breeders and veterinarians. This allowed him to understand risks, educate his clients, assist them in balancing the risks and rewards, and draft documents to protect them and maximize their equinne-related investments.
He quickly learned that his knowledge of the law and the industry was insufficient. Armed with the ability to discuss the business intelligently, Mr. Fabiani seized the opportunity to learn from the firm's senior partner, who proved to be an invaluable mentor. His mentor made important introductions to the young attorney and taught him the art of networking.
Fashion is an ever evolving and growing $300 billion dollar industry in the United States. For Staci Jennifer Riordan, Chair of Fox Rothschild's Fashion Law Practice Group, fashion law is the perfect marriage of legal training combined with her years of hands-on business experience in running production and fashion companies. However, Ms. Riordan is quick to point out that a love for fashion does not guarantee success as a counselor. The work is taxing and workdays, just like those for any lawyer, are long.
Ms. Riordan specializes in counseling businesses and addressing intellectual property related issues such as fashion licensing, trademark, copyright and fashion litigation. But like all industries, the fashion industry has many different business needs. Attorneys skilled in banking, real estate, international trade or employment can become involved in this practice area by focusing their interests on the fashion world. In order to begin, it is critical to learn as much as possible about the inner workings of the fashion industry. Connecting with clients and understanding their needs, is critical to success.
Explaining legal concepts to creative people in a manner they understand is one of Ms. Riordan's greatest strengths. "Lawyers tend to think in linear terms; designers tend to think more abstractly. Client counseling is my favorite aspect of my job," says Ms. Riordan.
With her background and work experience greater than most attorneys in the field, she is able to help clients avoid mistakes that, more often than not, she has lived through. She considers herself a true business partner. Counseling also allows her to identify opportunities and challenges for her clients, and she takes great satisfaction in her role in their success.
Ms. Riordan's advice is "Trust your instincts. Do not be afraid to take the unconventional path and bring your creativity and passion to your job. Your clients can tell whether you really care about them or if you merely view their assignment as nothing more than a job." Ms. Riordan shares more insight into the practice on her blog. (http://fashionlaw.foxrothschild.com/).
It is well established that New York law protects gay and lesbian people from discrimination, but what laws protect a segment of the population who identify themselves as transgender individuals? M. Dru Levasseur practices transgender law at Lambda Legal (lambdalegal.org) and he grapples with his clients' discrimination issues on a daily basis.
Although New York State explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity is not included in the state's anti-discrimination law. Lawyers like Dru Levasseur have persuaded the courts to allow transgender individuals to pursue anti-discrimination claims under the category of sex. Yet, much work remains and education is the cornerstone of progress.
First, Mr. Levasseur explains, the term "transgender" is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender healthcare coverage, regarding the psychological, medical and surgical issues facing transsexuals, is an area ripe for change. The American Psychiatric Association created criteria to diagnose and treat the stress and impairment associated with gender dysphoria (discontent with sex assigned at birth) that may be associated with transsexualism. Nevertheless, transgender people face many obstacles in accessing appropriate care because many insurance companies refuse to cover transition-related care. Furthermore, individuals who disclose their transgender status on health insurance applications are often denied coverage for other basic healthcare needs unrelated to their transgender status. Education may be the key to change and many attorneys, such as Mr. Levasseur, are involved in the Legal Issues Committee of the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (wpath.org), an international professional organization dedicated to promoting evidence based care, education, research, advocacy, public policy and respect in transgender health.
Practicing transgender law is not for the "faint of heart." Dealing with calls from people who have experienced hate crimes, employment discrimination and health care discrimination can be disheartening, but this specialty is rich in resources and support from brilliant attorneys like Mr. Levasseur who enjoy making a difference in the lives of others.
As in other practice areas, mentors are valuable and can often be found within large national organizations such as the National LGBT Bar Association or closer to home in the City Bar's LGBT Rights Committee's subcommittee on Gender Identity and Expression. Mr. Levasseur's advice is relevant to any practice area: find someone who is performing the type of work that interests you and view him or her as a mirror image of the person you wish to become.
Other than some emergencies or time-sensitive issues, all of these attorneys say there is no such thing as a typical day for them. Although legal questions are the norm, successful attorneys strive to provide practical solutions to their clients, have good communication skills and are responsive and they never stop learning from every form of media: industry publications, blogs, other attorneys and people who work in any given business or organization. What is most important to their clients is that they understand their needs and respond to them.
Margarett M. Williams
Director of Employer Relations, Touro Law Center and Member of the New York City Bar Associationís Committee on Career Advancement and Management
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