She was a law clerk for the state Court of Appeals, and the chief judge recommended she apply to a growing firm on Long Island: Suozzi, English and Cianciulli, now Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein.
She didn’t get the job. The Mineola firm told her she didn’t have enough experience.
Eventually, it did hire her. And now, more than 20 years later, Schlissel has been named the firm’s managing partner and president.
‘I know of no other major law firm on Long Island that has had a woman as a managing partner,’ John V.N. Klein, chairman of the firm’s board and a former managing partner, said yesterday.
While that may be the case for large Long Island firms, observers say there are a handful of smaller practices with women as their managing partners. Still, only 5 percent of managing partners at law firms nationally are women, according to the American Bar Association.
Schlissel succeeds William J. Cunningham III, recently named Nassau County’s chief deputy county executive.
‘I think, truly, this firm is ahead of its time,’ said Schlissel, 51, who became a partner at the firm in 1986. Previously, she was a member of the litigation department at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York City.
When she started at Meyer, Suozzi in 1981, it had 20 lawyers, all on Long Island. Now it has a total of 50 lawyers in Mineola, the city, Albany and Washington, D.C.
Schlissel has been a litigator and chairwoman of the firm’s employment law practice, in which she was instrumental in fighting discrimination, especially sexual harassment, in Long Island workplaces through her work with corporations, unions and other groups. She will continue to chair the department and practice law at a reduced level but will focus mainly on managing the day-to-day operations of the firm.
‘Strategic growth is way at the top of the list,’ Schlissel said. Klein said the firm is eventually looking to expand into Suffolk County.
The firm is known for its labor and government relations work. Aside from Klein, a Republican and former Suffolk County executive, other partners with political backgrounds include Democrat Harold Ickes, a Clinton presidential adviser, and Democrat Basil Paterson, a former New York secretary of state and New York City deputy mayor.
‘I think maybe traditionally we have been considered a Democratic firm, but we definitely have political diversity within the firm,’ said Schlissel, a Democrat.