Lifting up a two-inch stack of resumes and cover letters, Lois Carter Schlissel displayed the mail from young hopefuls wanting to practice law for Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein.
‘This is just today’s batch,’ she said with amusement during a recent interview at her Mineola office. ‘As a managing partner, now I get all the resumes.’
Some 25 years ago, Ms. Schlissel was one of those young hopefuls, a SUNY Buffalo law graduate sending off her resume to get some hands-on experience after a two-year clerkship with the State Court of Appeals.
But her resume did not make the cut, and only after ‘some heavy-duty document discovery’ as an associate for Skadden Arps, was Meyer Suozzi willing to listen. This time, she got an interview – and an offer.
After the bumpy start with Meyer Suozzi, Ms. Schlissel’s career flourished to include a victory in the widely publicized legal battle over the estate of singer-songwriter Harry Chapin. She now is active locally and nationally on workplace discrimination and sexual harassment law and continues to serve as chair of the firm’s employment law group.
So why would this attorney who vows a love for lawyering want to spend precious time mulling over job applications and dickering with other details of running a law practice?
‘You mean why take a step down?’ she asked, grinning. ‘Not only is it truly a distinct honor, but I really do have, I think, an aptitude for the personnel, human-relations side of the business.’
Ms. Schlissel pointed to her years of practicing employment law as a key qualifier for heading the 50-attorney practice.
Ironically, it is her success with her practice that she said caused a bit of concern among the other Meyer Suozzi partners when she was selected last month to lead the firm. She replaced William J. Cunningham III, who stepped down to take the post of first deputy county executive for Thomas Suozzi, the son of name partner Joseph A. Suozzi.
‘Even though when I was elected it was unanimous, I sensed in the minds of some of my 29 partners a reticence because I’m a practicing attorney who really loves what I do,’ said Ms. Schlissel, who addressed the partners about that concern during the meeting held to appoint her to the new position.
‘I said to my partners that night that it was a well-placed concern, but I assured them that if I had to set aside the practice of law to a greater extent than I had contemplated, then I would.’
The first woman to manage a large Long Island firm, Ms. Schlissel recognized her unique position within its legal community, where the number of women partners is few. She is one of three female partners among 30 at Meyer Suozzi.
Other local firms fare similarly. Rivkin Radler, Long Island’s largest law firm, has 56 partners, eight of whom are women. At Ruskin, Moscou, Evans & Faltischek, three of the 23 partners are women, and of Farrell Fritz’s 26 partners, three are women. Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman employs seven female partners among 41 total.
Long Island is typical of national numbers. A report released in April by the American Bar Association, ‘The Unfinished Agenda: Women and the Legal Profession,’ found that although women accounted for almost 30 percent of all lawyers and a majority of entering law students, they continued to be underrepresented in the profession’s highest echelons.
In Ms. Schlissel’s case, she believed that her appointment was a matter of practicality. ‘I like to think that in Nassau County we are a fairly sophisticated community, and I like to think that this is a sophisticated group of professionals that I work with and that my position as managing partner is based on merit and that it is incidental that I am a woman,’ she said.
The managing partner responsibilities for this high-profile firm will be formidable. Established in 1960, the firm also has other offices in New York, Albany and Washington, D.C. An affiliate, The Ickes & Enright Group, is a registered Washington lobbyist. Partner A. Thomas Levin is the current president of the New York State Bar Association.
Increasing Meyer Suozzi’s presence in New York City is a long-range plan, said Ms. Schlissel, adding that the firm currently is expanding its office space at 1350 Broadway where 13 attorneys work. The firm also expects to open a Suffolk County office, and is considering the Route 110 business corridor.
Ms. Schlissel has said that Meyer Suozzi will not garner any business favors from its association with the county’s new administration.
In addition to the firm’s family connection to Thomas Suozzi, it is rooted in Democratic politics. Except for John V. Klein, former Suffolk County executive and a Republican, other partners have strong affiliations with the party, including Democrat Basil Paterson, a former New York secretary of state and New York City deputy mayor, and Democrat Harold Ickes, a Clinton presidential adviser.
The late John F. English served as a Democratic National Committeeman and was counsel to the Democratic National Committee. Bernard S. Meyer, a Democrat, is a former associate judge of the State Court of Appeals.
The firm’s practice areas are diverse and include certiorari and condemnation; business, real estate and banking; litigation and appeals; labor and employment; municipal law and land use; and estate planning. A major focus of the practice is representing a variety of organized labor groups.
Ms. Schlissel has served on U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s Judicial Screening Panel since 1999, and is the former chairperson of the Federal Courts Committee of the Nassau County Bar Association.
Regarding Ms. Schlissel’s own long-term professional goals, she said, ‘It sounds corny, but I don’t have a long-range plan that includes more than working hard for this law firm.’
And as for her personal goals, Ms. Schlissel, a mother of two daughters, plans to spend as much time as possible with her family. They live in Rockville Centre. ‘That’s number one,’ she said.