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Interview with Basil C. Sitaras, Labor and Employment Lawyer in New York

We recently had the opportunity to discuss the legal profession with Basil C. Sitaras, an associate with the Day Pitney Law Firm where he specializes in labor and employment law. Mr. Sitaras is also an author on the firm’s Employers Law Blog, alongside many of his colleagues within the Labor and Employment department and co-authored “Updated I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form,” Day Pitney Nonprofit Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2013. Readers will benefit from his experience and thoughtful answers concerning their choice of the legal profession as a career and the caution that must be used in doing so for many.

basil-sitarasWhat inspired you to pursue a career in law?
In college, I was approached to serve as a student advocate on behalf of other students and certain student organizations facing disciplinary action before the university’s All-Campus Judicial Council. In these experiences, I felt a natural, elemental sense for advocacy, litigation, and the courtroom, which in turn inspired me to pursue a legal degree and join the profession.

Discuss some specific challenges you have faced in the law specialty and the steps you took to meet these challenges.
After my first three years of practice in one very specialized area of the law, I was looking to expand my professional expertise and skillset. Luckily, the government office I was working for had an opening in the Labor & Employment litigation group, which I actively pursued and ultimately received. However, having no prior extensive knowledge of this practice area, I forced myself to go back and learn it from the ground up, as if I was back in law school or the very beginning of my career.

A few years later, I had the opportunity to move from the public sector to a private law firm. Again, this presented a series of obstacles to overcome that, perhaps difficult at the time, were ultimately more rewarding than remaining on the clear and easy path in front of me.

What piece of advice would you offer someone who is thinking of joining the legal profession?
I would strongly caution any individual considering the legal profession to carefully consider the financial ramifications. Law school is very expensive and the race for the most lucrative positions in the profession is more competitive than ever, especially in the current economy. A legal degree is no longer a guarantee to a huge payday, and before you know it those law school loan payments become due soon after graduation. I highly recommend that any prospective law school students reading this seek out a recent New York Times article on this same topic.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? Name some guidelines you would offer the legal professional just entering the field?
The first year of law school is often the most important year in a burgeoning lawyer’s career. This is what traditionally establishes the path to Law Review and an internship at a prestigious law firm or government position during the student’s second summer of law school. As such, first year law students should remain focused and not get trapped in the mindset of “making up for it later.”

For lawyers just entering in the legal profession, I recommend finding a mentor both inside and out of the workplace, to offer wisdom and guidance from an experienced point of view. I also recommend getting to know lawyers in other practice areas, as you want to establish a network that expands beyond your own developing skill sets. Both of these can be accomplished by joining and participating in local, statewide, and national bar organizations.

As an accomplished author of a blog related to the practice of law, what advice would you offer to the legal professional concerning the role of social media in their profession?
If you are joining a law firm, ask the partners or marketing department which publications and blogs the attorneys of the firm contribute to, and seek opportunities to contribute or co-author articles. On the other hand, be very careful with personal networking or social media outlets such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Regardless of your privacy settings, if you post it, it can and will eventually be found if someone is determined enough or, in the worst case scenario, disclosure is compelled in the course of litigation.

This is the last question and time for your inner lawyer to break free. What qualities do you think are important in the best candidates for a career in law?
Law school and the legal profession offer a myriad of directions for an individual to take. If you enjoy public speaking, advocacy, and strategy (as I do), you can become a litigator; and from there you can follow any number of paths towards various specialties. If your strengths or interests lean more towards “making deals,” you can become a transactional attorney, which also presents seemingly limitless practice areas. In law school, however, do not approach one path or the other with tunnel vision. Be willing to explore other areas of the law that you might not yet be aware of. In sum, if this is the profession you are going to choose as a career, for which you are going to spend a significant portion of your life practicing on a near daily basis, the most important advice I can offer is to do this for yourself and no one else, and to make sure you will be happy doing so.

We thank Basil Sitaras for sharing his insights and advice with our readers. You can learn more about Basil and read his articles at The Employer’s Law Blog.