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GRAWA panelists provide legal employment tips

GRAWA President Laurie Giordano chats with Rochester Assistant Attorney General Debra Martin.

On April 7, seven local attorneys provided insights into the hiring practices of various legal employers in the third part of the “On the Road” lecture series, “The Road to Legal Employment — First-Time Positions, Lateral Moves and Making Partner.”

The group met at Trinities Restaurant, where more than 25 people enjoyed a dinner buffet and short presentations from Timothy Donaher, Sandra Doorley, Anna Lynch, Debra Martin, Kelly Ross Brown, Carolyn Nussbaum and Sarah Sullivan.

Donaher, Monroe County public defender, explained that a hiring committee interviews candidates for local public defender positions. In an office with 60 attorneys, turnover generally creates six to eight openings a year. Enthusiasm for public service is a key qualifier for candidates. New public defenders are often assigned to town court cases to gain experience. 

Doorley, an assistant district attorney, also spoke of a group interview approach at the DA’s office, emphasizing the need for candidates to think on their feet. With 79 attorneys in the office, annual turnover usually generates as many as 10 vacancies per year. 

“We seek a three-year commitment,” Doorley said, based on the training process.

Civil litigation is the focus of the Attorney General’s Office in Rochester, according to Assistant Attorney General Martin. Open positions are posted online, and at least two years of experience is required. 

“Set yourself apart from other candidates by having courtroom experience, community service, or town board commitments,” she said, noting VLSP and nonprofit boards are exceptional opportunities to demonstrate skill and passion.

From the private sector, Nussbaum, a partner with Nixon Peabody LLP; Brown, a partner with Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP; and Lynch, managing partner at Underberg & Kessler LLP, each shared their personal background and hiring expectations at their respective firms.

All three acknowledged that competition has been fierce in the current economy. To stand out from the crowd, they recommended listing extracurricular interests and working at finding some connection to the firm. And always send a handwritten thank you note after an interview.

Sullivan, senior director at Barker Gilmore LLC, said she works with Fortune 500 companies who are looking for in-house counsel. 

“Tweak your resume to match a job description,” Sullivan advised. “Be prepared to give examples of how your experience coincides with the opportunity.” 

Sullivan also suggested that at the end of the interview, when asked if you have any questions, use this opportunity to state “I like what I’ve heard here. Do you have any reservations about my qualifications?” 

Not only does this provide an opportunity to revisit a specific point, it also helps end the interview on a positive note.


— Nora A. Jones (photos courtesy Nora A. Jones)

Following the presentation by panelists, “On the Road” attendees used the opportunity to network with the presenters.

Assistant District Attorney Sandra Doorley poses with Eileen Buholtz, who helped to organize the panel discussion.

Stacyann Freckleton, Amada Ordyk, and Colleen Holland were among the young attorneys taking advantage of the GRAWA program on April 7.

Natella Reinstein talks with Monroe County Public Defender Timothy Donaher prior to the panel discussion.