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Member Spotlight - DANA SALAZAR

Tuesday, September 5, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Molly Myers
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Do you own your own firm?

Yes, Salazar and Erikson, LLP.  I started the firm two and a half years ago; it will be three years this coming January.  It’s been challenging, but it’s been great.  There’s a lot more independence working for yourself and a little bit more control over the work that you do.

 

Did you work for a private firm before that?

I started clerking for Judge Read at the Court of Appeals after law school, and then I went down to Manhattan to work at a big firm, Jones Day, for two years.  I then came up to the Capital Region and worked for a mid-sized firm, Tabner Ryan & Keniry, LLP, for about five and a half years, before starting my own practice. I have learned different things from each position.  Working for a  judge, any judge, really helps you gain perspective on how they approach cases and what they look for, which can be helpful for attorneys who practice litigation or trial practice. Working at a big firm gave me a really wide range of training opportunities, particularly through the Practicing Law Institute in Manhattan and NITA (National Institute for Trial Attorneys).  I took advantage of as many of the training opportunities that they provided as I could.  But working in a big firm you’re usually doing a small piece of a really big case. Coming back up here, I was able to take cases all the way through: from initial client contact to either settlement or trial and verdict, and on through to appeals.  This really gave me an even better perspective of how a case moves through the process.

 

Where did you learn the other parts of running your own firm, such as the human resources pieces, paperwork and accounting?

Before I was a lawyer, I had a career in operations management.  I worked for a company called Paychex, which was a service oriented firm that provided payroll and tax services to small and medium sized businesses throughout the nation.  As a branch manager and operations manager, I was in charge of the business side of running my particular branch, in addition to hiring people and making sure our customers were getting the services that they needed.  So, for example, signing a lease, finding a computer and software vendor, hiring people, understanding unemployment rules and Human Resources laws; this was all a part of my prior career.  A big part of all of that is to take everything one step at a time; so if you’re going to open your own firm, start with the location, where you are going to practice. Then, if you’re going to hire somebody, there are many payroll companies and other services that can help you. It’s a little more expensive than doing it on your own, but those are always an option for people. And you can always look up laws, as a lawyer.

What made you want to become an attorney?

After my career with Paychex, my husband and I moved out west.  There we had a small business, an art gallery where we sold limited edition prints as well as framing.  We then moved back to the area after about eight years.  When we got back, I wanted to get back into the local workforce, so I looked into getting an MBA.  Coincidentally, at the same time, I started looking into law programs, but I wasn’t sure which program I was going to gravitate towards.  Ultimately, after taking the LSATS, which I kind of enjoyed (which makes me a dork), I realized I liked that test a lot more than the GMATS that I took for the MBA program.  The MBA programs had gotten very technical and more IT oriented, as opposed to management oriented, so I decided to apply to law school.  I’m very happy I did, and I think it was the right fit for me.  It’s tough to go back to school mid-career because I was starting, as my mother puts it, “with a shorter runway.”  My law career track didn’t start in my early 20s, it started later than that.  It also takes you out of the workforce for two years.  You can work summers part-time in your second and third year but you’re not just paying tuition, you’re also losing whatever income you were making. It’s a big commitment for returning students that I think sometimes people forget.

 

What do you find valuable about being a member of the Albany County Bar Association and other bar associations?

I am actually a member of quite a few bar associations: I have different values in each one and I like them all for different reasons.  I know it’s kind of cliché for the Albany County Bar Association, but the Court of Appeals Dinner is the one ACBA event that I look forward to every year.  Where you also stand out for me amongst the other bar associations is your CLE programs.  You keep them affordable, and you seem to have a system in place that lets you put on quite a few of them each year.  I like the one with Professor Hutter each year for lunch, and your presenters are always well prepared and have great handouts.

I’m a member of the American Bar Association, because I love their publications, and I’m dying to go to one of their annual meetings in San Francisco.  I’m a member of the New York State Bar Association, and am on a couple of their committees.  I’ve been on some of their short term committees, and some of their permanent committees, including the Law Management Committee and Human Rights Committee with the late Court of Appeals Judge George Bundy Smith.  We talked about prison reform and youth in the criminal justice system, which was a really interesting committee and I met a lot of interesting people.  I’m a member of a few county bar associations; the Albany County Bar Association, and the Rensselaer County Bar Association, which is where I practice and live, as well as the Columbia County Bar Association.  The RCBA has two events a year, and all of the county bar associations are small enough that at the events you easily get contact with the local judges.  When you appear in front of these judges, your face is known and you’re not a stranger.  I always encourage younger attorneys in particular to join their county bar associations, wherever they live or work, or both, so that they can meet their judges in an informal setting.  That way they are not presenting a motion for the first time in front of judges they have never met before. I’m also a recent member of the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association, which is a very tight knit organization but are very welcoming. I’ve been a member of the Capital District Women’s Bar Association for a very long time, since law school, and that association is very near and dear to my heart.  I’m now the President of that Association. I love that organization because of the people that make up the membership and its leadership. The Women’s Bar has a lot of good events that repeat every year. There’s a Judicial Reception that has all of the Third Department Judges, Court of Appeals Judges, most of the trial judges, right on down to the city and local benches, and that’s usually held in the Spring, in Albany. We also have an event called Sweet Success where we celebrate the successes of our members from the past year which is a really fun event, as well as the Installation Dinner in June every year.

During law school I became involved, with the then Dean Guernsey, with issues of diversity and increasing the diversity of the student body.  For example, in the year I graduated, there was one male, black student in the entire school, for all three years.  There were a lot of black women, but only one man, which doesn’t seem right.  Some of the dialogue surrounding that issue was that it was too much to overcome, but I just could not accept that.  Diversity can make people uncomfortable because it’s forced association with people who are not like you.  Diversity is slowly increasing, especially in terms of women.  My husband watches sports and I see more and more women doing interviews and commenting and there’s less of that sexual undertone and more of people just doing their jobs.  I think there have been great strides made, but there’s more work to be done.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?

Lawyers work too much, always, because there’s always work to be done.  When you’re drafting briefs there is always more editing that you could do, or more research you could do, more facts you could put in.  So I think there is a misconception sometimes with the judiciary that lawyers put things off until the last minute.  But I think sometimes we are just taking advantage of the fact that we can take a couple of more days to do a bit more and make it a bit better.  Which is why sometimes it’s the last day that it’s going in, because we can!  But without deadlines we would just keep polishing forever.  

Outside of work, I spend time with family - and I recently started raising some livestock.  I have some sheep, Gotland Sheep, which are a Swedish breed known for their wool.  They are a rare breed that were introduced to the United States through up-breeding.  Most of the sheep here are in the 80 or 90% pure range.  It’s interesting because I’ve always had dogs and horses, and I wanted to find livestock that lived outside, but that were not as expensive and high maintenance as horses are, so I settled on sheep.  It’s been a blast.  I’m learning about their personalities, because they are like horses in some ways and like dogs in other ways.  I have 8 sheep now; one of the sheep I initially got had triplets in April.  A lot of what I do with the sheep is based on the advice that I got from the woman who sold me the sheep, who is actually a seventeen year old girl.  She is a wealth of knowledge! 


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