With both law school and the law school application season about to resume, let’s return to our popular series of Law School Success Stories. While we believe it’s important to provide our readers with accurate information about the perils of law school, including data about high lawyer unemployment and crushing student debt, we like to balance out the doom and gloom with stories of successful lawyers who made winning bets on legal education.
Today’s success story comes to us via the august pages of the New York Times. Even though this young lawyer didn’t go to a top-tier law school, he’s enjoying a phenomenal legal career, marked by fame and fortune.
His story contains valuable lessons for people thinking about, or already enrolled in, law school. Let’s learn more about him, shall we?
Meet Salvatore Strazzullo, the subject of a lovely profile over the weekend in the New York Times. Here’s how the article begins:
The New York bar, like all complex professional societies, has every sort of specialty you can think of: white-shoe litigators, Mafia defenders, crusading Legal Aiders, corporate crisis managers, City Hall fixers, real estate closers and lowly filers of slip-and-fall lawsuits. Sal Strazzullo’s specialty is that capricious class of person occupying the world of New York night life. In a decade as a lawyer, Mr. Strazzullo, 40, has earned a reputation for taking care of the boldface celebrities — and lesser lights of the pleasure-seeking set — who get themselves in trouble after dark.
This winter, for instance, when Adam Hock, the former owner of a chain of bikini-themed nightclubs, walloped Prince Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco in the meatpacking district in a scuffle over models, he claimed self-defense and placed a call to Mr. Strazzullo.
A similar call was made three years ago by Wass Stevens, often referred to as the city’s best-known nightclub doorman, after he was thrown in jail on charges of hitting a man in line at Avenue, in Chelsea, with the steel-plated end of the club’s velvet rope.
Welcome to New York City after dark. Even though the city has cleaned up a lot under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, crazy stuff still happens. And when crazy stuff happens, lawyers aren’t far behind.
How did Sal Strazzullo get involved in this wacky world? The Times explains:
His career-making case was in 2008, when he represented a Russian stripper, Milana Dravnel. At a news conference that Mr. Strazzullo arranged at the Federal courthouse in Manhattan, Ms. Dravnel not only announced that she had been the mistress of Oscar De La Hoya, the onetime boxing star; she further claimed — to the gratification of the tabloids — that she had pictures from a rendezvous at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Philadelphia. The pictures, which, not coincidentally, turned up on the Internet after her announcement, showed the married former champ in fishnet stockings and a tutu.
Representing a Russian stripper who alleged she slept with a famous man? What, Gloria Allred didn’t get to her cellphone fast enough?
A squabble over the pictures’ authenticity resulted in a lawsuit, in which Ms. Dravnel accused Mr. De La Hoya of fraud, defamation and the infliction of emotional distress. The New York Post, which has a penchant for covering Mr. Strazzullo and his clients, reported that courthouse sources said Mr. De La Hoya “shelled out a whopping $20 million” to settle the suit. “It’s like my mom and dad used to tell me,” Mr. Strazzullo said. “Nothing good ever happens at night.”
Indeed — the world of New York nightlife generates plenty of work for attorneys. Sal Strazzullo might be the latest high-profile nightlife lawyer, but he’s not the first. For example, renowned litigator and acclaimed memoirist Edward Hayes, whom I previously profiled, made a name for himself repping celebs who got into trouble after dark.
“I used to do a lot of that kind of work,” Hayes told me when I contacted him over the weekend to ask about this particular corner of the legal world. “I’m a good dancer, I like to hang out, and I was always alert and drug and alcohol free, so people had confidence in me.”
That’s how Eddie Hayes got into the business. What about Sal Strazzullo? According to the Times, he first entered the industry in a non-legal capacity:
Mr. Strazzullo’s first experience with working in a club had come a few years earlier when he had a day job behind the counter of the A&S Italian Pork Store in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“There was a guy up the block, he had a bar,” Mr. Strazzullo recalled, “and I noticed that his place was empty Tuesday nights.” So Mr. Strazzullo made a proposition: He would bring in a D.J. The owner agreed, and the dance crowd quickly followed.
After stints at Club U.S.A., the Palladium and the Limelight — he now represents Jen Gatien, a filmmaker and the daughter of Peter Gatien, the Limelight’s former owner — he opened his own place, Gravity (“Or Cavity, I called it”), on Third Avenue and 86th Street in Bay Ridge.
He thought for a while that he might make a living running clubs, but Brooklyn’s after-midnight world was neither large enough nor diverse enough to sustain a career.
By this time, Strazzullo was already entering the legal world, going to law school classes at night and then working at Gravity into the wee hours. Where was he pursuing his legal studies?