Sal Strazzullo was enrolled in the evening program of New York Law School. We’ve sounded some critical notes about the school over the years, but let’s give credit where credit is due: NYLS has also produced some stunningly successful graduates over the years, of whom Strazzullo is just one. Ever hear of, oh, Justice John Marshall Harlan II?
(And the NYLS faculty is top-notch too. This is often the case with law schools located in major urban centers, regardless of their U.S. News ranking. They punch above their weight in terms of faculty hiring, attracting great law professors who for personal reasons need to be in New York or Chicago or San Francisco, as opposed to Bloomington or Grand Forks or Williamsburg.)
Of course, it wasn’t easy for Sal Strazzullo when he was starting off, as the Times profile notes:
Upon admission to the bar in 2001, Mr. Strazzullo moved into an empty room in a real estate office on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn and started to look for business. It was, he said, a local search, producing local cases: a drunken-driving matter for the son of friends; “a fig tree dispute” between feuding next-door neighbors.
“When I started as a lawyer, I didn’t really get respect from the people from my nightclub days,” he said. “It was only once I got a Foxy Brown or a Wass Stevens that now all the sudden I’m the guy club royalty wants to turn to.”
But once he got those first few lucky breaks, Strazzullo’s connections in and knowledge of the nightclub world helped him build his practice rapidly. As you can see from his law firm website (replete with a somewhat cheesy seal), he now has half a dozen lawyers at his firm, workng out of three offices — Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Naples (Italy, not Florida; perhaps for relations back in the old country?).
What are the lessons of the Sal Strazzullo story? I think there are a few. First, to quote our former small-firm columnist, Valerie Katz, it pays to have a niche to scratch. In an increasingly competitive and specialized legal world, you want to develop a reputation for expertise and excellence in a specific area or areas. For Strazzullo, that area has turned out to be nightlife-related litigation. Some white-shoe lawyers might look down on this practice area, but Strazzullo seems to enjoy it, to excel at it, and to make a nice living doing it — which is, at the end of the day, what really counts.
Second, for people thinking about applying to law school or already in law school, ask yourselves: Is there anything in your pre-law-school background that you can use as the basis for a niche practice? For Strazzullo, his prior work in nightclubs situated him perfectly to move into this area.
But that’s just one example. Remember Drew Mollica, a graduate of Hofstra Law School who was previously featured in these pages? He parlayed his prior experience as an agent to horse racing jockeys into a successful legal career as a “racetrack lawyer.”
There are countless other examples, of course, of people with pre-law-school careers who leveraged them into successful niche practices. We’ve heard of CPAs who now practice in the area of accountants’ liability law, software engineers who now do IP litigation, and journalists who now do media and First Amendment law. With their focus and their extra qualifications, these individuals are more likely to have long and successful legal careers than students who, say, go directly into law school from college (and then find themselves wondering if they should take time off or even drop out).
Third and finally, the Sal Strazzullo story shows that pedigree is not destiny. Sure, all things being equal, graduating from a more highly ranked law school might open more career doors for you than a school of lower rank. But the school name on your diploma isn’t the only determinant of your success. If you’re smart and savvy and you know how to hustle, just like Sal Strazzullo, you can make a success of yourself no matter where you’re coming from.
P.S. As mentioned above, we are renewing our focus on law school success stories. If you’d like to send us your story, please read the submission guidelines. We look forward to hearing from you!
Earlier: Law School Success Stories
An Afternoon With Ed Hayes, Celebrated Litigator and Memoirist
Size Matters: Wanna Be Successful? Think Of A Niche To Scratch
Quote of the Day: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life