On October 21, 2019, the Westchester Business Journal reported on a lawsuit filed by Dawn Kirby. Dawn represents an investor who obtained a $500,000 judgment against his former financial advisor, who in turn filed for chapter 11 protection. Dawn and her client are asking the bankruptcy court to find the judgment is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.Read More
Scott Stuart: This is TMA Talks, where we talk everything TMA. I am Scott Stuart, CEO of The Turnaround Management Association, and today with me are Erica Aisner and Julie Curley, who have recently formed, along with Dawn Kirby, the Law Firm of Kirby Aisner & Curley in New York, one of the very few all-women firms and on the precipice of our TMA now conference, the National Organization of Women in two weeks in Chicago. I thought this would be a hugely opportune time to talk about women empowerment, as we did in a recent TMA Talks with Carrianne Basler of IWIRC in AlixPartners.
Scott Stuart: So, today I want to talk to you women about what it’s like to be out there and be brave enough to start a women only firm in New York, in a market that’s so very much dominated by males and what brought you to this decision for the three of you to go out together and form this firm.
Erica Aisner: I think the time was just right for us. It’s something that we’ve toyed with for many years. For myself, being a bankruptcy attorney I think to a certain extent I’m a little bit risk averse but that’s a personal thing for me. With these two incredible women by my side, we’ve worked together for fifteen years, I know them professionally and personally and there’s nobody else that I would choose to take on this adventure with other than them. So, with the three of us as a team, we’re excited to take the next step in our careers and the response from our friends, from colleagues has been overwhelmingly supportive and encouraging, and it’s just making us even more excited to take this leap.
Scott Stuart: So, was it more scary to set out and form your own law firm, which is scary [inaudible 00:02:12] itself, or was it equally as scary knowing that you’re three women who not was [inaudible 00:02:17] respected as you are, have formed a firm that is a women only firm, and that is a distinguishing feature that people are going to take notice?
Julie Curley: I think they’re both scary concepts. I think, as Erica said, because we’re [inaudible 00:02:32] councils, we are, Erica says risk averse, I think I would say it as risk aware so we know [inaudible 00:02:41] pit falls and of course opening up any business is risky because there is a lot of unknown, so that does require, I know you said brave before, we are brave in doing that. But, I think, as far as being women, there are challenges and we had since [inaudible 00:02:58] announced, then when we opened our doors and the amount of feedback, we had hoped that we would get support from our colleagues and other professionals but the amounts and level of support, words of encouragement where they went above and beyond what we had expected. We had hoped that we’d have a lot of support from professionals, from attorneys, accountants, the judges and the trustee’s office. But, the amount of support, it’s just been-
Erica Aisner: Overwhelming.
Julie Curley: Overwhelming. And the fear I think is always going to be is and thing that will continue to keep not only us as women but any other business owner is continued revenue. Well, the phone rang, “when’s the next case coming from?”, and that’s the thing that will continue to… that we have fear about but its not… we’re not alone in that, any other business owner always has that fear.
Scott Stuart: We at TMA celebrate diversity and certainly international organizations of women is a prominent part of that. So, it’s always wonderful to be in a room where empowered women like yourselves, demonstrate in a very celebratory way, that you’re proud professionals first, even though that you are empowered women.
Scott Stuart: Do you think that as women you’ll have to face the question more than you care to about being women forming a firm and being a women only firm? Or it’s moved beyond that. I mean it’s always makes discussions on this.
Erica Aisner: I think that we have always had to overcome that sense of doubt perhaps, that those in the room would have about us, about our capabilities because we’re women. And I don’t think that changes because we’re a women only firm. So, we’re used to that. We’ve been dealing that our whole career. That’s not going to change. I can only hope that as we continue to practice and do good work and gain the respect of the bench and the bar, that will dissipate a bit. But, the truth of it is, is that there are a lot of opportunities out there for women owned businesses and so, it’s not the reason that we chose to open our doors with just three women, but it’s certainly an advantage that we intend to explore at every term because every small business owner needs to take advantage of every opportunity that’s out there and we’re going to continue to that for ourselves, for our clients and for our futures.
Scott Stuart: I’d like to think the answer to this next question is no. But, do you think that being a women owned law firm exclusively will be perceived this time as an impediment? Do you think you’ll face challenges as a result of that, irrelevant as it should be?
Erica Aisner: You know what, I think that there’s a lawyer for every client and that has to do with your experience, your personality. It is really a relationship fit and so that’s going to be the case no matter what. We’re going to be the right lawyers for certain clients and we’re not going to be the right lawyers for other clients. And so, we’re going to have to prove ourselves, the way we always have and the way we will continue to and for those people that don’t want to do business with us because we’re women, well then that’s… maybe that’s their missed opportunity.
Scott Stuart: That’s a good way to look at it [crosstalk 00:06:38] in my opinion.
Scott Stuart: So, what would you tell younger women professionals who are entering this market, what advice would you have for them, giving your experience both of the last fifteen years and what you’re about to embark on with your new law firm?
Erica Aisner: Well I would say to always be aware of how you are perceived in your industry. To always strive to do great work and make a great impression because it’s… you never know who’s watching and who’s paying attention and the respect that you earn and your reputation is something that’s incredibly precious. It’s really hard to create that reputation, it’s really easy to tarnish it and so it’s something that we take very seriously, we work very hard at and I think you can never take your eye off of that because it’s when you do that the bad things can happen.
Julie Curley: I think what I would add to that is to be the best professional that you can be because when you do that people don’t view you as being a female, you really eliminate that gender stereotype. So, Erica and I worked… and Dawn as well worked so hard at being the best professional we can be over the past course of our careers that now our colleagues don’t see us as those female attorneys. That they see us as the good attorneys who know how to handle a case to get things done and the people they think of when they need to [inaudible 00:08:23]. So, don’t block yourself in as a female, don’t give yourself that glass ceiling, just be the best professional you can be and then you’ll-
Erica Aisner: The rest will follow.
Julie Curley: Yeah. The rest will follow [crosstalk 00:08:36].
Scott Stuart: Would you consider yourselves mentors to your younger one?
Erica Aisner: I’d like to think so. I’ve has such incredible mentors throughout my career. I continue to have great mentors, both male and female. There are attorneys and members of the bar and bench, yourself included who we look to for advice, professional advice and if I can pass that on to younger attorneys then I could consider myself very lucky.
Julie Curley: Yeah. I’m involved in the county bar association locally and I do try to take an active role with the newly admitted lawyers action and helping the younger attorneys on their career, just giving them points and suggestions on what to do and what not to do, how to be taken seriously and it all really centers about just being a good worker, using your head, being smart and working hard because once you start getting sloppy, that’s when it all falls through.
Scott Stuart: Well, I really appreciate [crosstalk 00:09:43] your time today and congratulations the firm is Kirby Aisner and Curley in Scarsdale, New York. We [inaudible 00:09:51] proud of you and we hope here at TMA that we can help you be even more successful. But, thank you for taking time to speak today-
Julie Curley: Thank you for interviewing us. This is such a great opportunity. [crosstalk 00:10:02] I really appreciate it.
Scott Stuart: Thank you and congratulations.
Erica Aisner: Thank you.
Scott Stuart: This is TMA Talks. I’m Scott Stuart. Until next time.
In this feature, Tejash V. Sanchala, Esq., Employment Law Committee Co-Chair and Board Member, interviews WCBA members about their experiences and insights. He welcomes any comments and suggestions for future columns. Tejash’s contact information can be found at: http://www.villanuevalaw.com/tejash-v-sanchala.html
Tejash: How long have you been a member of the WCBA?
Erica: 14 years
Tejash: What is your current job and practice area?
Erica: I am a partner with Kirby Aisner & Curley LLP. Dawn Kirby, Julie Curley and I proudly opened our doors on April 1. We specialize in bankruptcy law, represent- ing businesses and individuals, debtors and creditors as well as distressed trans- actions both in and out of bankruptcy.
Tejash: How did you become involved in the bankruptcy field?
Erica: Like many people, I sort of fell into it. I not sure anyone starts out dreaming of becoming a bankruptcy attorney. My first internships in high school and in law school were for a family friend who practiced bankruptcy and commercial litigation. Since that was the experience on my resume, it led me to my first job… I always enjoyed bankruptcy classes in law school and even competed in the bankruptcy moot court team. However it happened, I am glad it did. I truly love helping people find their way through tough times.
Tejash: What is one of your favorite legal success stories?
Erica: I represented a high-end fashion designer who was being pursued by an over zealous former professional who was fixated on putting her out of business, or worse. He was literally trying to litigate her into the ground until she had no choice but to close her doors. The litigant’s counsel seemed to take on the vendetta as well which made the situation even more volatile. We were able to file her company into bankruptcy, neutralize the litigant. Not only did her company survive but it is flourishing and I often see her line in a publication or in the media and when I do, I am reminded of what we accomplished together.
Tejash: Who were some of your legal mentors?
Erica: My first legal mentor was Alan Resnick who in many ways is a founding father of bankruptcy. He was my bankruptcy professor at Hofstra and he took what would otherwise have been a stale subject and made it fascinating. I was lucky enough to keep in touch with him years after I graduated and when he started referring me clients I was truly honored and proud. Another early men- tor was Leslie Berkoff, a bankruptcy partner at my first law firm after graduation, Moritt Hock & Hamroff, LLP (Garden City, New York). Leslie not only taught me about practicing the law, but showed me how important it is to get outside the office and connect with other professionals. She brought me to countless events, introduced me to everyone she knew and engrained in me the importance of having a network. She continues to be a friend and mentor to me for which I am so grateful.
Tejash: If you were not practicing law, what would you be doing?
Erica: I would be a teacher. Not just because you get out at 3:00 and have summers off (which is pretty nice) or for the pension (also pretty nice), but because I love children and making a difference in their lives.
Tejash: What might people be surprised to learn about you?
Erica: In my spare time I am a volunteer chair of the day camp in my neighborhood. We have approximately 60-70 kids enrolled in a full day/ 8 week day camp. We handle everything from hiring, licensing, programming to my personal favorite, coming up with the arts and craft curriculum. My children, Mollie (11), Samantha (8) and Andrew (4) all attend the camp so it is even more re- warding to have a hand in the best part of their summer.
Tejash: What do you splurge on?
Erica: Travel. I love to plan trips and my wish list is long.
Tejash: What is the best hour of your day?
Erica: 9 p.m. That’s when I get to exhale and enjoy the quiet.
Tejash: What is one great movie you have seen or amazing book that you have read in the past year and how did it have an impact on you?
Erica: Right now I am reading Girl Stop Apologizing. It is very timely because it is about how women approach their goals. Given that I am just opening a law firm with two other fabulous and strong women, Dawn Kirby and Julie Curley, it has given me a valuable perspective and incredible positivity about the adventure that we are embarking on.
Tejash: What are some of your favorite vacation trips ?
Erica: That is a tough one! Best trip so far was my honeymoon. We took a cruise (small ship) through the French and Italian Riviera. It was amazing in every way. In May I am going with my family and my mother to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. It will be my first time at a National Park and I’m sure it will top the list of favorites as well.
Tejash: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Erica: My husband, Michael, often tells me that I need to put my oxygen mask on first. As a working Mom, volunteer and all-around “yes” person, I often forget (as many of us do) to take care of myself. Thankfully I have an incredibly supportive husband who makes sure to remind me because it is only when I do, that I am able to be everything that my family, friends and clients need me to be.
Tejash: When is the last time you were outside of your comfort zone?
Erica: Right now. I am not a risk taker when it comes to my own life and I instinctively avoid change. Perhaps it’s a result of years of representing struggling businesses and entrepreneurs. It has taught me to play it safe. Starting this new venture has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone but with the support of my family, friends, clients and most importantly my exceptional law partners, I am ready for the next chapter in my professional life.
Tejash: What advice would you give to new lawyers?
Erica: Find an area of the law that you truly enjoy and don’t settle. Also, don’t forget to give back. Whether it is pro bono work or volunteering your time in something completely unrelated. I serve on the Board of Volunteer NY! Which is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Tarrytown, NY. I love this organization for so many reasons but my favorite is the reach that Volunteer NY! has – helping to support thousands of other not-for-profits and the incredible work they do in so many different arenas.
Tejash: What is one of your future ambitions?
Erica: To own a boat. My Mom and Dad owned a marina and boat yard when I was young. My childhood playpen was a Boston Whaler on the showroom floor. There is nothing like open water to calm the soul and the carefree feeling of skipping across the water with the wind in your hair. Unfortunately, I married a land lover so this goal may take some work.
Tejash: What is your favorite part of being involved with the WCBA?
Erica: Creating relationships with so many experts in various specialties in the Westchester legal community. It makes us all better lawyers when we don’t know the answer but we know who to call!Read More