From Debate Club to Courtroom: The Journey of Attorney Shannon Sullivan

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The following is an interview with Attorney Shannon Sullivan at the law firm of Pillinger Miller Tarallo.

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a lawyer? What inspired you to pursue a career in law?

In High School I belonged to a debate club which helped me to discover my love of arguing and got me comfortable with public speaking. Unfortunately, the college I decided to go to did not have a pre-law track, so I majored in Philosophy and tried to choose courses geared towards my interests. In addition to oral argument, I also loved research and writing. To me, law school seemed like the best way to use my talents and turn them into a career.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your early career, and how did you overcome them?

Fresh out of law school I worked as a public defender with the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society in New York. At the time of my hiring, they were recently the recipients of Hurrell-Harring funding and undergoing a total change in how the office addressed the needs of its clients. Fortunately, they meant that I got to be a part of something new and the leadership that was put in place was as excited as I was about what we were doing. The collaborative atmosphere and daily meeting with my team to go over cases was fundamental in my learning the law and gaining the confidence I needed to manage my own courtroom and earn the respect of my colleague, judge, and adversaries.

The legal field is vast. How did you develop an interest in your practice area?

After leaving the criminal defense world, I worked in investigations for 2.5 years and found myself missing the courtroom. I became an accident lawyer to get back into litigation and once again perform client-facing work.

Can you share an example of a particularly challenging case you’ve worked on and how you navigated it?

While I was working as a public defender, I had a client come to vacate a warrant for a case from 1997. He had driven all the way from Virginia to try after learning from his immigration attorney that there was a warrant for him in New York. After retrieving their file from storage, the prosecutor had a note that there was a question as to whether the person arrested for this crime was actually my client or someone using his identity. We were able to work together to have my client fingerprinted to confirm whether or not he was the person indicated for this crime. Unfortunately he was, but along with a supervisor from both my office and the District Attorney’s office, we were able to come to a resolution that in no way negatively affected my client or his immigration status.

Not only is the legal field vast, it’s often overwhelming and stressful for us as clients.
How do you balance the legal and emotional aspects of advising clients?

Honesty is the best policy when dealing with clients. Make sure that you’re keeping in contact with them so they don’t feel like they’re being left in the dark. Legal issues are intimidating and often your client is traveling uncharted waters. It’s important to be patient and to keep in contact so that they don’t feel forgotten or ignored.

What tips would you give to individuals who may be hesitant to start a legal process or who may not know where to begin?

Myself and my office are open, engaging, and responsive and approach each case with the goal of not only providing sound legal advice, but also ensuring excellent client relationships.

What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers who are considering a legal career?

Ask questions of the people whose careers you respect and never be afraid to admit when you don’t know something.


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Nick Kellermeyer

Nick Kellermeyer is an experienced entrepreneur and angel investor. His startup experience spans restaurant tech, legal tech, ecommerce, marketplaces, food tech, saas, ad agencies, and much more. Nick received his BS from the University of Dayton and his MBA from DePaul University.

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