Woman on the Move Eileen Kelly, Trial Lawyer for The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.
Tell us about how you chose your career/business and what your responsibilities include?
After I graduated from law school, I reconnected with a woman who used to live next door to me growing up. Her family had moved away years before, but I had heard that she was a lawyer and still lived in the Wilmington, Delaware, area. We reconnected, and, coincidentally, her husband, who was also a lawyer, worked at a personal injury firm that was looking to hire a law clerk. I eventually met with the owner of the firm, and he hired me. After I passed the Delaware Bar Exam, I was hired as an attorney and continued working at the firm for several years until I moved to New York City. When I was in law school, personal injury was never an area of law that I considered as a career. And had the opportunity not come to me, I don’t think I would have ever actively sought a career in this field. However, I am eternally grateful that I ended up in this area of law as I have truly enjoyed going to work every day and doing what I do for the past 11 years.
In my experience as a personal injury lawyer, I was able to dive right into litigation shortly after becoming licensed. I was appearing in court, taking and defending depositions, writing motions, managing client cases, and negotiating settlements. I’ve continued doing that throughout my entire career, and the experience has been very rewarding. In addition to the daily responsibilities, the nature of the work truly involves helping people whose lives have been affected, oftentimes, devastatingly upended by an injury. The work is not always easy, but being able to really help someone going through a difficult time makes you feel like you are making a difference in someone’s life by helping them seek justice for what happened to them. Treating your clients with compassion and understanding is critical to this type of work.
Tell us about the company you work for or own?
I work for The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. , a very well-known and respected personal injury firm in Manhattan. Our firm handles many types of personal injury cases, but the majority of our cases, and the type of cases we are most known for, are construction accidents. My firm is owned by David Perecman, founder and lead trial lawyer, and we have approximately 10 attorneys currently working at the firm. In addition to personal injury cases, my firm also has an entire department that specifically handles workers’ compensation claims. The environment of the firm is incomparable. Everyone is a pleasure to work with, and everyone is genuinely happy to be at work every day, enjoying the work that they do. We consider and refer to ourselves as a team and a family, which truly feels that way because everyone is always ready and willing to help each other.
What are some of the most fulfilling projects you have been involved with so far (include your non-profit/pro bono/volunteer work here)?
Each year, The Perecman Firm offers the Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship for Autism, a $5,000 higher-education scholarship in memory of Avonte Oquendo, a nonverbal 14-year-old boy with autism who left his Queens public school undetected in 2013 and tragically drowned in the East River. Our firm’s founder, David Perecman, had represented Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, in a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of her son. Our firm offers the scholarship annually to directly benefit students living with autism and those with a close family member diagnosed with autism. The attorneys at our firm are dedicated to keeping Avonte’s story alive and helping students diagnosed with a form of Autism and their families pursue higher education. Often, many in the autism community are not able to make it possible due to the rising costs of higher education. So, this scholarship is meant to help make that goal more attainable.
What are some of your favorite ways to network?
Some of the best ways to network are at social functions sponsored by some of the different chapters of the bar associations. I’ve always found it to be a great way to meet other attorneys and judges. When I was first starting out, I joined the Young Lawyers Section (YLS) of the Delaware Bar. This was a great experience because I had the opportunity to meet a lot of young attorneys in the area who were just starting out in their careers – many with whom I became friends. Another organization I joined when I was new to the legal community was the Women and the Law Section of the Delaware Bar. I really enjoyed attending their events and getting to meet a lot of female colleagues and judges. In a fairly male-dominated profession, it was a great experience to be able to go to events with just women and be able to talk about some of the struggles you encounter working in an industry that has, historically, been run by men.
Do you have a mentor – if so, how did you choose one another? If not, is this something you think would benefit your career and is there anyone you would like to have as a mentor?
Yes, my mentor is an attorney I used to work with at my first job. He has a few more years of experience than I do, and when we worked together, he always took the time to help me any time I needed something. Even after changing firms and moving from Delaware to New York City, I still reach out to him if I have a particular question or issue because I know that he has and has always had my best interest and will always give me clear professional advice.
What have you learned from your mentor? What do you hope to learn?
In addition to learning a lot with respect to the law, I’ve learned negotiating skills and also how to deal with certain issues regarding clients. Most importantly, I would say, is that I have learned to trust my instincts and my gut and to have confidence in myself. To me, that is the most important part of being an attorney. And, if I ever need reassurance, my mentor will always provide that for me.
What’s been the most surprising thing that has happened to you so far in your career?
The most surprising thing that happened to me was when I decided to take the New York Bar Exam with the hopes of moving to New York City. At the time, I was very comfortable where I was and really making a name for myself within the Delaware legal industry, but I had always wanted to live in New York City and knew that if I did not pursue this dream, then I would always regret it. So, I took the New York Bar, passed, and then moved to Manhattan. It was a huge change. Not only was I living somewhere else, but I was working at a new firm and adjusting to my new life while I was dealing with learning and getting accustomed to the law and practices of an entirely different state/jurisdiction. At that time, I had only ever practiced law in Delaware, and learning all new laws and rules of civil procedure was extremely challenging. But eventually, I was able to overcome that hurdle.
What do you do for fun/relaxation?
In addition to working in Manhattan, I also live there. I enjoy walking around the city and visiting Central Park. One of my favorite things to do is explore NYC restaurants. I like to try as many restaurants as I can since there are so many to choose from. I also really enjoy cooking at home. My father’s side of the family is Italian, and he taught me how to make things like homemade sauce and meatballs, and dishes like manicotti and lasagna. I also enjoy exercising, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I love to shop – especially when there’s a good sale.
Any parting advice for someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Being an attorney is hard work. Just getting there takes years and a lot of hard work and determination. And then, once you become an attorney, it takes years to grow and learn. I have been doing this for over 10 years, and I am learning new things every day. As far as the specific type of law that I do, personal injury law does not always get the best reputation. And those who don’t do it will never understand what it takes to be a personal injury lawyer. It’s a very interesting field of law, and it can be very enjoyable and rewarding if you like it. I was lucky enough that I ended up loving the first job I got out of law school and have never done anything differently. I love what I do, and it’s the reason I am still doing it today.
What’s the best way for the readers of WE Magazine for Women to connect with you?