Lawline’s Above the Law website recently published the following article about Queens criminal defense attorney Rochelle S. Berliner:
In Dad’s Words, “Be Your Own Boss”
By Shaun Salmon, Lawline
Rochelle Berliner is an extraordinary and accomplished criminal law attorney, having cut her teeth in the New York County District Attorney’s Office Appeals Bureau and the New York County District Attorney’s Office of Special Narcotics. After 14 years with the DA, she struck out on her own and has been a solo practitioner for over a decade. In addition to criminal law, she focuses on civil rights, immigration, and family law in her practice. She has even taught courses that intersect criminal and immigration practice such as her Lawline CLE program, Collateral Consequences of Marijuana: A Practical Approach to Criminal Defense of Marijuana Laws.
Rochelle discusses the arch of her career in law and how her father’s advice led her to her solo practice.
What made you decide to practice law, or specifically your practice area?
Law is my second career. Before I went to law school, I spent several years working in radio—first, as a political reporter, general news reporter and anchor, then as the on-air talent for a nationally-syndicated ski report and beach report, and finally as a commercial and voice-over talent. When it was time to choose a path in law, I was looking for the same sort of career where something challenging and different happens every day. Then, when I got my first interview at the New York County District Attorney’s Office, I knew it would be the right fit for me. I spent 14 years at the DA’s office learning something new every day and making a difference for the people of New York.
Why did you decide to go solo? How did you know that was the direction you wanted to go in?
As I matured as a prosecutor, I started to view the accused more as a human being than just a name on an indictment. That’s when I knew the fit was not right anymore and it was time for me to become a defense attorney. I decided to go solo because I felt it was time to listen to my dad’s lifelong advice, which was to “be your own boss.”
What challenges have you faced, if any, in building your own practice?
The greatest challenge I faced was financial. It’s important to have enough money saved before going out on your own so that you have a cushion until money starts coming in. Also, since there are so many attorneys in New York, there’s a lot of competition, so it’s important to find a way to stand out from the competition.
What has been your favorite experience in the courtroom?
Without a doubt, my favorite experience in the courtroom is hearing the words “not guilty” at the end of a trial. Not only is that the case with a client who I truly believe was not guilty of the crime charged (let’s be real…that is the best feeling!), but also in cases where I know I held the prosecution to the burden of proof, which they couldn’t meet. My other favorite moment in court is when a judge gives my client a second chance, whether it’s a teenager who is adjudicated as a youthful offender or an adult given the chance for rehabilitation in a treatment program.
What advice would you give to other attorneys interested in starting their own practices?
Make sure you are in the right place financially to be able to go out on your own. Be patient because it takes quite a number of years to build a practice.
What is one attribute or skill you think is necessary to be a solo practitioner?
Most importantly, to be a solo practitioner, you must be motivated and disciplined. With no boss watching over you, you have to make sure to get up and get to work every day. You also have to be confident because you, alone, will be making all the decisions relating to your practice—whether financial or legal. Finally, in criminal defense, you must be able to be on call 24/7 because clients get arrested at all hours of the day and night.
What is one piece of technology you can’t live without for your practice?
My smartphone! It keeps me connected all day and night to my email, texts, contacts and, of course, calls.
Why do you teach CLE programs?
I enjoy public speaking and certain topics are very interesting to me, so it’s great being able to share information with other attorneys. Having worked in radio and commercials/voiceovers, I like to talk to people, so this is a great forum.
What does the future of your industry look like?
I always used to say, “There will always be crime so there will always be work.” In New York, however, crime statistics are down, so I’m not so sure about that anymore. In reality, there always will be crime but perhaps fewer criminal clients, so I’m starting to branch out into immigration law and family law.