Hellenic Lawyers Association President Elena Paraskevas-Thadani

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Elena Paraskevas-Thadani, the Hellenic Lawyers Association (HLA) President, is very busy these days. Besides being a successful attorney and a mother of two, she knows that there only about 30 days left for the organization’s annual dinner gala, one of the community’s most upscale events that every year attracts hundreds of people who come to network, renew friendships, make new acquaintances and of course, support HLA. This year, the gala will take place on Friday, November 16, at the Pierre Hotel, honoring New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and Kirk Karabelas, Chairman of Alma Bank, with The Hellenic Lawyers Association's Attorney of the Year Award.

by Demetrios Rhompotis

At the same time, Elena’s mind is on a bigger goal, as the organization has embarked on a project to form a new entity, one that would encompass lawyers and legal professionals of Hellenic descent throughout the United States, expanding HLA’s networking capabilities to a national level. Things go according to plan, but there is still much work to be done.

Elena Paraskevas-Thadani was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, and grew up in Astoria, New York. Her father, Dr. Kleomenis Paraskevas is from Ioannina and her mother Dr. Alkinoi Paraskevas is from the small town of Nigrita and they met while both in medical school, in Thessalonki. Helena went to St. Demetrios School in Astoria until the 9th grade and thereafter went to Brooklyn Technical High School. She is married to her high school sweet heart Deepak Thadani who is Indian and they have been together over 20 years. “When the kids, Ellie, 8 years old, and Vishal, 4, complain about going to Greek School on Saturdays in Rye, he is very vocal about the fact that they have no choice,” she says with a laugh, in an interview with NEO magazine.

Elena advises and represents employers in a broad range of employment and labor law matters, such as legal compliance and litigation prevention. She also trains executives and human resource managers on a variety of employment law subjects.

Prior to joining her current firm of Littler Mendelson in 2005, Elena trained as a litigation associate at two other law firms. She also served as a law clerk to the Hon. Andrew J. Peck, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and to the Hon. Nicholas Tsoucalas, U. S. Court of International Trade. In law school, Elena served as the symposium editor of The Urban Law Journal.

The Hellenic Lawyers Association of New York was founded to establish a network of attorneys of Hellenic descent and to provide opportunities for professional development. The HLA currently has over 650 contacts and members in the community including attorneys, judges and law students. The goals are to expand membership, provide resources to members and strengthen the professional and social ties among them. For more information, their website is helleniclawyersassociation.org

You are in the middle of your two-year term as HLA president. What were your main accomplishments this year and where do you want to see the organization going a year from now?

This last year we of course continued to host educational seminars for our members, and networking events for our professionals. The biggest need we identified and which we have begun filling is a need to connect talented budding attorneys with internship and job opportunities and also to foster an informal mentorship program so that our experienced members could help junior attorneys personally and professionally. We have also connected clients in Greece seeking assistance in the US with qualified HLA members with expertise in the relevant area. We are working on growing and formalizing these programs. The other goal we are working on is a national organization, which we are getting off the ground to assist with our goals and expand our influence nationally.

Why should a successful attorney of Hellenic descent join HLA, especially as he or she is able to join countless other non-ethnic groups in the field?

Being a member of a group in which people ethnically and culturally self-identify allows one unique social networking opportunities. HLA members often go to church together, speak Greek to each other, attend each other’s baptisms (and are often “koumbari” at each other’s weddings, godparents to each other’s children, etc.). As a collateral issue, some of our members have even met, fallen in love and gotten married! In addition, a trade organization such as the HLA permits members to easily identify and address issues as a group that by-default, affect its members—the crisis in Greece, the Turkish occupation of Cyprus and other political and religious issues that influence the lives of many Greek-Americans. It is more effective to address issues as a group than alone.

As more traditional Greek American organizations disappear or are about to, do you see HLA and HLA-like groups as having the potential and the will to fill the gap and hopefully offer something much better?

I am not sure what other Greek American organizations you are thinking of. We at HLA always strive to do better and offer more than we did the year before. We work with, and learn from many of the other professional organizations, such as the Hellenic American Bankers Association, Cyprus-US Chamber of Commerce and the Hellenic Medical Society. The leadership of these groups meets frequently to exchange ideas and to improve their offerings to their members. We learn from each other.

Two very important issues of Hellenic American concern, the Turkish violations of the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, besides political, entail fundamentally legal aspects. Would HLA take a more active stand on those issues, exploring the legal possibilities?

The HLA and its members have worked with the community and the diaspora to address issues of importance to their community, including these. Members of the HLA are not only attorneys, but businesspeople, parishioners, community members, members of their local boards, etc. and work on these issues both through the HLA and their communities.

The economy is in everybody’s lips these days and lawyers are not an exception. In what ways the crisis has affected your profession? How bad is it or could be for the quality of justice we enjoy in this country?

The hardest hit HLA members are the entry-level attorneys who find it very difficult to find jobs in the field. Regarding the economy in general and its affect on the profession, for most lawyers it represents simply a change in the type of work—for example, in a down economy there will be more corporate litigation and regulatory work, in a prosperous economy there would be more corporate transactional work. Regarding justice in the USA, we see it continues to be at a very high level of quality. In Greece we observe that pensions and salaries collapsed, which is a stern warning to all countries to manage their fiscal matters responsibly and avoid the example of Greece, which was mentioned in the recent Congresses of the US Republican and Democratic Party and other economies in similar situations.

The last couple of years HLA partnered with other major Greek-American organizations in organizing events and promoting activities. Would you as president seek closer ties with those and other institutions, even from Greece and Cyprus, with which as American Hellenes you share a special affinity?

Funny you ask—I just got off the phone with another Hellenic organization and we were discussing ways we could work together. The answer is a resounding “YES!” Essentially, we exchange as much information with other Greek American organizations as we can as there are many issues which affect all our members. In addition, the HLA is concerned with the Parthenon Marbles and supports the effort of Australian Lawyers to be returned to Greece as other countries have demanded when antiquities were stolen from their countries and which were returned to them recently.

Do you also work with non Greek related groups or organizations? What are some major issues your profession is facing?

We do work with other non-Greek groups. As a trade organization with attorney members, we work with experts, vendors, consultants and other bar associations to address issues like e-discovery, tort reform, technology in the legal profession, the evolution of our practice, the demands of our clients and issues that are ubiquitous to the legal industry and the practice of law.

A message to HLA members and the American Hellenic community in general.

We hope that the American Hellenic community sees us as a resource—we have talented professionals who can assist them. In many cases we have secured pro bono representation for Greek-speaking clients in need. We have also paired organizations with competent representation. To our members, we would like to convey that this organization exists to assist them and amplify the collective talent that makes up HLA. In so doing, HLA is more than the sum of its members.


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