Kareen Zeitounzian is an associate in the Business and Commercial Litigation Practice Group at Harris Beach PLLC. Her practice spans the areas of contract disputes, construction litigation, eminent domain, medical malpractice, and creditors’ rights. Zeitounzian spends her work days conducting legal research and analysis, drafting pleadings, writing legal memoranda and providing counsel to both clients and colleagues. She enjoys many aspects of her job, particularly learning from, and sharing her knowledge and talents with others.
A graduate of Buffalo Law School, Zeitounzian resides and practices in her home town of Rochester, New York. When not at work, Zeitounzian volunteers much of her time to organizations such as The Fairport Club of Rotary International and commissions such as The Monroe County and City of Rochester Council for People with Disabilities. She likens these volunteer opportunities to the opportunities she has as an attorney, in the sense that they allow her to facilitate the changes she wants to see in the world.
Zeitounzian made the decision to pursue a career in law in her second semester of undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester. It was a far cry from the Research Biology career she set out to pursue at the start of college, but not one completely unfounded. Zeitounzian remembers, at age 11, heeding the advice of a teacher and writing a complaint letter to a manufacturing company for the muddied waters (and large tree branch) found in a gallon of spring water delivered to her family’s residence. The response Zeitounzian received was more positive than she expected, and left her with a lasting impression. “I think it was the first time I realized the power the pen has to effectuate change,” Zeitounzian recalls.
Whether it is the ability to present persuasive arguments, problem solve or collaborate with others, Zeitounzian credits the acquisition of many of her essential lawyering skills to her disability (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). At her interview with Harris Beach PLLC, Zeitounzian laid out to the panel of interviewers what level of investment the firm would need to put forth to hire her and what level of payoff the firm would receive in return. She discussed her disability and the accommodations she needed to work at her full potential.
After hiring Zeitounzian, the firm contracted with a private wheelchair accessible taxi service to transport Zeitounzian to and from work. The firm also adjusted the height of her office desk and provided her with adaptive technology, including a hand reacher, electric stapler and hole puncher, and a headset for the telephone. Most importantly, Zeitounzian can work flexible hours, as well as from home.
While Zeitounzian acknowledges the great strides that have been made for persons with disabilities, she feels society has a lot more to do to remove both physical and attitudinal barriers. She similarly believes the legal profession is not yet wholly inclusive of individuals with disabilities. Zeitounzian points to the underrepresentation of lawyers with disabilities in law firms.
“There seems to be a misconception that removing physical barriers suffice to make a work environment inclusive,” Zeitounzian states. “It is just as important for law firms to have policies that demonstrate a commitment both to hire talent from the disability community and afford employees with a disability an opportunity to develop to their full potential.” Zeitounzian believes such hiring and personnel policies enable employees with different skills, experiences and perspectives to grow and advance, which in turn fosters the development of more productive and effective legal teams. Recently, Zeitounzian worked with Harris Beach’s marketing team to update its recruiting materials to emphasize the commitment the firm has made to diversity and inclusion.
When asked what advice she would offer law students with disabilities, her response was “[n]ever say ‘never’ and never say ‘always.’” Consider all possibilities and opportunities that may present themselves.” According to Zeitounzian, being the best attorney one can be involves much more than mastering the law. She believes attorneys who embrace innovation and understand trends in business, commerce and technology are at an enormous competitive advantage. Lastly, Zeitounzian advises, “the most important thing you can do to be successful is to surround yourselves with an extraordinary team of family, friends, mentors, health care providers, and colleagues to support and inspire you.”