Meet the Bar Leaders: Armena Gayle’s resignation from DA’s office led to successful private practice
Armena Gayle had a tough time breaking into the Brooklyn legal community. After attending law school in Texas, she moved back to her native Brooklyn only to find herself without a job or a professional network to help her find one.
She started to make headway into her career thanks to the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA), which helped her get started via the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and she eventually landed a position within the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. However, she wouldn’t find the path that would take her to where she is today until she was forced to resign to take care of her dying father.
“My dad was my hero and the love of my life,” Gayle said. “When he became very sickly, I was forced to take care of him. I was always taking him back and forth to the doctor and that occurred at a lot of times when I had to work. So I resigned from that position. I didn’t want to, but I had to.”
Gayle is currently the treasurer to the BBA and works in private practice as the counsel to the Kings County Public Administrator. She also works with Housing Works, a not-for-profit that provides advocacy and support for individuals who are homeless and living with HIV or AIDS. In five years, she’ll become the 10th female president of the BBA.
Gayle was born and raised in Crown Heights until she moved to Miami in the sixth grade to live with her aunt. After she graduated from John Jay University in 1988, she moved to Texas where she went to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. Following law school, she moved back to New York and struggled to find a job.
Without a professional network, she began spending time at the BBA where she got involved with the Volunteer Lawyers Project. At the recommendation of Nancy Beanie, Gayle took a course in matrimonial law and began doing pro bono divorces. Her career got a big break when she found a position within the Brooklyn DA’s office. It wasn’t family or matrimonial law, but it was fulfilling work helping people.
Her career at the DA’s office wouldn’t last, though, as she was forced to resign midway through a three-year contract with the DA to care for her father, Rodolph Gayle, who had become sick. It was a tough decision for Gayle, who saw the job with the DA as exciting and a big break in her career.
“That’s when I got into private practice,” Gayle said. “Then I just developed more of the work that I was doing with the help of the BBA and the Volunteer Lawyers Project. That’s how I developed a family law practice and it kind of continued that way until recently.”
Gayle met another mentor when she started working for Housing Works — Armen H. Merjian. It was Merjian who got her involved with direct client legal services work for Housing Works. But her big break began with a letter she received in the mail from the surrogate’s court in 2010. It was a guardian ad litem (GAL) appointment in a probate case.
“It sort of mushroomed from there,” Gayle said. “I had been doing a lot of GAL work in the surrogate’s court. I received a lot of my appointments from Diana Johnson, one of our surrogates here in Brooklyn, until she appointed me to the position of Counsel to the Kings County Public Administrator in March 2015.”
“It was a difficult time and less than two and a half years later my father would die,” she continued. “I had to make that decision. It was a hard one to make because I really wanted to stay in the DA’s office, but I couldn’t turn my back on my family and in the end, it turned out to be a good thing that I left because it put me where I really am happy.”
Gayle gives a lot of credit to the BBA for not only helping her get her foot in the proverbial door of the legal community, but also for her career that she has today. She specifically credited Lynn Terralonge, a past president who died in the middle of her term, for encouraging her to sign up for guardian ad litem training and to take a more active role within the organization.
“This was and has always been to me a home away from home,” Gayle said of the BBA. “I hope that in my leadership role here that other attorneys feel that way also. I feel that the bar association has an obligation and duty to be a resource to attorneys, particularly young attorneys.
“I can’t stress that more than anything. It is always good to know that you can turn to the bar association for professional development, leadership skills and all of the things that are critical for our profession.”
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