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Meet the Bar Leaders: Steven Harkavy became a lawyer against his father’s advice

January 17, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Steven Harkavy has made a name for himself within the Brooklyn legal community as a trustee of the Brooklyn Bar Association, a master of the Nathan R. Sobel Inns of Court, a member of the Defense Association of New York, the Brandeis Society of Brooklyn and of the Civil Forum in Supreme Court. In 2015, he won the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Distinguished Service Award. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

Many parents dream of having children who go to law school and become an attorney. However, in the case of Steven Harkavy, his father, former Brooklyn judge Hon. Ira B. Harkavy, tried to actively discourage his son. Luckily, the younger Harkavy didn’t take his father’s advice and went on to become a key part of the Brooklyn legal community.

“My father was tough,” Harkavy said. “He was a no-nonsense guy with a dry sense of humor. He tried to help me decide what I wanted to be in life, but he didn’t think that I should have been an attorney. He knew that I was good with numbers and wanted me to become an accountant.

“Once I became a lawyer, he was very proud, but he wasn’t sure if I was fit to be a lawyer,” Harkavy added. “He had a high standard.”

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Like many kids, though, Harkavy wanted to be like his father and, against his father’s judgement, he took the LSAT. To both of their surprise, he did well. He then made it into Brooklyn Law School and graduated in 1985. Despite his father’s advice against becoming a lawyer, Harkavy helped his son as much as he could. Once Steven found a job, though, he quickly realized that he was on his own.

“It was tough because even though ([being his son] put my foot in a door, I had to succeed to his level,” Harkavy said. “During my first trial, I remember the judge said, ‘Why can’t you be more like your father?’ I had only been working six months at the time and he for 35 years. It sent me the message that I couldn’t rely on my dad. I had to make it on my own.”

Harkavy got some help finding his first job from Judge Gabriel M. Krausman, whom he knew, and began working for Peter Johnson at Leahey & Johnson, PC. Johnson was known as a very hard — but incredibly successful — attorney. Harkavy said that his 10 years at the firm were challenging, but were an exceptional learning experience.

“It was tough love, but you got a front seat from one of the top trial attorneys in the United States. People pay a lot of money for that experience and I got to get paid to do it,” Harkavy said. “If you messed up on something, he was tough on you. You took the yelling and then an hour or two later he would sit you down and tell you how to handle it the next time.”

After 10 years at that position, Harkavy was offered a partnership at the firm but turned it down, a decision he called the hardest of his life because he felt like it would have taken too much time away from his family. He eventually found a job with Jacobowitz, Garfinkel and Lesman, now known as the Law Offices of Leon Kowalski, as a staff attorney for AIG, a position which he’s held for nearly 22 years now.

“It gave me more time with my family,” Harkavy said. “I got to coach my daughter’s baseball team, my other daughter’s basketball team. I got to watch my son play soccer and participate in his band activities. I was there for my kids, which is something that I wouldn’t change for anything in the world.”

Harkavy didn’t just change jobs, however. He also began to get more involved with the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) at the recommendation of Avery Eli Okin, who had clerked for Harkavy’s dad, and Hon. Jeffrey Sunshine, who was friends with his father. Immediately, he got involved with two committees, the Grievance Committee, run by Hon. Nancy Sunshine, and the Tort Law Committee.

In 2003, there was a shift in the Harkavy family. With the encouragement of John Lonuzzi and Rebecca Rose Woodland, Steven decided that he wanted to join the BBA’s board of trustees. This meant that his father, who was a member of the nominating committee, had to resign from that committee before his son was able to be put up for a vote. The two of them decided it was time for a passing of the gavel and Judge Harkavy resigned from his position to make way for his son to take on a larger role.

Harkavy said it took him a year or two as a trustee with the BBA before he felt like he truly belonged. That shift occurred when then-president Bart Slavin asked Harkavy to write an article for the Brooklyn Barrister on changes that had been made to how dispositions were handled in the state. It was significant because it was an article that many other trustees wanted to write themselves, and he said that the reaction to it was positive.

Harkavy took on his first mentorship role within the BBA when Andrea Bonina became president and wanted help getting her sister, Justice Elizabeth Bonina, more involved with the organization. So he left the Tort Law Committee and became co-chair of the ALR Committee with Elizabeth Bonina so he could help show her the ropes.

Harkavy doesn’t expect to ever become president of the BBA, but he is hoping to get re-elected for another three-year term as a trustee this year. He explained that part of the reason is because he is comfortable with the direction the organization is going in, and cited seeing people like Armena Gail and David Chidekel gaining larger roles within the BBA as examples. He added that he would like to help get younger people involved in the BBA, just as Hon. Jeffrey Sunshine once did with him.

“It’s important to get young people involved,” Harkavy said. “Joining the BBA really helped my career. The people that got me involved really pushed me and expected a lot out of me. It made me a better attorney. Their confidence meant a lot to me.”

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