Profiles in Leadership: Lucy DiSalvo helps to provide the backbone for many local bar associations
There are plenty of people with the first name “Lucy” in the Brooklyn legal community. However, if that name is spoken on Court Street, in a courthouse or at a bar association meeting, people are most likely referring to Lucy DiSalvo.
DiSalvo has worked in the legal community for nearly 30 years: first as a paralegal for the law firm Fixler and Associates for seven years, then as the principal secretary to two different Supreme Court justices, Hon. Anthony Cutrona and Hon. Ellen Spodek, for another 22.
What DiSalvo is perhaps best known for, though, is the fact that she helps to run four separate local bar associations — the Columbian Lawyers Association, the Brooklyn Brandeis Society, the Nathan R. Sobel Inns of Court and the Catholic Lawyers Guild.
“I was a political science major in college and I wanted to go to law school after that,” DiSalvo said. “The funny thing is that I never went to law school, but I ended up being surrounded by lawyers and judges anyway.”
DiSalvo explains that she simply loves giving of her time to help and assist others. In addition to the four bar associations for which she serves as executive secretary, she also assists other local bar associations, such as the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, from time to time; helps out at Xaverian High School, where her son Dominic DiSalvo is a sophomore; and assists Justice Spodek in her own organizations.
“She’s sort of the backbone and structure for a lot of these organizations,” said Joe Rosato, the current president of the Kings County Inns of Court and past president of the Catholic and Columbian Lawyers associations. “I don’t even know how she does it all, but I think she has the personality where she makes it work. She’s a tough cookie who doesn’t take anything from anyone. And she’s certainly right a good portion of the time.”
DiSalvo was born in Brooklyn and raised in Brooklyn Heights, the same community that her entire family is from. She went to St. Joseph’s High School and then St. Francis College, both within walking distance of her Joralemon Street home. After college, she briefly lived in Staten Island, but then moved back to Brooklyn and 84th Street in Bensonhurst.
DiSalvo worked at a law firm doing part-time work in college and then became a paralegal at the law firm Fixler and Associates. She was single and the money was good at the time, so she decided against going to law school because she didn’t want to take out loans.
When the firm decided to move to Westchester, she realized that she couldn’t leave Brooklyn or commute that far. So she decided to apply to work in the court system, where her mother Lucinda Cosentino and uncle Leo Consentino both worked.
DiSalvo said she never felt regret not going to law school, and the biggest reason is because the job she landed in the court system was working for the late Justice Anthony Cutrona.
“Judge Cutrona was a compassionate person,” DiSalvo said. “He was a fatherly figure to me. He could be stern, like most bosses can be, but we had a great rapport together. We did our work. He had me on call 24/7, which I never minded.”
Justice Cutrona was a giant in the local legal community, especially among Italian-Americans. He lost his own father at an early age and wound up following in his father-in-law, Philip DiCostanzo‘s, footsteps. His father-in-law was one of the founding fathers of the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn, and Justice Cutrona eventually took on such a vital role in that association that in his death his is always referred to as “the heart and soul of the Columbian Lawyers” for his huge contributions.
Naturally, Justice Cutrona’s right hand would become involved with the Columbian Lawyers in a major way, and that’s exactly what DiSalvo did.
As executive secretary, DiSalvo is involved with all of the administrative aspects of the bar association. She organizes meetings and events and takes care of so much behind the scenes stuff that new presidents are often shocked at how many responsibilities that she has.
“Lucy has the same institutional knowledge that makes the association successful,” Rosato said. “If every year you start from scratch, you won’t be successful because there are growing pains and manipulations. She has already gone through all of these. She’s the backbone, the structure. She points us in the right direction and keeps us on track.”
When Justice Cutrona died in January 2013, it was DiSalvo who kept things running smoothly and people took notice. It was around that time that she started getting more involved in the Catholic Lawyers Guild. When there was a retirement in the Inns of Court, she was asked to step in.
Then, of course, when her new judge, Hon. Ellen Spodek, got involved with helping to create the Brooklyn Brandeis Society, DiSalvo volunteered her time as well.
“I can’t turn people down,” DiSalvo said. “I keep slowly gain responsibility. You know what it is, you give the work to a busy person because busy people can’t say no and the work gets done.”
DiSalvo said that when she first went to work for Justice Spodek following the death of Justice Cutrona, things seemed strange at first, mostly because after 16 years of working with one judge that any new judge would have been strange. She said that the two justices, despite working in different areas, have similar personalities, and she has found that she works as well with both.
“Judge Spodek is almost like a little mini me of him,” DiSalvo said. “It feels good to have a judge who takes you into their confidence, really wants you to be there with them and who looks forward to seeing you every day. I love working with her.”
DiSalvo’s said that part of the reason she helps out with so many associations is because she can’t say no, but another big part of it is the friendships and the comradery she has within the legal community. A big part of that is the three other women who are a part of her “Fab Four.”
The Fab Four includes DiSalvo plus Kristen Borruso, who is Justice Spodek’s law clerk; Dawn Sajecki and Monique Holaman. The four of them are often seen together at events either checking people in, taking care of any tasks that need to be done, or just enjoying each other’s company.
DiSalvo doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. She has made a lot of friends in the legal community, some of whom she even considers family, and said that it’s just in her nature to give of her time. Mostly, though, she feels that she can’t let down Justice Cutrona and must keep his legacy alive.
“He was so important to me,” DiSalvo said. “He was a boss, but he was a father too. He was my friend. I didn’t just work with him five days a week, I was with him seven days a week. The Columbian Lawyers are his legacy, and I feel like I have a responsibility to keep it going.”
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