A Chapter of the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY)
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Interview of the Month

An Interview with Virginia K. Trunkes

Susan L. Pollet
Chair of the Archive and Historian Committee

Q:  When did you join the WWBA, and why did you join it?

A: I joined the WWBA first in 2011, and then became involved again in 2017. Having resided in Westchester since 2008, I joined initially to be among like-minded/situated members with whom I identify: cosmopolitan and savvy, with just the right level of grit, yet slightly disconnected from the intensity and frenzy associated with a 24/7 NYC legal and residential lifestyle. Regrettably, in 2013, I felt it necessary to take a step back when it became problematic to depart early from my Manhattan office to make the 5:30 p.m. board meetings. In 2017, I rejoined after finally getting the opportunity to work in Westchester! I was excited to pick up where I left off and participate in CLE-planning and other events. While I have recently started working in Manhattan again, I maintain my involvement in the Westchester legal community. This time around, for my own personal and professional development, I plan to keep and strengthen my connection with the WWBA. 

Q:  Please tell our members about your legal career.

A: I have spent most of my career handling litigation, first from behind the scenes at the Appellate Division (First Department), and then in private practice. Much of the disputes I’ve litigated have involved business-related matters, which over the past several years have narrowed to those involving real property and construction. Currently, I spend more time negotiating neighboring access, construction and design services agreements versus merely arguing on a daily basis (much better for the psyche!). I advocate on behalf of developers; apartment building, brownstone and condominium unit owners; cooperative boards of directors; construction managers, contractors and subcontractors; and design services professionals in negotiating their business contracts and adjacent-owner license access agreements. The legal issues I handle range from construction and design defects, delay and lost productivity claims, and claims arising from force majeure events, to contractual breaches, fiduciary obligations, and property ownership rights. I’m glad to finally be specializing in an area to which I was naturally drawn. I was always interested in architectural and interior design, and during my legal practice I became fascinated with the complexity of the components of a construction project. Each project is different and will present different challenges. The possibilities for error and default are boundless. The skill of a construction lawyer is to predict and protect against the problems that are more likely to occur in that particular context. I am thrilled to represent clients whose projects are economically and culturally relevant, whether facilitating the “East Side” public transportation access, creating appealing office environments to attract and retain thriving businesses, or providing quality housing and hotels in a market where, notwithstanding periodic economic disruptions, they tend to be in short supply.

Q: Which WWBA activities have you been involved in?

A: Through the graciousness of Lisa Bluestein, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a co-chair of the Corporate and Commercial Committee and have participated in planning (& sometimes speaking at) CLE programs. Back when people still congregated together (pre-COVID), I’ve enjoyed the beautiful and upbeat December and June soirees; Adrienne Orbach’s well-coordinated Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K; Susan Edwards Colson’s First Fridays “Women in Transition” lunches; weekend family-meetup outings; and a variety of interesting and spirited general meetings. I have not yet had the pleasure of participating in the Book Club, which, ironically, when described by Lisa Denig, sounds pretty convivial for a bar association sub-group! I hope the Book Club will continue for at least the next several years, so I’ll have something to look forward to when my daughter no longer wants to associate with me on weekends. (Insert smiley face here.)

Q:  What are your other community activities when you are not practicing law or contributing to the WWBA?

A: I am currently serving as Vice President of the Board of JALBCA, the Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert. It is similar to a bar association, but practically speaking, it is not. Instead of developing and presenting continuing legal education programs and holding mixers, JALBCA presents educational programs on topics de jour involving breast cancer, at a high intellectual level, and with a supportive understanding of the disease. It also holds an annual fundraising dinner and uses the money it raises to provide grants to organizations that offer legal services or legal education in connection with breast cancer, and fund mobile mammography vans that provide screening for uninsured and underinsured women in marginalized communities. JALBCA was created almost thirty years ago by judges and lawyers who were afflicted or had a direct connection with breast cancer. Unfortunately, breast cancer still exists, with serious, and sometimes tragic, consequences. When diagnosed, women attorneys and judges face issues unique to them, for which JALBCA can provide informal, almost-spiritual support.

Q:  How have you balanced your legal career with your family responsibilities?

A: At the risk of sounding clich√©, you have to have the right supportive mix. The concept of balance in life means something different to everyone.  I am fortunate to have found my balance by working in environments that have permitted me to multi-task in between work assignments. There’s often no “balance,” but rather figurative avalanches coming from different directions that you are regularly containing, dodging, or otherwise managing. But I would not have it any other way.

Q:  What advice would you like to give to women lawyers entering the legal profession.

A: Joining a women’s bar association such as the WWBA is indispensable, for female litigators in particular. We understand each other, and do not fault each other for being direct or “verbally analytical,” my euphemism for what the rest of society considers “argumentative.” Beyond obtaining mentoring from a women’s bar association, I would recommend opening up to the idea that there is no pre-set career path, and realizing that it is up to you to create it. That means getting “out there” and exploring what opportunities exist. You can always pivot and go in a different direction. But without the exposure to different legal subject matters, methods of professional and business development, and lawyers’ personal anecdotes, you will be at a disadvantage in finding the right “fit.” The better the fit, the more you will enjoy an honorable and crucial profession in which you will have invested so much of yourself. And mastering your subject matter is the golden key to personal and professional success. It makes a difference when you can offer important information without saying, “Interesting question – I will get back to you.” It can be frustrating for new lawyers, and the key is to work in an area that you like so you will enjoy talking about it in everyday encounters.

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