Ben Norris 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Janet Callahan Janet Callahan Keeps Hancock Estabrook Well Ahead of the Curve It’s been over a year since Janet Callahan became the first woman in Syracuse to be named managing partner of a major law firm and today, the woman at the helm of Hancock Estabrook remains laid back, grounded and in control. Callahan knows the ins and outs of Hancock Estabrook about as well as anyone could; she’s been at the firm 28 years and has spent that time helping to grow the firm through her work as a trial and appellate lawyer. Callahan still practices, taking on high profile cases in addition to her responsibilities as managing partner. Currently, she splits her time between handling litigation matters and overseeing the managerial functions at one of Upstate New York’s leading law firms, a firm with a history dating back more than a century. It’s a challenge Callahan has met head-on. “When I was elected, it was a very humbling experience. I felt honored and trusted,” Callahan said. “It’s rewarding to lead a bunch of attorneys because I think by our nature we are strong-willed, a little opinionated and a little argumentative. We like to win. So I find it very rewarding when I can get everybody on the same page and headed in the same direction.” During her tenure at the firm, Callahan has handled a wide range of complex cases, including medical malpractice defense, personal injury, commercial contracts and estate disputes. Now, she adds her talents as mentor, leader and coach to the firm. “It’s always very exhilarating,” Callahan said. “It’s never boring. There’s a different challenge to face every day. I especially enjoy guiding the younger women attorneys at the firm, and sharing with them what it was like to be a woman in private practice when I started out.” Making Her Way in the Legal World Callahan’s household when she was growing up in Canastota, New York was somewhat different from the typical American family in the late 1960s. Callahan (then DeFrancisco) was raised by parents who didn’t subscribe to the notion that being a woman came with personal or professional limitations. “Both of my parents worked full time, and they really valued education,” Callahan remembers. “In fact, my mother earned her master’s degree while she was pregnant with me.” According to Callahan, the family lived on one parent’s salary and tucked the other away to ensure that Callahan and her two brothers would have a shot at a good college education. Callahan didn’t seriously entertain any thought of becoming a lawyer until her senior year at State University of New York at Geneseo, where she studied psychology and special education. As she got closer to graduation, she worried that her temperament wasn’t well suited for her planned career as a teacher. Callahan discussed her concerns with a professor, who suggested that the field of law might be a better fit. She enrolled in Albany Law School at Union University and immediately fell in love with both the school and the city, spending the next three years studying law and working at the law school library and as a legal writing instructor. Following her graduation, Callahan clerked for a judge in Syracuse who eventually led her to Hancock Estabrook and a rewarding career in private practice. “When it came time for me to move on, the judge had a connection here at the firm and set up an interview for me,” Callahan said. “Luckily they liked me well enough to give me a chance, and before long, I knew I had found a place where I would be happy. I love my work, and I love the people I work with. I have been truly blessed to be able to craft a practice I find satisfying and rewarding after all these years.” She credits the people at Hancock Estabrook as a source of inspiration and professional fulfillment. “I work with a fabulous bunch of talented, energetic and extremely bright people,” Callahan said. “It’s still a real pleasure for me to get up in the morning and come to the office.” Callahan looks back fondly on her early days at the firm, when she worked closely with her mentor Donald McCarthy, who passed away last year. McCarthy was well known as a skilled trial attorney and Callahan became his right-hand woman, learning invaluable lessons along the way about the practical aspects of law and how to treat other people. “One thing I learned from him and other senior attorneys at the firm is that you can be as adversarial as you need to be in the courtroom, but when you leave the courtroom at the end of the day, you need to have a good relationship with your adversaries,” Callahan remembers. “I try to make sure that we pass that message on to the younger attorneys here at the firm.” Keeping a Focus on Community As managing partner, Callahan has made one of her personal and professional goals to continue the firm’s tradition of pro bono work and community service. All attorneys at the firm are strongly encouraged to become active in the community, including providing free legal services to people in need. Many attorneys at the firm are involved in the Onondaga County Volunteer Lawyers Program. Callahan also organized the firm’s first Volunteer Day, recruiting nearly 100 Hancock Estabrook employees to provide services to ten local organizations, including the Central New York Ronald McDonald House, Rescue Mission and the Humane Society. The firm sends lawyers to landlord/tenant court on a regular basis to represent low income residents facing eviction proceedings. Attorneys also act as arbitrators, presiding over small claims cases to help relieve an overburdened court system. One of Callahan’s partners was recently honored for his efforts in organizing a program to provide free legal services to returning vets who have trouble transitioning back into society. Callahan received the Women Who Mean Business Award last year from the American Red Cross for her achievements and serves on the boards of two local nonprofit organizations. Looking Ahead and Staying Grounded “My biggest goal professionally is to continue to lead the firm in such a way that it grows and prospers and continues to thrive in this tough economy,” Callahan said. “I want to serve out my term as well as I can and when I am no longer managing partner I would like to continue here at Hancock Estabrook until I retire.” The firm holds a special place for Callahan. It has allowed her career to move forward and evolve over the years, providing her with the opportunity to take on a role no woman in Syracuse had filled before. When she’s not practicing law or managing the firm, Callahan remains close to her family, including her two grown children, John and Samantha. While both are now young adults, they were in elementary school when Callahan became divorced and took on the challenge of raising two children as a single mother with a demanding career. Like her parents, Callahan has made education a priority for her children, working hard to ensure that both would be able to pursue their educations. Her son is a graduate of Marist College, with a degree in Sports Communication and her daughter is currently an honor student at University at Albany, majoring in Psychology. With both children well on their way to adulthood and independence, Callahan has time for socializing with friends and enjoying various hobbies including working on her home, something she finds very relaxing after a demanding day, or week, at the office. “I love working on renovations to my house,” Callahan says. “I have made changes in every room, including replacing ceilings, installing molding, stripping hardwood floors, painting, tiling and wallpapering.” It’s a fitting hobby for a woman who hasn’t stopped building since leaving law school: a career, a family and a stronger community.
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