New York City personal injury attorney Halina Radchenko discusses what inspired her to become a lawyer.
What inspired you to become an attorney?
Well as a kid, I absolutely loved theater and sometimes dreamed of being an actress, but as a child of immigrants there was no way that was going to happen. I came to the U.S. when I was 4 from Kiev. I think the seed of practicing law must have started young, though I didn’t truly realize it until high school. My great grandfather practiced as a criminal defense attorney on behalf of the King of Russia. My grandmother used to tell me stories as a child about his cases, and how much he loved helping people.
I went to James Madison High School, which is the high school that Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated from. They actually had a courtroom named after her and I think that’s where my love for the law started. In my freshmen year I participated in a mock trial, and after that I was completely hooked. I had found a profession that tied my love of performance – because trying a case in court is definitely a kind of performance! – with a profession that my parents would approve of.
My great grandfather’s influence, coupled with my experiences in high school, are why I chose to become a plaintiff’s side personal injury trial lawyer. It’s a career I’m truly passionate about.
Tell us about one of your most interesting cases.
I think the most interesting case I ever worked on would be my first municipal liability case. This was really my first foray into a case suing the city, and I didn’t know all of the ins and outs associated with that kind of a case. My client had fallen in a pothole, and she had taken photos of the pothole at the time of the accident. Lo and behold, by 7 AM the next day, the pothole was gone! I thought, well, surely that means the city must have received written notice. But after 2 years of wild goose chase – which took two years! – it turned out they had never been notified. That was when I learned that in New York City, they employ roving repair gangs whose entire purpose is to just wander around the city and fix any potholes that they stumble across. And that was how it happened – the city had never had written notice, the repair gang just came across the pothole. I had no idea this process even existed, and I found out so much about the city and how repairs happen.
I truly thought I’d lose the case, but the night before the trial I had an idea to issue a crazy motion to go back into discovery. It was a last-ditch effort, but it was worth a shot. Somehow it worked, and we were able to settle for $75,000, way more than we ever expected to get. It was an incredibly difficult case, but it was fascinating, and in the end rewarding that I was able to get that amount for my client!
What are you most proud of?
Personally, I’m really proud that I’ve achieved a good balance between my work and my home life. Before I had kids, I was incredibly career focused. After I had my kids, I was determined to be a great mom and an excellent lawyer at the same time, and I knew I’d need to work out a way to accomplish both without sacrificing anything. I’ve completely restructured my work and home life so that I can spend as much time as possible with my kids, while still getting as much time as I need to do my job to the best of my ability. I’m really proud of being able to be a great mom and a great lawyer.
Professionally, I’m very proud and humbled to become the next president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA). During the case that I was describing earlier, my boss at the time suggested that I use NYSTLA as a resource to get some transcripts I needed. That was how I was first introduced to the organization, and over the years I became more and more involved with them. They were a big part of my growth journey as a lawyer. I’m really proud of the work that they do. They work to change legislation that’s unfair and make New York a better place to live. When I was nominated as president-elect this year, I became the youngest president at NYSTLA, and possibly the youngest in the country (each state has their own Trial Lawyers Association).
Do you have any hidden talents, hobbies or a fun fact?
I’m a diver! I love to dive, and as a result I’m really big into ocean conservation. If I am ever in the water and see a piece of garbage, I have to grab it. My kids all know the drill. If we’re in the water, we all immediately grab any trash. The strangest piece of trash I ever found was an iPhone in the middle of the ocean.
We like to dive when we travel as well, and one place I really want to dive is Thailand. They have a serious issue with pollution in their waters, and if you want to help them clean their waters, you can actually join a dive team for that purpose. I really want to go with my son so we can join the diving team and collect garbage. It’s a passion of mine.
What is your favorite quote?
“Heaven is a place. A place where nothing, nothing ever happens.” It’s a quote from the song Heaven by the Talking Heads. I love it because it reminds me to live my life to the fullest. Everyone has this abstract concept of what will happen when we die, but in this song, it’s just a bar where they play the same song, the same people are always there, and nothing ever happens. Down here on Earth is where everything happens. So to me, it means live your life to the fullest now, because nothing is better than this.