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Kristen L. Romano: How ‘Happy Accidents’ Led to a Rewarding Career in ‘People Work’


Kristen L. Romano: How ‘Happy Accidents’ Led to a Rewarding Career in ‘People Work’

June 20, 2024
Kristen L. Romano

Syracuse-based partner Kristen L. Romano has always been fascinated by human behavior, so it might stand to reason her decision to pursue a career in law was merely a natural extension of her interest in people.

Yet, ask her how she ended up an attorney and she’ll tell you it was all a “happy accident” — a somewhat ironic characterization, perhaps, for a Workers’ Compensation lawyer.

“I went to undergrad for sociology,” said Kristen. “I worked for two years in the Rochester City School District as a teacher’s aide mainly with elementary school kids. At night, I bartended at a country club. During that time, I began my masters in social work. I love human behavior. But it became clear it would be mostly clinical social work and counseling, and I really didn’t want to be a therapist. I learned my school offered a dual degree program in law and social work, which piqued my interest in attending law school. I took the LSATs just to see how it would go.  I did well and applied to the two schools in NY with a dual MSW/JD program. I ultimately decided to go to a different school than where I had started my masters and was advised that I would have to retake most of the MSW courses to get the dual degree. So, I was like, ‘OK, well, I guess I’ll just do law then.’ So, a happy accident.”

Starting out in litigation, the firm at which she was working had a need for someone to handle Workers’ Comp cases, so she was moved to that practice.

“I loved it. It suits the way that I like to be busy. I like the high case volume, being able to have lots of balls in the air and working with lots of different people. Multitasking has always been a strong suit,” Kristen said. “I love the clients I work with and I’ve been doing solely Workers’ Comp now for 13 years.”

Another ‘happy accident.’

“The universe has kind of always had my back and pointed me in the direction where I needed to go,” Kristen said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of planning on my part, I guess. I’m beyond thankful and blessed that things have worked out the way that they have.”

One reason for such good fortune, she said, is the guidance she received from a teacher in law school —a criminal defense litigator who taught her that being an attorney extends far beyond research, arguments and case law.

“The things I learned in that class, and from her as a person, are the things I use, still, almost 14 years later,” said Kristen. “Emphasis on things like aggressive litigation is misplaced. Our work is people work. It’s the relationships that you build not only with your clients, but with opposing counsel. And it’s understanding how people want to be talked to. The way you treat people matters. We get this reputation of attorneys being monsters. There are times where aggression is necessary. But I find you you catch more bees with honey. My reputation is important to me. The way I present myself is important to me.”

Kristen’s reputation has been built largely on the relationships she has established with her clients, gaining their trust by getting to know them on a personal level and truly understanding the work they do and the concerns they have. In short, she’s passionate about what she calls “face time.”

“I’m not just their attorney,” Kristen said of working with her clients. “I know who their kids are. I know what sports they play. I know what kind of dogs they have, and that’s important. It humanizes what I do. I’m not just sitting in front of a computer all day. That makes me a more-effective attorney. And I want to make sure the people I’m mentoring understand the importance of the relationships that they’re building. It’s not just about knowing the law. It’s not just about legal research and writing. Those things are important, but it’s about how you present yourself to a judge. It’s about how you speak to opposing counsel. Relationship building. Those are the things that are going to make or break you in the long run.”

Goldberg Segalla, she said, understands the importance of “face time,” which sets it apart from other firms.

“Goldberg Segalla values our ability to understand our clients, their industry and business,” said Kristen. “I want to go out to a plant. I want to go see what the distribution center looks like. So, whenever possible, I will make the trip to see my clients. GS affords me the opportunity to meet with my clients face-to-face. And that makes a world of difference in the way I am able to defend cases. It keeps from the work being purely transactional. Clients hire me as their champion. I want to make sure they are being heard.

“Too many times, I’ve seen attorneys go into hearings not understanding what the injured worker or what the claimant does for a living and they get railroaded. If I don’t know firsthand what it looks like to assemble a lawnmower, I’m not going be able to ask the right questions to my witness. It’s managing expectations, which means I need to know what my client’s expectations are. I need to take the time to talk to them and hear them and know what they’re hoping to get out of the case. It’s really about providing the client the opportunity to be heard.”

The emotions that often surround a Workers’ Comp case can be taxing. That’s why Kristen said she’s thankful for the support she receives from her team at GS, especially given that she and her wife have two small children and an elderly dog at home.

“There can be a lot of emotions that happen in one day, which can be very draining. A successful day for me is when I can manage that and then come home and still have the capacity and patience to handle tantrums over chicken nuggets and spend time loving my family,” said Kristen. “My family is very important to me. The Syracuse team, we all have small children and work-life balance is one of the most important things for us. That’s also something that sets GS apart. My team is awesome. We have each other’s backs. We take care of each other. So, a successful day is a day when I can be effective in both arenas without feeling like I’m burning the candle at both ends.

“To be effective, you have to wear many hats and be many people,” said Kristen. “Don’t stay somewhere that’s awful. My God. Find an employer that will support you, find co-workers that will support you, where there is love and support, everywhere, for all of us.”