Richard Zuckerman established his reputation as a shrewd and skilled practitioner of employment law early - still in his 20s and an associate attorney at Rains & Pogrebin, P.C. It was a Labor Day weekend in the mid-80s, and a teacher strike seemed all but inevitable. At 3:30 am, four hours before the strike had been called, and the schools' opening delayed, Zuckerman ignored staff hierarchy and protocol, which dictated that he take a second seat to his partner, approached the union president, whom he had known since childhood, and got him talking about the major stumbling block that was preventing the settlement that both sides truly wanted. Four hours later, school started on time. "The whole experience taught me that listening is more important than talking," says Zuckerman today. "I caught grief" from colleagues, including superiors, "but I wouldn't hesitate to do it all again."
During the two decades since, the Oakdale, Long Island, native has emerged as one of the leading labor attorneys in the region, principally representing municipalities and school districts in the face of contract and other disputes with teachers, police, and firefighters and other blue and white collar employee unions. On affluent Long Island, where there's been a generation of taxpayer generosity to public workers, Zuckerman has taken on some very tough challenges.
I work for management and the taxpayers and shareholders they represent, but I feel I always work for what's right.
The son of teachers, Zuckerman says such matters were dinner-table conversation; after graduating at the top of his class from Stony Brook, he went to Columbia Law School where he also excelled. He joined Rains & Pogrebin, a firm well prominent in labor and employment law, and was named partner in 1992. When the firm dissolved in early 2004, he joined Lamb & Barnosky, LLP in Melville, Suffolk County's largest commercial law firm. He's regarded by peers as a personable negotiator with a results-oriented, non-ideological approach. "I make it a point to keep my politics out of my work," says Zuckerman. More than three-quarters of his practice is devoted to public-sector issues. Lamb & Barnosky has 31 attorneys (16 are partners), and Zuckerman handles cases throughout the region, well beyond Long Island. An avid New York Mets and New York Rangers fan, Zuckerman's office is a veritable trophy case of professional sports team caps, souvenir baseballs and game pucks. Keeping his priorities straight, Zuckerman for years has been a little league coach for his children's teams in hometown Baldwin, about 30 minutes from his Melville office.