Job title: Shareholder Attorney and Certified Land Planner, Becker & Poliakoff, P.A.
Year graduated from Carolina Planning/UNC School of Law: 2011
Specialization at Carolina Planning: Land Use and Environmental Planning
Can you describe your work at Becker?
I am a certified land planner (AICP) and licensed attorney (Florida) with more than ten years of diverse project experience in Connecticut, the mid-Atlantic, and Florida. I am a Shareholder Attorney and Certified Land Planner with Becker’s community association law and government law practice groups. My practice focuses primarily on resolving planning, zoning, and environmental issues related to the development of land and representing community associations in day-to-day legal matters. This includes: analyzing development proposals as compared to the existing and future conditions for parks, recreation, open space, and public schools and comprehensive planning policies and land development code regulations; researching and analyzing policy and tracking pending legislation related to community associations, growth management, and the environment; advocating for clients in planning, zoning, and environmental matters before community groups and city/county commissions, councils, and boards; preparing variance, special exception, rezoning, easement vacation, development order, comprehensive plan amendment, land development code amendment, and environmental permitting applications; and providing expert witness testimony on land use planning/zoning issues before quasi-judicial boards, commissions, and councils.
What insights have you gained from your experience in the planning/legal professions?
I take this quote from Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg very much to heart during the often-contentious land development process – “you can disagree without being disagreeable.” Always be mindful of your tone and body language, do not resort to personal attacks when a disagreement gets heated, and be open to all input and suggested solutions. These efforts will go a long way to helping you successfully advocate your position while maintaining credibility, integrity, and professionalism. I also have recognized the importance of understanding the ultimate goals of each client and making meaningful contributions to every project of which I am a part. If you do so consistently, you will soon be viewed as an indispensable and appreciated part of any team.
What is an important lesson you learned at Carolina Planning?
Carolina Planning helped me continue to develop my ability to collaborate across a variety of disciplines. This has been invaluable in both my private law and professional planning practices. Carolina Planning also reinforced the importance of fostering meaningful relationships with my peers, colleagues, and recent graduates early and often. I have learned so much from others in our profession with respect to best practices and industry news and have greatly enjoyed opportunities to give back through mentoring and career counseling.
What advice would you offer to those considering planning school?
I would urge those interested in planning school to seek a variety of academic and professional experiences in planning to find the aspects of planning about which they are most passionate, and that will also make them more marketable in a troubled economy. I also encourage prospective planning students to consider a sub-specialty or dual degree in Law, Public Health, Public Policy, Architecture, Engineering, Landscape Architecture, or Business, for these same reasons.
What advice would you offer to those on the market for a career in planning?
Make your own opportunities. Every job I have ever held was never advertised and resulted from my research and diligence and/or my online presence. Maintain a polished, professional online brand that showcases your skills and expertise and network and connect with industry leaders in meaningful ways. Some of the best opportunities may just find you, as the overwhelming majority of potential employers are now using social media to identify and recruit applicants.
Also, research prospective employers and recent industry developments. If you find employers that will offer you the professional development and personal satisfaction you are seeking, do not be shy about reaching out to key players there and explaining how you would be an asset and benefit their organization.
How do you measure success in your work?
I consider myself successful if I am: working on projects I am passionate about; exceeding client expectations; utilizing my team to make meaningful contributions to a project in a way that they feel valued and satisfied; and mentoring emerging lawyers and planners.
How have you used your dual Law-Planning degree?
I started a career in Florida after graduation as a licensed attorney and then later as a certified land planner too. My planning background and experience helped me to more effectively represent my clients in state and local government matters during the entitlement process. My planning qualifications allowed review staff to view me as a trusted colleague who appreciated their requirements when considering my clients’ applications rather than as an adversary. From site selection to initial design and on through construction, I consult extensively with traffic engineers, landscape architects, and environmental engineers to ensure a fully-integrated design that is likely to garner support from the appropriate governmental agencies. I also continue to utilize my legal background as an expert witness in contentious land use planning and zoning matters to support my client’s position and address concerns from stakeholders based on sound planning principles to build a complete record should the final decision later need to be appealed. I remain passionate about planning and the law and greatly enjoy the opportunity to still utilize both of these skill sets in a new and challenging way to serve my clients.