Riano is assistant counsel to N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo and public scholar of constitutional law. He lives and works in Manhattan.
What do you find most rewarding about being an attorney?
Being an attorney offers each of us the unique privilege of working to protect people in moments of immense complexity and hardship in their lives. Regardless of a lawyer’s specific expertise, the work we do includes within it a secondary responsibility and reward, no less important than the protection of one’s client, which is to preserve and protect the institution of the law itself. The scale of the obligation and public trust this work entails is extraordinarily humbling.
Did another lawyer mentor you or advise you on your career path?
I have been the lucky recipient of brilliant advice and counsel from several more seasoned attorneys during my career. Each of them has displayed a similar trait: My mentors pushed me beyond the limits of what I thought I was ready for. From the prosecutor who supervised me while I conducted my first major jury trial while I was still in my second year of law school, or my late dean who convinced me that I should teach law to complement my practice, to my most recent mentor, who empowered me to run an important state agency. I have found that oftentimes mentors can help serve as the bridge between different parts of your legal career, helping you make connections you did not see or think were possible. It is why I would argue it is critical that those of us who have been the beneficiaries of such generous guidance take on the responsibility to serve as mentors ourselves.
What advice would you give young lawyers just starting their career?
Find a part of the law you are passionate about and dedicate yourself to that area even outside of your practice. My work teaching constitutional law has never felt like work, whether I am in the classroom at Columbia University or helping to teach civics to a group of high school students. By finding an area of law that is personally enriching, I have been able to constantly reconnect with what motivated me to be a lawyer in the first place. Always find a way to give back to your community. It is one of the central imperatives of our profession.
What or who inspired you to become a lawyer?
While I was an undergraduate student at Columbia, I served as a university senator and in that capacity was elected as the chairman of the Student Affairs Committee, which represents the entire student body. I loved being able to co-facilitate the interplay between students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the administration, and in doing so ensuring that the priorities of all these multiple stakeholders were reflected in the policies and rules we crafted for the entire university community.
What is something that most people do not know about you?
At 19 years old, I packed up two suitcases and took the train to New York City with only $400 in my pocket and a dream to work as a model in the fashion industry. While I worked hard and was extremely lucky to find enough work to make ends meet, I often look back and think that my decision to do that was probably one of the riskiest choices I have ever made. Yet, the modeling industry taught me more about hard work, grit, determination, self-awareness, and the importance of believing in yourself than almost anything else has in my life.
Lawyers should join the New York State Bar Association because . . .
We bear the great responsibility to be the guardians of our clients and ultimately the rule of law. And we have a duty when tasked with such an important obligation to work together in order to execute our charge to the best of our collective abilities no matter what area of law we choose to practice.