Hofstra alumnus Ian-Paul A. Poulos ’14 celebrated not only completion of his JD from Notre Dame Law School earlier this year but also a heralded recognition in a national legal writing competition. His paper, “Putting It Bluntly: The Controlled Substances Act Preempts Workers’ Compensation Laws That Require Insurers and Self-Insurers to Pay for Your Weed,” placed third in the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers Leadership for Greater Purpose 2016 writing competition. Poulos, who focused his law school studies primarily on labor and employment law, credits Hofstra Professor Gregory DeFreitas, director of the Center for the Study of Labor and Democracy for sparking his interest this field. It is also thanks to Dr. DeFreitas and a labor studies internship that Poulos is now working for the same firm he interned for as a Hofstra student.
Poulos graduated from Hofstra University Honors College summa cum laude and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. The recognitions kept coming at Notre Dame where he received the “Dean’s Award” at Notre Dame for writing the best paper in “Law & Disabilities.” He was chosen to represent the school at the Peggy Browning Fund Workers’ Rights Conference in Washington, D.C., and received the American Bar Association Section of Labor and Employment Law and the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. Award for Excellence in the Study of Labor and Employment Law.
When did you become interested in labor studies and labor law? Why did you decide to dedicate yourself academically and professionally to these areas?
Workers’ rights and employment issues were always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t come to Hofstra knowing I would aspire to be a labor and employment attorney.
Before my grandparents immigrated to the United States, my grandfather was a tailor and local mayor in a small Greek village; my grandmother was a seamstress. They arrived in the US unable to speak English, with only the clothes in their suitcase in search of the American dream. They toiled in difficult conditions in the Garment District. I grew up hearing about all of their stories. When I started taking classes at Hofstra with Professor DeFreitas, Professor Emeritus [Michael] D’Innocenzo, and Professor [Conrad] Herold, all of those stories my grandparents would tell me came alive. They weren’t just stories from the past anymore – and their real life issues continue to plague American workplaces to this day.
The more academically involved I became the more I realized that management-employee relations are complicated and particularly tense in the United States. It seems like there is an “us versus them” mentality when, in reality, it doesn’t have to be that way. I dedicated my life to labor studies and labor and employment law, because I feel like I can make a difference by steering the conversation in the right direction – both in terms of policy and the law.
What about your time at Hofstra was most meaningful for you?
There are a lot of experiences from my time at Hofstra that stayed with me. First, Hofstra professors are accessible – both in terms of their in-class presentation and their office hours. Professor DeFreitas spent hours meeting with me to discuss class options, trending news topics concerning labor studies, and my thesis research. He was encouraging, and he played a crucial role guiding me throughout my time at Hofstra. That relationship continued well after I graduated as well. We continue to stay in touch. I even drop by his office once in a while when I’m in the area.
Second, Hofstra professors effectively connect discussions in the classroom with the real world. For example, Professor DeFreitas nominated me for the Labor & Employment Relations Association Most Promising Labor Studies Student Award while I was an undergraduate. When I received the award, I was fortunate enough to speak at the organization’s annual meeting and socialize with prominent labor and employment professionals. These types of experiences reaffirmed my interest in labor studies and showed me how what we learn in the classroom plays out in the professional world.
Now that you have earned a JD, what is next for you in terms of career and studies?
I joined the government relations/litigation law firm of Gerstman Schwartz & Malito LLP as a full-time Associate this fall [pending admission to the bar]. My relationship with the firm began with Professor DeFreitas’s Internship in Labor Studies [LABR 170] class nearly five years ago. My goal is to expand and develop the firm’s labor and employment law presence.
While I plan to stay in the professional world as a lawyer, I have considered rejoining the academic arena as a part-time professor in the future. I enjoy the classroom, and while I was in law school I had the opportunity to teach a full lesson on the Equal Pay Act. It was a thrill – one that I may decide to pursue one day.