Monthly Feature: Get to Know... Christopher T. Kurtz
February 28, 2019
Member, Garden City
Chris Kurtz places a lot of stock in authenticity, respect, truth telling and overall credibility. “All of these qualities have to come into play during client representation to communicate the right message, find creative solutions and hammer out the tough deals.”
Chris speaks from experience, as the negotiating table is where you’ll often find him. His labor and employment law practice has a strong concentration in the public sector, representing public employers in Westchester County and on Long Island.
“I always strive to be genuine. If you don’t send the right message during negotiations, a tough job will only be made more difficult. I recognize and respect what’s important for everyone around the table, not just my client.”
As the son of a labor lawyer father and special education teacher mother, Chris early on learned the importance of listening to divergent opinions and respect for both hard work and labor negotiations. During his school years, Chris always had some kind of a job, from delivering the daily paper to working at a supermarket. “While my ideal career would have been to play centerfield for the Yankees, the closest I got to the Yankee organization was as a vendor at Yankee Stadium,” he recalls. “These experiences taught me how to recognize a strong work ethic and know what it’s like to work these kinds of jobs.”
Ultimately, Chris chose to study employment and labor law, excelling at Fordham Prep, then Boston College and St. John’s Law, where he took nearly every labor law class that was offered. It was at St. John’s that Chris first encountered one of the top labor attorneys in New York State, Terry O’Neil. Terry saw promise in Chris, so much so, that he became a mentor, later bringing him to Bond, Schoeneck & King’s Garden City office to help him with his caseload. To this day, Chris and Terry continue to work in close partnership.
Chris attributes his practice development to Terry and another outstanding mentor, Vincent O’Hara. “My first job out of law school was working on the union side of the table with Vincent O’Hara. We had a very close relationship and I learned a great deal from him.”
Through his own observations and with the guidance of his mentors, Chris also learned to listen while talking. “To me, that’s the key to coming to a resolution. When you’re negotiating, as I do on a regular basis, you have to be talking and listening at the same time. I’m not at the negotiating table to give a speech; I’m there to solve a problem. Through listening I gain valuable information to gauge the reaction of my audience and know the right questions to ask.”
Chris also learned that unions have an institutional history. “Administrations come and go, but the unions are always there and are always an important piece of the process. Both sides are trying to achieve the same goal. We all want it to work better for our individual sides, but at the end it has to work. This is anything but a cut throat negotiation process based on ‘I’ll cut my best deal and never see you again.’ The decisions we bargain today will be back on the table two years from now.”
“It’s challenging to do the bargaining—there is just not money to go around as in the past. It’s a difficult message to deliver to people. I respect and understand where they’re coming from. So how do I achieve management goals while keeping people working and happy? As difficult as the challenges may be, I like this kind of practice because it’s people and relationship driven. I accept a lot of accountability for my clients and feel badly if something goes wrong for them, even if it’s not my fault nor responsibility. It’s important to me to stick by them.”
Chris enjoys teaching and mentoring aspiring and newer attorneys. He is a member of Bond’s associate committee, playing an active mentor role for the firm’s younger associates and, along with Terry O’Neil, teaches public sector labor and employment law at St. John’s University School of Law.
A self-described old school attorney, Chris likes to share his perspective on how to be a good lawyer with those new to the profession. “I’m very concerned with decorum and want to teach it to my law students. Good form is just as important as what I’m teaching about the law.”
Chris and his wife, Jennifer, also an attorney, are the parents of a 9-year old son, Jackson, and 4-year old daughter, Alexa. The couple also had a son, Colton, who was born with a rare, serious disease and only lived for 47 days. While Jennifer is home caring for the couple’s children at the present time, Chris counts her as a top advisor and confidante, and values her perspective on legal issues.
“From Jennifer and Terry, to all my colleagues at Bond, so much of my success can be attributed to finding good people to work with and the right place to practice.”