Hofstra Law alumnus Vladimir Yelizarov ’12, an associate at O’Melveny & Myers LLP in the firm’s New York office and a co-founder of the nonprofit EduMaKate, was interviewed by New York Law Journal.
In the Q&A, published on Sept. 18, 2015, Yelizarov, whose family emigrated from Uzbekistan to the United States when he was 13, discusses his family’s decision to leave their homeland, what attracted him to a career in law, EduMaKate’s mission and work, and his commitment to giving back.
Below is an excerpt from the interview.
Q: Why did your family leave Uzbekistan?
A: When the Soviet Union collapsed, waves of Jews emigrated abroad — mostly to America and Israel — some for economic reasons, but many, including my family, because of fear of religious persecution amid the growing presence and influence of the Islamic militants in my country. It took five years and two different petitions before the Moscow consulate granted refugee status to my family, which allowed us to relocate to the United States in December 1999.
Q: How did you become attracted to the law?
A: I received a college scholarship through O’Melveny & Myers’ New York Scholarship program in 2003, the program’s inaugural year, and the experience had a major impact on me. Becoming an O’Melveny Scholar gave me the opportunity to interact with and learn from lawyers who took a genuine interest in me and my potential. As an immigrant coming from a corrupt society, generosity was always met with caution and suspicion. But meeting with the partners and associates at O’Melveny, I was pleasantly surprised to hear how much time they spent pursuing philanthropic causes, and how important it was to them to give to those in need. Before that, I had never associated “philanthropy” with a law firm.
Q: You gained a mentor in former O’Melveny partner Jose Fernandez. How did that relationship start? What did you learn from him?
A: I met Jose Fernandez when I applied for the O’Melveny scholarship. … I had only been living in the U.S. for three years, so I was still struggling to learn and improve my English. Jose had emigrated from Cuba as a child and could relate with the challenges I was facing with language and adjusting to American culture. Jose inspired me, not only with his formidable legal career but also his desire to give back to his community and young people, and he has continued to provide guidance throughout my education and career. Jose taught me that success itself does not matter if it is not shared.
Q: What kinds of cases do you work on? What are your goals for your profession?
A: I am a member of O’Melveny’s Project Development and Real Estate Practice and regularly work on debt financing and equity investments in traditional and renewable energy projects. In addition, through O’Melveny’s deep involvement in the community and pro bono services, I advise a number of nonprofits on general corporate, transactional, and governance matters. I continue to strive to build on my legal knowledge and experience, work on new areas of law, foster meaningful relationships with attorneys I admire, and be an outstanding practitioner of law.
Q: What is EduMaKate?
A: EduMaKate is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to partnering with and empowering underprivileged New York City high school students to pursue a college degree and realize their career dreams. We partner with schools and businesses to provide career-oriented workplace events, school-based motivational workshops, college application guidance, peer-mentoring, and assistance in career placement. We help build confident, insightful, articulate, and community-friendly young professionals — one student at a time.
Q: How did EduMaKate get started?
A: We started informally during my second year in law school to return to my alma mater, High School for Arts and Business in Queens, and speak with the students there about the importance of higher education and professional development. As the demand grew, we decided to incorporate so we could engage more partners and have a broader impact to reach more students. Each of the founders attended public high schools in the New York City area, and experienced first-hand the struggle to overcome personal hardship to achieve professional success.
Q: Do you do any one-on-one mentoring?
A: I have found the mentee-mentor relationship to be a valuable part of my development as a professional and a great way to share life lessons with young people. While EduMaKate does engage in limited one-on-one mentoring, I primarily mentor students who are recipients of the O’Melveny New York Scholarship.