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Lawyer finds welcome change of lifestyle in Buffalo

Rosa Pizzi graduated from Ivy League schools, worked as a lawyer at New York City firms, and spent nearly a year traveling the world with her boyfriend.

They were ready to live and work somewhere other than New York City, but weren’t sure where. After researching their options, including Rochester and the Hudson Valley, they chose Buffalo and moved here last year. They didn’t have family connections in the region, but they discovered Buffalo met the criteria they had in mind, including job opportunities and places to enjoy hiking and camping.

Pizzi, 34, joined Phillips Lytle last September, concentrating her practice in banking and financial services. She came in as a young professional with the kind of credentials Buffalo is eager to attract. Pizzi earned an undergraduate degree at Princeton University and a law degree at Yale, before working at Simpson Thacher and Akin Gump. Her boyfriend has a government job here, and they live in the Elmwood Village.

Pizzi reflected on choosing Buffalo and how the experience has panned out:

Q: How did you settle on where to move after spending about a year traveling?

A: We kind of had a sense of what we were looking for. We’d tell people, we’re looking for a smaller city geographically, more compact. A city that is walkable, bikeable, that has stuff to do outside, where we both have professional opportunities and where our cost of living would be in a good spot.

Q: How did Buffalo get on your list?

A: We wanted to not take the bar exam again, ideally. It wasn’t like the top priority; it was on the list. We expanded our search in New York, and we had heard good things about Western New York. I have a couple of really good friends from law school who were from here and they were always saying it was a great place, “you’d like it.” And I was just like, “I don’t believe you.” But when we started looking, we were just like, actually, that sounds like a place we could live. We knew that there was a lot going on because it started sort of popping up on the radar. There were job opportunities coming up in our search. … We came to visit in February (2015). It was snowing (heavily). But we had a nice time while we were here.

From both our perspectives, we wanted to have career opportunities. I didn’t know necessarily what my next steps were going to be. But there’s definitely a vital business community here in Buffalo that serves not just this region, but outside of the region, too. I just felt really comfortable. I moved here, I didn’t have a job, but I felt comfortable. I felt like, “I’m going to find something. There’s a lot of cool things going on.”

Q: How does the work here compare to what you were doing at the big firms in New York City?

A: I think the mantra when I was practicing was, you’re in New York City, that’s where banking is. You can do M&A or one of these fields and you can go to other places, everywhere someone is buying and selling companies. But if you’re going to do banking, you have been in New York or a select other few cities.

And it’s true, there are giant deals going on in New York all the time, it’s great. But I knew from reading about (Phillips Lytle) before I interviewed, the diversity of the work and the challenge of it (here) and the scope is actually really impressive. The banking partners, they all have their own specialties and they’re really diverse. They run the gamut from commercial construction to representing big companies or big banks.

Q: Are the clients you’re doing work for based here or are they outside the area?

A: I think it’s a blend of both. I was just doing a deal for a company that’s here and they’re big and they’re just a great company. They have a big loan; I saw a lot in New York of that size. I get really excited to be sort of part of the Buffalo economy and its growth. I’m such a fan of all of these companies that are working here and doing work and expanding.

I think because of the quality of the partners in our group, there’s definitely work that comes in from other places.

Q: What are your impressions of the legal community here, with the different acquisitions that have taken place?

A: I think it’s the market probably adjusting to the business needs of the community. I think it’s good to be responsive to that and make sure practices are keeping up with what the local clients want. As long as people here want to grow and be active, it’s also good for the firms to grow and be active.

Q: How does the quality of life here compare to your expectations?

A: It’s awesome. People work hard and do really quality work. But it’s wonderful when you see the partners enjoy their family life, like going to their kids’ games and events and things like that. It’s a nice attitude about work, to come in and do it during your business hours and do it well. Obviously there’s always a situation where you have to work a long night. But it’s just so nice to have that lifestyle.