Friday, March 8, 2013

10 Questions with Bari Zahn

By Richard Oceguera

Subject: Bari Zahn, Esquire
Name of Company: Kaye Scholer, NGLCC Visionary National Legal Partner and NGLCCNY Copper Corporate Partner 
Since: 1917
Number of Lawyers: 500 plus
Location: 425 Park Avenue, 17th floor, New York, NY 10022

You have a unique role at your firm. Why is having a dedicated business development professional important to a law firm?

That’s interesting; law firms are behind the eight ball in how they develop business. In most law firms there is a “business development” department, but those people are really the marketing department. They do not directly bring on new clients. But in my case, my role is unique. There is no other law firm, as far as I know, that has an active attorney with no billable hours requirement who focuses solely on direct business development. My role is all about relationship building. The fact that Kaye Scholer brought me on to develop business is a transformational shift for this firm. Ultimately, the term for what I do is “rainmaker,” but really, because I do not have a billable hour requirement, I have created something that hadn’t existed in this firm.

Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?

Yes! It started when I was young. My mom was a working mother so if I wanted something I had to make my own money. Everything I have done has always been entrepreneurial. Before I was an attorney I was an Acquisitions Editor at Simon & Schuster and then John Wiley & Sons. I worked by day and went to law school at night. In this role I was responsible for the profit and loss of my program and pay would fluctuate depending on how my product line did. So it was like running my own little business. Later I started my charity Living Beyond Belief (LBB). My goal for LBB was to run it like a business and not through the typical non-profit lens. It’s why LBB was acquired by a larger organization. For me, being an entrepreneur gives you a certain freedom.

Tell me about your business Affinity Projects LLC.

The idea for Affinity Projects came out of my life experience as a fundraiser for various charities and for Living Beyond Belief. I saw a lot of inefficiencies and areas for improvement in the non-profit space. Then I met my business partner Anne Marie Principe. We quickly discovered we shared the same views on what is missing in the non-profit sector. We determined that non-profits need to start looking at their organizations more like a business. We want non-profits to operate not from a place of scarcity but instead to find economies of scale by partnering with other organizations. There’s power in collaboration. Affinity Projects tends to work with smaller non-profits to help them build a solid foundation. We hand select only a few organizations to work with every year and we both love the opportunity to engage this way. Again, this is extremely entrepreneurial work.

Raising awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention is one of your life missions. Why is this important to you?

We can go back to the 80s when my friends were dropping like flies and half my phone book was gone. Then in 1989 my uncle, Wayne Fischer, was diagnosed. He was the first New York School teacher to publicly disclose his HIV positive status. He had a TV show called “AIDS: A Journal of Hope” on NY1 chronicling his life as he dealt with HIV/AIDS. He actually passed away on TV for all New Yorkers to see. He had been a gay rights activist and Wayne came up with the idea to teach school kids about HIV/AIDS prevention. The only pill we had at that time was knowledge. He didn’t want one more kid under his watch to get infected. So after he passed away I wanted to do everything I could to carry on his vision. That's how my charity, Living Beyond Belief (, was founded. But you know, it’s not just about educating kids about prevention facts. If the kids do not get that they matter and they are important then no amount of education will make a difference. So we have to start with building up their self-worth.  

Read More about Wayne Fisher. 

You are one of the most connected people I know in NYC. What’s your secret to building relationships?

Building relationships is who I am. Really, from the time I was very young I just felt very connected to people. When people get around me I have a way of making them feel very comfortable. And I think where this comes from is my mother. She taught me at a young age to accept people for who they are. She always said, “people have their own bucket of tears.” I learned not to judge people based on their skin color, age or sexuality. Three of her brothers were gay! She taught me to love the human being. When you cut us we all bleed the same. There is no difference. I have the ability to find the commonalities in people. I ask lots of questions and people start to feel comfortable. Or, I immediately share something personal, you know real, about myself to show my authentic self. On the other hand, I’m involved in a million activities and have always supported organizations and political campaigns in leadership roles. I’m constantly out there and extending myself. 

When it comes to networking, what do you think is the number one mistake business people make?

Not listening. But even before you get to that point, people who don’t go out, being a hermit, that’s a mistake. But, yes, not listening.

You have consistently been a member, leader and supporter of NGLCCNY since its inception. Why do you think the Chamber is important?

The Chamber is important because it is the only LGBT organization that is focused on business. Our community knows how to do great things when it comes to social causes but when it comes to creating business NGLCCNY is the place. For me to have a community that supports each other in building business is incredibly empowering.

Not only do you support NGLCCNY, but you have a leadership role at the national level as the Chair of the National Legal Industry Council. What is the goal of this council?

The goal of the council is to create full diversity and inclusion for all people in the legal profession. That’s my personal goal. From NGLCC’s view, the goal is to promote LGBT owned and operated certified law firms and to create business opportunities for them. We are figuring out creative ways to foster legal business for LGBT owned and operated law firms. And we are working on this by taking cutting edge approaches to business development. The National Legal Industry Council is a partnership between large corporate partners, law firms and LGBT Business Enterprises. In doing this we are paving the way for opportunities for all diverse owned firms.

As a native New Yorker you’ve seen it all. If you could change one thing about the LGBT community what would it be?

It would be to have the “B” be visible. And to break down the stigma that exists around “B” and “T.” As an out, bisexual, married woman (who hates the term bisexual) this is important to me. We say “LGBT” but where are the B’s? We don’t see them do we? And when I do tell people I am bi they look at me like I have two heads. It doesn’t make sense to me. And I would also like to see more women at events! Where are all the lesbians?

Uptown or Downtown?

Oh, downtown. Hands down!

Richard Oceguera is CEO of Richard Oceguera Coaching and the founding President of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce New York. He’s an Entrepreneur, Visionary Community Leader and author of the upcoming book “Convert Your Community to Cash: Monetize Your Connections.” Follow him at and @RichardOceguera on Twitter and Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Bari for sharing your experience and knowledge, You are a NY Role model !