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Thursday, May 27, 2010

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Matt Semino, Attorney and Legal Analyst

Matt Semino is a New York City based attorney and legal analyst who covers the nation’s most high profile cases and legal stories.  He is also a passionate Manhattanite who is dedicated to following and supporting New York’s vibrant cultural life.   

Matt is a graduate of Columbia Law School and earned his bachelor’s degree, with honors, from Cornell University.  A recipient of a prestigious Fulbright Foundation research grant, he covered the Southeast Asian currency crisis and its dramatic political impact on that region as a representative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  Matt has also been a visiting scholar at the London School of Economics and with the Harvard Institution for International Development in Shanghai, China.  Additionally, Matt has been honored as a Truman Fellow by the Harry S. Truman Foundation in Washington, DC for his contributions to law and public policy.   

Matt’s extensive legal experience includes ten years of private practice in New York City, acting as an advisor to global media corporations, entertainment companies and figures, financial institutions and private equity firms.  Prior to entering private practice, Matt served as a legislative aide in the U.S. Justice Department under the Clinton Administration, in the U.S. Senate for the late Senator Edward Kennedy and in the British Parliament for MP Quentin Davies.  Through these positions in public service, Matt collaborated with elected officials on an array of hot button political issues, ranging from human rights and health care reform to European monetary policy and international trade.  Drawing from his experiences in law and policy, Matt observed the power of media to raise awareness of pressing social and political issues.  He therefore decided to complement his legal career with hands on experience working on film and television production in Los Angeles and New York through Revolution Studios, Universal Pictures, TBS, ABC and NBC. 

Matt is a regular contributor to the national news site, Elites TV, where he provides in-depth analysis and social commentary on today’s headline-grabbing trials, celebrity justice and legal news topics.  Matt offers a fresh and authoritative voice on the entertainment industry, politics, law, society and popular culture.  As a legal expert as well as an avid supporter of New York City’s arts and philanthropic institutions, Matt has been featured in and quoted by multiple publications and media outlets, including The New York Post’s Page Six MagazineGothamHamptonsAvenueQuest and Panache MagazinesThe Shreveport TimesThe New Jersey Courier PostVh1 NewsManhattan Society and New York Social Diary. 

Some of the Manhattan institutions and organizations that Matt endorses and believes make significant contributions to the lives of New Yorkers include, among many, City Harvest, City Meals on Wheels, Riverkeeper, Safe Horizon, the Humane Society, Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, Henry Street Settlement, the Metropolitan, MoMa and Guggenheim Museums of Art, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, Guild Hall, the School of American Ballet, the Juilliard School and the Municipal Art Society.    

Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Matt became a devote New Yorker while attending Columbia University where he was enthralled by the City’s international pulse as well as its diverse culinary and cultural offerings.  Matt currently resides on Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village with his wife, Linette Semino, a top-producing Manhattan real estate broker, previously featured as a Mover and Shaker:   We are so pleased to present him as our latest Mover and Shaker!

Peachy Deegan interviewed Matt Semino for Whom You Know.

What piqued your interest in law? 
As an undergraduate at Cornell University, I developed a very strong interest in the way politics and public policy shape the lives of everyday people. I observed that many influential leaders in society that I admired had legal training and were able to use the law as a positive tool for effecting social change.  I desired to have a similar impact in my professional life, so I thought obtaining a law degree was the first step in achieving that goal.  As I have pursued my legal career, I recognize that law is not only a powerful instrument that can be used for shaping the political process but also one that can have a profound impact on the direction of international markets and business.  As a lawyer, I believe I can apply my training and skills to think critically about problems in society and hopefully offer constructive solutions that will work in solving those problems. 

Of all of the institutions you have studied at, what did you like the most about each of them and why? 
My undergraduate institution, Cornell University, has one of the most physically beautiful college campuses I have ever seen while at the same time being a world class research institute located in upstate New York.  At Cornell, I met engaging students from all over the globe and was exposed to a diversity of ideas that truly changed my world view.  Attending Columbia Law School not only provided me with access to a classic legal education, taught by top-notch professors who actually write the textbooks, but it gave me direct exposure to the cultural richness and international flavor of New York City.  Experiencing Manhattan as a student was an education itself that only further complemented what I was learning in the classroom.  Similarly, the London School of Economics is situated in the middle of one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world.  It was at LSE that I was able to move seamlessly from being immersed in academic research at one moment to being fully absorbed by the art, history and theater of London the next.   
What was it like to work with Senator Kennedy?   Peachy campaigned for him as a student in Boston. (Kick Kennedy is a Mover and Shaker: ) 
Working with Senator Ted Kennedy provided me with a first class course on the legislative process that was taught by a true legend.  That amazing experience with the Senator informs much of my progressive thinking today.  Although Senator Kennedy was a polarizing and oftentimes controversial political leader, his formidable presence when he entered a room was undeniable. His passion for and contributions to his constituents, the nation and key social issues were awe inspiring and monumental.  No matter what one’s political philosophy may be, it is without doubt that Senator Ted Kennedy touched and improved the lives of millions of people throughout his many years of dedicated public service.  It will be tough for any politician on either side of the aisle to match his legacy in the United States and the world.      

What films and television shows have you enjoyed working on the most and why? 
Working on the production of the film Across the Universe directed by Academy Award nominee Julie Taymor was tremendous.  Julie Taymor is a genius at her craft and the film is a visual masterpiece.  It addresses the social and political upheaval of the Vietnam War era through vibrant and richly layered cinematography.  I also had the opportunity to work on the production of the New York City based, hit television show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.  This particular series of the Law & Order franchise is powerful in the sense that not only is it extremely well produced and acted, but its sensitive subject matter raises awareness of the complex challenges facing victims of crime within the justice system.  My experiences with these two productions, among others, reinforced my understanding of the power that media and art can have in enhancing dialogue on issues of social and historical relevance.  

What are the hottest issues in Manhattan today and how would you choose to comment on each? 
Two of the most significant and challenging issues facing Manhattan today, which are inextricably linked together, are the low educational and resulting employment prospects for young people living in economically distressed neighborhoods.  These two problems, as many know, negatively impact the quality of life in the communities where disadvantaged young adults live throughout the City.  Through further joint initiatives between the New York City public school system and Manhattan’s diverse range of private cultural, academic and business organizations, at-risk youth can be provided with unique opportunities for educational development and hands-on vocational training that will reach beyond the fiscal constraints of their public school settings.    
What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 
My family encourages and inspires me each day to seek excellence in all that I do personally and professionally.  

What are you proudest of and why? 
Even as a child, I had always dreamed of building a life and career in Manhattan.  I am proud to say that after moving to New York City over ten years ago, I have been fortunate, through a bit of hard work, some luck and the encouragement and support of family, friends and mentors, to have developed a very fulfilling personal and professional life in the Big Apple.  I am most excited though that my journey in this exciting city has really only just begun. 

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
Write a book and direct a film, each of which would ideally provide new insights on my chosen subject matter while provoking thought and intellectual debate among my audience.
 What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
Outside of private practice, I have been recognized in my profession for my commitment to pro bono legal work.  I was part of a team of attorneys that won a very challenging, U.S. political asylum case for a Ugandan man who was the victim of ethnic and rebel violence in his African nation.  Working on and winning that case was extremely rewarding.  

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
Madison Avenue on a crisp, autumn day. 
 What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
Bergdorf Goodman Men’s Store
 What is your favorite drink? 
Beefeater Gin with club soda, a lime wedge and lots of ice.
 What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
The Mark Restaurant, by chef Jean Georges uptown is phenomenal in every way.
The Lion, by chef John DeLucie on my street downtown, is simply delicious and very “of the moment.”
 What is your favorite Manhattan book? 
Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities is a searing chronicle of timeless New York themes; ambition, social class, race and politics.
 If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
A center for international photography and film.  The center’s institutional mission would be to explore the diverse histories and cultures of national groups from around the world and act as meeting place for the public exchange of ideas.    

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
Attending the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic on Governors Island last summer.  This exciting event brought together New Yorkers, celebrities and royals to watch Prince Harry and Nacho Figueras and their respective teams square off to raise money for American Friends of Sentebale, a charity supporting at-risk children in Lesotho, Africa.  I can’t wait to attend the matches again this year!
 What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 
Walk by foot down Broadway from 125th Street in Harlem, all the way to the southern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park City, absorbing the different sights, sounds and smells that each new block of the City brings. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
I had the opportunity to meet and speak with the legendary artist Robert Rauschenberg, just prior to his death in 2008, during an opening for his work at the Pace Wildenstein Gallery in Chelsea.  Also, when I first moved to New York, I was fortunate to attend the opening night of Giorgio Armani’s retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum.  The cross section of attendees from New York Society and Hollywood as well as the fashion, literary and art worlds that came to pay homage to one of the world’s most influential designers was fascinating for a new guy to the City.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 
Chinatown is one of the most underrated destinations in New York City.  The neighborhood is a treasure chest brimming with fascinating culture, delicious food, amazing shopping, salons and spas as well as cafes and bars, all with offerings at a discount compared to the rest of Manhattan.  While it may be a bit frenetic at times, Chinatown is definitely worth taking the time to explore by even the most jaded New Yorkers.  
The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park is overrated.  While I can’t deny they do have delicious burgers and shakes, it just is not worth waiting in the long lines to then eat that great food on a park bench.  There are too many other fantastic burger joints in New York to enjoy, with much more relaxed settings.  

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it? 

I absolutely love Whom You Know’s “Peachy's Picks" and "Tasty Tidbits” columns which are of course linked.  Linette and I are aspiring foodies and can’t thank Peachy Deegan and Whom You Know enough for keeping us up-to-date on the hottest restaurant picks and trends.  We couldn’t live with out it! 
 What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
Prior to beginning law school, I bought an around the world airplane ticket with New York City as my final destination.  Once I arrived in this great city, I never looked back.
 How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? 
By email at 

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