Stamford family law attorney Lisa Kouzoujian traces her generous spirit to her grandmother’s teachings.
“I’m a second generation Armenian American born and raised in the Bronx, New York. My paternal grandmother, who survived the Armenian genocide in 1915, is, I believe, the reason I have spent so many years doing pro bono, or as we lovingly call it, ‘low bono’ work,” said Kouzoujian, who is one of more than a dozen lawyers being recognized for their pro bono efforts by the Connecticut Judicial Branch and administrative judges in the state’s judicial districts.
She and the others chosen will be invited to the Law Tribune’s Honors Night in June. “It’s a huge honor,” said Kouzoujian, who has been practicing since 1989 and accepting assigned counsel pro bono work since that time. “When you do pro bono work, you don’t look for recognition. I don’t really think about what I do, I just do it.”
Kouzoujian represents children in the child protection court, as a guardian ad litem in the family court, and as a GAL in criminal court. “There’s a need there. I like kids,” she said. “I don’t think you do child protection [work] in Connecticut to make a lot of money. It’s a labor of commitment… You’ve got to help kids. You’ve got to help families. They are the core of our society.”
A Colgate University undergraduate, Kouzoujian majored in English and then attended Western New England School of Law.
“I went to law school because I wanted to help folks. I figured I had a skill that I could help people with,” Kouzoujian said.
After earning her J.D., she worked as a temporary assistant court clerk in Stamford Superior Court and then, from 1991 to 1994, as an associate at the Stamford firm of Strada & Fusaro.
She started her solo practice in 1994, and she said that ever since then her law office has been across the street from Stamford court and the Stamford police station. “There’s always someone walking in with questions about any range of legal issues. If I can help, I always do. If I can’t, I refer them to other attorneys in town who may be able to help,” she said. “Every client is important and every case no matter pro bono or not has value.”
Down To Earth
Kouzoujian said when she handles a child protection matter pro bono, she’s representing a child who has been neglected or abused and is in need of services. When she’s in criminal court, she’s working on behalf of children who are the victims of crimes. In family court, her clients are the subject of custody disputes. “I am able to navigate those waters and help these children,” she said.
She credits Judges Gary White, Richard Comerford, Bruce Hudock and Maureen Dennis for all having an impact on her career in significant ways. Kouzoujian has frequently appeared before Judge Donna Nelson Heller, who presided in Stamford and Danbury juvenile courts during the 2012-2013 court term and who now sits in the Stamford Family Court.
“Generous is the word that I keep coming back to” when describing Kouzoujian, Heller said. “She is generous with her time, and she cares very much about her clients. She is flexible with her billing, and she adjusts her fees for those who have financial problems. Many times she has volunteered to take care of a matter although she is unlikely to be paid.”
Heller said that Kouzoujian has a down-to-earth, practical, yet empathetic approach to cases. “She’s not someone who will advocate for something that is hypothetically great but that’s not going to happen,” Heller said. “She is looking at who the parties are and where they are at that point in their lives.”
Kouzoujian’s desire to help others is evident outside her legal practice. Free-time activities include teaching Sunday school and animal rescue volunteering. Then there’s her daughter, Lenna, whom Kouzoujian adopted from Armenia when the little girl was 5 months old. “She is 11 now and is a great kid,” Kouzoujian said.
There’s little doubt her grandmother would have approved of her career path and personal endeavors.
“My grandmother would say that if others are hungry or are in need, you have to help, otherwise your food will have no flavor and your life will have less meaning,” Kouzoujian said. “I think it sounded more poetic and prophetic when she said it in Armenian. My grandmother also taught me to sew and to cook and to sing, but mostly she taught me tolerance and understanding and love. I think she saw a lot of horror during the genocide, and I think she wanted to make sure her grandchildren were better people than those who took the lives of so many. I believe she succeeded.”