Interview #5: James Silsley

James Silsley is a Pittsburgh man through and through. He loves the city, the sports teams and the culture. He's got a work ethic that would parallel that of a steelworker—he attended law school in the evenings while working full-time and recently passed the bar exam. (High fives!) As one of the most amiable people I have ever met, James makes the best out of any situation. 

I took the trusty 71A downtown to meet James at his workplace, the City County Building. Lucky for me, a trial was starting, and James invited me inside for the opening statements. We had to hustle up Grant street, and fortunately we made it just in time. It was my very first time in a courtroom (whew!) and I found the whole experience to be quite thrilling. 

Downtown, this time of year, was equally as thrilling (I had my first glimpse of the giant Christmas trees this season). We walked to the charming  Buon Giorno Cafe for lunch. I had fun feeling like a true downtown professional for the afternoon! 

James' day-to-day activities and work environment are dramatically different from mine. I love that. You might be surprised, but there is not a whole lot of suit wearing going on at Plumb Media. T-shirt-and-jeans are basically standard issue. (Personally, I prefer to keep things colorful and accessorized.) Isn't it amazing how we can live different lives, have different careers and still be great friends?

You know, I've heard of some web design firms having "dress-up Fridays." I'm going to propose this idea at the next Plumb Media staff meeting. Wish me luck.


Name: James Silsley

Job title: Attorney and Law Clerk for the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.

Neighborhood you live in: Squirrel Hill

Coffee Shop Drink of Choice: House blend. Occasionally, a chai tea.

Current Shampoo Preference: The Polamalu Special - Head & Shoulders.

Why do you choose Pittsburgh as your home? I made Pittsburgh my home when I began law school at Duquesne University. From that time, I became enamored with city living. First of all, Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods and, accordingly, the people treat you like their neighbor. In addition, it is a city which enjoys being active and promoting an active lifestyle. Pittsburgh has incredible bicycle trails and openly prides itself as a bike friendly city. Pittsburgh is also a great sports town. College and professional teams alike enjoy a steep tradition of success. And because of programs like PUMP's Pittsburgh Sports League, Pittsburgh is full of opportunities designed to help keep city residents young and involved by playing sports. These, along with close proximity to my family in Beaver County, make up some of the most important reasons why I have made Pittsburgh my home.

Who do you spend your time with? I try to balance my time between my parents, the amazing Simone Baer, and my friends. I enjoy exploring new bicycle routes with my mother. I enjoy debating politics with Simone as we walk to Razzy Fresh for frozen yogurt. I enjoy helping my dad through the construction of his various home projects (he should be finishing his dream garage this month). And like most, I like to catch up with my friends and law school peers.

What are the favorite aspects of your job? I really enjoy the process of learning through investigation, research, and discussion with interesting people. In my job, people from every aspect of life come together, fill our courthouse, and tell their story. For me that includes learning the individual stories of the 12 people sitting on a jury panel. It includes learning about how a current issue is affecting the parties to a case and the community they live in. It includes listening to a wide array of witnesses (the police officers, firefighters, and emergency service people that keep our city safe; the plumbers, landscapers, and mechanics that improve our lives through technical skill; and the physicians, surgeons, accountants, economists, and educators that help us with professional services). And lastly, through research, oral debate and writing, it means learning about how these issues have been addressed and resolved in the past. For example, my job has taught me about how Pittsburgh's Home Rule Charter [PDF] affects mayoral pension agreements and how the  Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company transformed South Side's Water Street in the 1900's. As you can see, my job offers me an incredible opportunity to continue new learning everyday.

Do you have a soul food? Mango curry with chicken, red skinned potatoes, and multi-grain rice.

What are some of your recent personal goals? Now that I am not attending law school from 6 to 9 each night after work, I have been trying to tailor my free time toward cycling, volunteering and more pleasure reading. And so far, it has been very rewarding. I have been exploring the Great Allegheny Passage and would like to pedal to D.C. in the future. I have signed up to help serve at the Washington Boulevard Veteran's Shelter on Thanksgiving. And right now I am reading a book discussing modern politics and how it has been shaped through the polarizing efforts of Republican strategist Karl Rove and our nation's first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

What are your favorite Pittsburgh restaurants? Dish on the South Side does a fantastic job with salmon. Tamari in Lawrenceville is a new favorite for tapas. And a stop at People's for Indian is always a great call to cure my cravings for spice.

Describe your ideal day. My concept of the perfect day generally takes place in the summer and involves lots of movement and good food. After sleeping in until 10 a.m., I would drink a cup of coffee, listen to NPR news, and scan the paper while a certain calico cat named Fiona quietly purrs next to me. After learning that the economy has completely recovered and that the Pittsburgh Pirates had just increased their N.L. Central lead to 10 games, I would throw on some clothes and have brunch at the Smallman Street Deli. At this point, Simone and I would hop on our bicycles and pedal to Point State Park for a competitive game of softball or soccer with our friends. Exhausted, sun-kissed, and ready to slow the day...I would make my way back to Squirrel Hill, shower and productively work on a case for an hour while sipping a crisp, cold Diet Pepsi. (Those who know me know my love for the Diet Pepsi.) At sunset and dressed in our best, Simone and I would walk to the Bangkok Balcony for spicy Thai food. And we would end the evening on a blanket watching a funny movie at Flagstaff Hill in Oakland.

What is the most memorable live show you have seen in Pittsburgh? Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings performing at Diesel in the South Side. The George Clooney movie, "Up in the Air," had just hit theaters, and I was excited to hear this band which opened the movie by playing their unique brass-filled version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Needless to say, it was a great show and Sharon Jones had an amazing amount of energy throughout.

What do you think Pittsburgh will be like in ten years? What do you love most about the city? Right now Pittsburgh looks like it will continue to build upon its reputation as a city with incredible medical and educational institutions. In addition to the universities and the hospitals, I think the upcoming riverfront projects in the Strip and Lawrenceville will build upon the success of the transformations of the North Shore and South Side Works. However, I think the rush to tap into the Marcellus Shale will have the most significant impact upon what Pittsburgh will look like in ten years. If the gas is extracted safely and responsibly, the region could become infused with brilliant engineers, energy-focused law firms, and job creating companies. If companies neglect their due diligence, the excitement may be replaced by horrific environmental and health concerns. I love Pittsburgh for its natural beauty. Whether you are on the incoming lane of the Fort-Pitt Bridge, on the upper-deck of the river-touring Gateway Clipper, or on a PAT bus driving up the Crosstown Boulevard, Pittsburgh has fantastic views. If possible, I hope the Marcellus Shale is utilized to bring a new industry to the region while preserving Pittsburgh's natural beauty. 


Emily's picture

Great interview! I feel like I now know so much more about James!

Katie's picture

Never been to a courtroom either, sounds like an interesting and engaging experience and workplace. Also, gotta love the bicycling in Pittsburgh! Great interview.

Kate Stoltzfus's picture

The four of you (you, james, Simone and Amar) are biking road warriors! I need to get more motivated (and a better bike)...

Anonymous's picture

I am so impressed with James and how he answered these questions. Go for it James. Nanny Hutch

Johnathan Silsley's picture

I loved the interview. I agree, that would be the ideal day.

Crunk up the volume's picture

James rocks! Your judge is lucky to have you.