Lawyerly Lairs

Whenever we write about a lawyerly lair in New York City, our readers in Texas scoff. They mock the tiny size and high price. They observe that for the cost of a minuscule Manhattan studio, you could get yourself 3500 square feet — plus a Lexus! — down in Texas. And did you know that there’s no state income tax down there?

Today our Texas tipsters will be happy. We’re visiting the $5 million, 14,000-square-foot mansion of a renowned plaintiffs’ lawyer — with room for many Lexuses, in the 13-car garage….

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This column, Lawyerly Lairs, is all about real estate voyeurism. But today’s story emphasizes the voyeurism over the real estate. Let’s hope there are some Rear Window fans among you.

In Cobble Hill, one of Brooklyn’s loveliest and leafiest precincts, the “sexy shower” of one attorney abode has got the neighborhood talking. Lawyers are often focused on minimizing exposure, but neighbors claim that’s not the case for the owners of a beautiful, multimillion-dollar townhouse.

Let’s see what all the fuss is about. It seems that there’s more to this story than meets the eye….

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200 Chambers Street: architect’s rendering.

If you were to ask lawyers to name some lucrative practice areas, immigration law would probably not top many lists. While there are some elite firms that do immigration law for corporations or high-net-worth individuals (and charge a pretty penny for their services), many immigration lawyers are more dedicated to helping their clients over their bank accounts.

But some immigration lawyers with their own firms do very, very well for themselves. Take, for example, the one who just sold his Tribeca apartment for a cool $3.6 million — to a pair of poker champs, so presumably they got a fair deal.

The buyers might have paid a reasonable price, considering the fabulosity of the unit. But the seller still earned a seven-figure profit on the transaction….

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325 West 52nd Street: modest on the outside, fabulous on the inside.

These are challenging times for print journalism. The Boston Globe, which the New York Times acquired in 1993 for $1.1 billion, recently sold for $70 million (or perhaps negative $40 million, as Matt Yglesias suggests). Jeff Bezos just bought the Washington Post for $250 million, a fraction of its former worth (and he may have paid four times its true value).

But print journalism was good to many people for many years. In the glory days of magazine writing, publications would pay several dollars a word for features that were thousands of words long. These generous fees might explain how a prominent magazine journalist amassed enough cash to buy a four-bedroom apartment Manhattan, which he recently sold to a law firm associate for just under $2 million.

That’s a sizable chunk of change for a young lawyer. How many sixth-year associates can afford $2 million apartments? Let’s learn more of the facts….

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What lies behind this door?

On New York’s Upper East Side, just down the street from my high school, sits a magnificent mansion. As my classmates and I walked past on our way to gym class in Central Park, I’d wonder: who lives at 7 East 84th Street?

A titan of finance, like a bulge-bracket banker or a hedge-fund god? The CEO of a Fortune 100 company? A reclusive heir or heiress?

Actually, no. It’s the home of a landlord/tenant lawyer. And not even a landlord-side lawyer, but a champion of tenants’ rights.

The scourge of New York City landlords is a lord himself — with a $30 million castle. Can you believe it?

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50 Riverside Drive

Last month, we brought you a Davis Polk fairy tale. Two talented lawyers met at the elite law firm, fell in love, and got married. They lived happily after, in their $6 million apartment (until they sold the apartment to a celebrated Chinese artist).

Now it’s time for the Sullivan & Cromwell version. For some lawyers who work there, S&C sends them into therapy; for others, it sends them into the arms of a beloved.

This couple met at Sullivan & Cromwell, got together, and bought an apartment at 50 Riverside Drive, a beautiful prewar co-op on the Upper West Side. They renovated the place — doing a lovely job, I might add — and then sold it for more than $3 million….

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One of the most magnificent homes we have ever covered in Lawyerly Lairs is the Manhattan mansion owned by the late Professor Hans Smit of Columbia Law School. Professors at NYU Law School, Columbia’s downtown rival, enjoy some pretty sweet real estate. But how many of them own a 12,000-square-foot house with its own Wikipedia entry?

Back in 2006, Professor Smit put his mansion on the market for $29 million. In 2007, he raised the price to $30 million. In 2008 — before the collapse of Lehman and the financial meltdown — he turned down a $20 million offer.

After being on and off the market for the past seven years, the house finally sold. For how much?

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor has earned millions of dollars in royalties from her bestselling book, My Beloved World (affiliate link). Maybe it’s time for her to upgrade from that perfectly nice but far from lavish D.C. condo.

But she’s still far from being able to purchase the home of her former boss, George Pavia, who hired Sotomayor after she left the Manhattan District Attorney’s office (and later promoted her to partner). The patrician Pavia, managing partner of the Pavia & Harcourt boutique firm, just sold his magnificent townhouse on the Upper East Side for $19.5 million.

Pavia’s former residence is an elegant five-story, red-brick, neo-Georgian townhouse. It sits on a quiet, tree-lined block between Fifth and Madison Avenues, just steps away from Central Park and luxury shopping.

It would be many a Manhattanite’s dream home. But it actually comes with a nightmarish history….

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Judge Judy makes partners look like paupers.

Don’t pee on her leg and tell her it’s raining (affiliate link). Instead, relieve yourself inside the powder room of Judge Judy’s former pied-à-terre.

Maybe it has a gold-plated urinal? If it doesn’t, it should. Isn’t $8.5 million for two bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms a bit steep?

Also steep: the $17,411 a month in common charges. That’s right, common charges, maintenance — not the mortgage, not the real estate taxes.

But the Honorable Judith Sheindlin, better known as “Judge Judy,” can afford it. How much does she make a year? And just how fabulous is this judicial diva’s former courtroom in the sky?

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Peter Madoff (via Getty Images)

You can call notorious Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff many things, but thankfully you can’t call him a lawyer. Although he has gotten to know the law quite well over the years, thanks to his journey through the legal system, Bernie Madoff has no formal legal training law degree.

[UPDATE (6:40 p.m.): As noted in the comments, Madoff briefly attended Brooklyn Law School.]

But Bernie Madoff’s brother, Peter Madoff, is an attorney. Peter graduated from Fordham Law School in 1970 and is a member in good standing of the New York bar, next scheduled to register in October 2014.

Query why Peter Madoff hasn’t been disbarred. In June 2012, he pleaded guilty to numerous federal charges related to his service as “chief compliance officer” of Madoff Securities. In December 2012, he received a sentence of ten years in prison.

Now that Peter Madoff’s in the Big House — FCI Estill, according to the handy BOP Inmate Locator — let’s have a look at the big house he leaves behind. The federal government is trying to sell it for a sizable sum, almost $4.5 million….

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