Real Estate

Bruce Stachenfeld

Ed. note: Please welcome our new columnist, Bruce Stachenfeld of Duval & Stachenfeld LLP.

What is a law firm? Unlike a lot of businesses, there are really no assets except the lawyers and (in some instances) the brand name. For most law firms — especially newer firms and start-ups — there is no brand name; that leaves the lawyers as the only assets. And for brand-name law firms, if the talent starts to leave, eventually the brand dies.

As one of my partners once said to me: “Bruce, all of the assets of this business go down the elevator every night. Your job is to get them to come back up in the morning.” He just said it casually, but it hit me strongly later on as I realized he was completely right. The entire point of running a law firm was to keep the lawyers in the firm. You can always get more clients if you lose them, but without the lawyers, you have nothing to sell and it is game over.

Accordingly, to answer the question posed at the outset as to what a law firm is…. it is a collection of lawyers who are together because they wish to be together. If they don’t wish to be together any more, then they leave, and that is the end.

And what is a great law firm?

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Bruce Stachenfeld

Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Bruce Stachenfeld of Duval & Stachenfeld LLP.

By way of introduction, I am the founder and managing partner of Duval & Stachenfeld LLP. We are a 70-ish lawyer law firm in midtown NYC that focuses strongly on real estate; indeed, we refer to ourselves as “The Pure Play in Real Estate Law.”

As managing partner I have spearheaded numerous unique initiatives that have distinguished us from other law firms. Many of these ideas were very scary when we tried them out — there was always a fear that we would not only fail but, worse yet, be laughed at. Some of these ideas did not work out so well, I admit; however, the ones that succeeded have been the fulcrum to attract both lawyers and clients to our firm and indeed been the bedrock of our success.

As a relatively small firm playing with the big boys and girls, one would think that our size could be a disadvantage. But that would be incorrect. Smaller players can be flexible and move in different directions. We can take risks and seize opportunities that large law firms cannot logically capitalize on….

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* The $160K-Plus Club welcomes its newest member: Duval & Stachenfeld, a real estate firm in NY, is more than doubling its starting salary for associates to $175K. Look for them recruiting at your “tier one” school soon. [New York Law Journal]

* In this economy, bankruptcy firms are being hit hard: Stutman Treister & Glatt, a top L.A. firm that once assisted in cases against Lehman Brothers and Enron Corp. in their Chapter 11 proceedings, is closing up shop. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* It ain’t easy being dean at the law school with the best Biglaw prospects — oh wait, yes it is. Congrats to Gillian Lester, who will serve as Columbia Law’s fifteenth dean come January 2015. [Columbia News]

* “Do I think he thought he was gonna beat it? Yeah.” The district attorney who brought charges against Stephen McDaniel thinks the law school killer was too big for his chainmail britches. [Macon Telegraph]

* From catcalling to “jiggle tests,” NFL cheerleaders have to put up with a lot of really ridiculous stuff. Not being paid the minimum wage is one thing, but having to put up with being groped is quite another. [TIME]

192 Columbia Heights

What happens to people who work for failed law firms? Some of them wind up filing for personal bankruptcy.

But some of them experience far happier endings. Some of them wind up living in 25-foot-wide, 8,000-square-foot, $16 million townhouses.

Okay, a caveat: $16 million is what the owners are asking for their home. It’s not clear they’ll get that price, which would set a record for a single family home in Brooklyn Heights.

No matter which way you slice it, though, this is still an eight-figure home. Who’s the lawyer living in such luxury, and where did she once work?

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Donald Trump, taking up Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld on an offer to borrow the judicial eyeglasses.

Real estate magnate Donald Trump has had many brushes for his hair with the law over the years. Sometimes the law has caused him headaches or embarrassment; he’s not as much of a legal eagle as his big sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry (3d Cir.). On other occasions, though, he has enjoyed the last laugh.

In his latest courtroom appearance, Trump schlepped down to Florida, testified as a trial witness, and prevailed. But now the losing party in that case has filed a motion for new trial, arguing that the presiding judge fawned over the Donald in front of the jury and, in doing so, “transgressed basic principles of impartiality and fairness.”

Let’s learn more about this fun motion….

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Judge Elizabeth Osborne Williams?

* If the Dewey & LeBoeuf criminal defendants end up going to trial, it’s fair to say the star witnesses in the case will be those who’ve already pleaded guilty — all seven of them. [Am Law Daily]

* Biglaw firms are constantly shrinking in size, leaving many office buildings wide open. Landlords are desperate to put asses in seats, so it’s kind of like law school. [Washington Post]

* “A judicial post is not an hereditary position.” There’s nepotism, and then there’s nepotism, and this Georgia judge is really trying to keep it all in the family. He’s basically ensured that his seat on the bench will go to his daughter. [Daily Report (reg. req.)]

* Let’s keep the rankings party going with an infographic about job rates and median starting salaries. Law schools tied for first place with $160K Biglaw salaries: 21. Not shocked. [U.S. News & World Report]

* The family of Danielle Thomas, the woman who was murdered by indebted law school grad Jason Bohn, is suing the NYPD with claims that the police ignored her calls for help. Sad. :( [New York Post]

Amanda Bynes

* SCOTUS seems divided over its greenhouse gas regulation case. Just remember, justices, there’s “no such thing as greenhouse gas,” and if you think there is, you can “go f@ck yourself and die.” [Legal Times]

* DLA Piper, Fenwick & West, and William Fry are advising on the King.com (aka Candy Crush) IPO. Cool. Know that the public will refuse to invest until those damn chocolate blockers go away. [The Lawyer]

* “Guys like them are the reason people hate lawyers.” When your lawyers do you this badly, you end up living in one of their homes as part of a settlement. Of course this happened in Florida. [Sun Sentinel]

* If you’re in the market for an apartment, we hear Brooklyn Law School just sold a bunch of its student housing to a real estate developer. Per the dean, the school is now so small the apartments were unnecessary. Yikes. [Brooklyn Daily Eagle]

* Amanda Bynes took a plea deal on her DUI charge. She’ll serve three years of probation and pay a fine. Maybe when she’s done, she’ll pull a Lohan and appear naked in a movie. Young men can hope. [CNN]

On our recent post about bonuses at Bingham McCutchen, some commenters complained about our coverage of the firm. Here’s what one said: “What this article fails to mention is that NO ONE made their hours, it’s THAT slow. Good job, ATL, for eating whatever it is Bingham pays you to NOT report [on bad goings-on at the firm].”

Actually, we’re perfectly willing to report on negative developments at Bingham (or any other major law firm). Just email us or text us (646-820-8477), and we’ll investigate.

There’s certainly a lot to cover over at Bingham: tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs. We’ve collected some reporting from around the web, which we’ve combined with inside information from ATL tipsters at the firm. Let’s have a look, shall we?

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Where The Wild Things Are (affiliate link)

Grover Cleveland’s excellent book of career advice for young lawyers has a delightful title: Swimming Lessons For Baby Sharks (affiliate link). It nicely captures the competitive nature of the legal profession today.

But the cutthroat competition isn’t for everyone. One high-powered lawyer, coming up on partnership at a top-tier law firm, decided he didn’t want to swim with grown-up sharks. He’d rather go swim with blue whales — quite literally. He’d rather be where the wild things are — and by “wild things,” we aren’t talking about cute drunken paralegals at a post-closing party.

Let’s look at this lawyer’s departure memo — great opening line, or greatest opening line? — and find out how he made enough money to break out of Biglaw’s golden handcuffs….

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345 West 13th Street

Meet Michael Graffagna, who’s one impressive MoFo… partner. The Harvard Law School graduate, admitted to practice in New York, California, and Japan, heads up the project finance practice at Morrison & Foerster.

Graffagna is now resident in the firm’s Tokyo office. So he and his wife, Midori Graffagna, recently sold their Manhattan pied-à-terre. And oh what a pied-à-terre it was — larger than most Manhattanites’ primary residences.

How large are we talking? How much did the Graffagnas get for it? And which celebrity lives upstairs?

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