There was a time, in the not so distant past, when Adam Cahn could be found in one courtroom or another for eight months a year, taking verdict after verdict in the personal injury and medical malpractice fields, and winning millions of dollars for his clients. Along the way, he was awarded almost all of the prestigious honors his industry and peers could offer.
These days, Cahn is the managing partner at Sakkas, Cahn & Weiss LLP, a boutique law firm that he helped found in 2005. The firm’s practice focuses on personal injury and medical malpractice cases ranging from routine to catastrophic and although Cahn still occasionally tries cases, most of his days are spent creating and implementing strategies that allow the firm to stay at the top of the legal food chain and build for the future.
Cahn is quick to identify what precipitated this transition. “Necessity – our industry is ‘crazy competitive,’ composed of roughly 100,000 lawyers vying for the same clients. To compete effectively, you have to create an environment where the client feels that their voice is being heard and their needs are being met and I couldn’t do that when I was always on trial. Also, our firm currently handles more than 300 cases at any one time. When your name is on the door, you are answerable to all of your clients, not just the one in the courtroom with you.”
When asked which job he finds more fulfilling, Cahn answers “It’s a bit complicated – everyone loves the trial lawyer – they are the face of the firm, the perceived heroes that fall out of John Grisham novels. The judges know them, the press writes about them, and they are honored with awards like highest verdict in the state causing their peers to ohh and ahh.”
In contrast the managing partner is more of a behind-the-scenes, thankless job. “But here’s the rub,” says Cahn, “a verdict is only the end product in the litigation process, while running a successful practice is a much more daunting and multilayered task. First, you have to make your firm an attractive choice for clients. Second, you have to provide those clients with extraordinary service to maintain their trust, and finally, you need them to be satisfied with your efforts and results, both of which hinge on them having the proper information and expectations from the outset. Too many other firms don’t deliver these things and in my opinion, they’ve failed as lawyers and done their clients a disservice in the process.”
Cahn surmises, “So, at this stage of my life, I’m happier being the man behind the scenes. A colleague recently told me that the key to our firm’s success is our understanding of the business of law. While I was appreciative of the honors I achieved as a trial lawyer, that comment gave me more pride than any of our other achievements. Awards and verdicts cannot equal being valued for your capabilities and relationships with clients.”
MANAGEMENT’S MANTRA – EXCEED OUR CLIENT’S EXPECTATIONS
So, why do clients choose Sakkas, Cahn & Weiss LLP over other firms? “I think it’s because we provide an unrivaled level of personalized attention, keep our clients informed and get them exceptional results,” says Cahn. “The aftermath of an accident is extremely stressful, and our client’s expectations very high – we set out to exceed those expectations.
“This starts with our staff,” he continues. “My partners are terrific lawyers and our entire personnel are highly experienced. We hire only caring, patient and highly competent people and everyone that joins the firm, even experienced personnel, are educated about the firm’s culture – about the importance of good client communications and quick response time. You’d be amazed at how many prospective problems get alleviated by something as simple as returning a phone call promptly.”
Cahn adds that one of the firm’s goals is to try to over-communicate with their clients. “As soon as we sign up a case, we send out outlines called ‘What You Can Do To Help Your Lawsuit’ and ‘Understanding The Legal Process.’ These documents answer a ton of questions our clients might have. Then before each phase of the case – depositions, medical exams and trial – we send out additional outlines and invite the clients in to speak with us. We also send out update letters, birthday cards, e-blasts and newsletters.”
When asked what other things the firm does to make their client’s lives easier, Cahn responds, “It’s really just a ton of little things – we do home and hospital visits if a client is disabled; our staff speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew and Arabic; we have of counsel relationships in other legal specialties such sexual harassment, immigration, elder care, criminal law and workers’ compensation to aid our clients with other legal needs; we help client’s get outside loans if they need surgery or are unable to work; and we have even updated our furniture to make it more lumbar friendly for our clients with bad backs.
“Even after the matter is concluded,” Cahn continues, “we hold ourselves accountable by sending exit questionnaires asking clients for both positive and negative feedback. Their answers are invaluable in building our customer service efforts and it helps us better understand our client’s needs.”
The numbers don’t lie. Every year since the firm’s inception, Sakkas, Cahn & Weiss has continued to grow in size and the firm now derives more than 50 percent of their business from former clients who return to them or refer them other clients. While obviously this has to be credited to the excellent skills and high-success rate of its attorneys, credit also goes to the efficient and detail-oriented management that focuses on client care.
“I think the satisfaction of our clients is reflected in that number,” says Cahn.
Another 25 percent of the firm’s business comes from an ever-expanding circle of fellow attorneys that refer them cases. “Again,” Cahn says, “this is a product of how we do things. A lot of attorneys network, but we are organized. Not only do we get these other lawyer’s good results, but we maintain excellent records and we pay prompt referral fees. If a lawyer sends us a matter to handle, they can sleep at night knowing the job is getting handled right.”
Cahn also attributes these referrals to his firm’s desire to handle tough cases. “We handle a lot of traumatic brain injury and chronic regional pain syndrome matters. The injuries are complicated, there can be protracted litigation and the client’s often require more hand holding. Many firms don’t have the time and resources for such client focus.”
“CRASH” COURSE IN LAW
To fully appreciate and understand Cahn’s dedication to this customer-centered philosophy, one has to look at his background. “I came from a family of lawyers, which included my father, who was a terrific litigator and a resource to ‘all things law,’” he says. “To be a child in that house it was impossible not to absorb the subject matter and think like a lawyer.”
Many of Cahn’s friends and colleagues attribute a traumatic event that occurred when Cahn was in the seventh grade, for his passionate pursuit of justice for victims. Walking to school one morning, he was struck by a car driven by a man who, late for work, was speeding.
“I remember that accident like it was yesterday,” says Cahn. “A young guy was driving a collectible corvette. He ran a red light and hit me on my left side. I was told that I was knocked out of my sneakers and thrown 65 feet. I suffered fractures in my left leg, and the doctors initially were wary of nerve damage.
“You get a different perspective of this field when you are 12 years old, lying on a couch and wondering if you will ever walk again. To my relief, the doctors were wrong about the nerve damage.”
When his parents filed suit on his behalf, Cahn became not just an observer of the legal system, but an active participant. “I was a kid, but it was a very adult experience. I had to give a statement to the insurance company, attend depositions and insurance medical exams and appear before a judge.”
The whole experience left a tremendous impression on Cahn that is clearly reflected in how he interacts with his own clients every day.
THE INDIRECT BIRTH OF A TRIAL LAWYER
Cahn’s path to becoming a lawyer was not as straightforward as one would imagine. After graduating with a business degree from Tulane University, he landed a job on Wall Street just as Black Monday and the 1987 stock market crash was in full bloom.
“The aftermath of that crash changed a lot of people’s futures, including mine,” says Cahn. “My dad had always talked about how if the economy dried up and jobs weren’t readily available, a lawyer could hang up a shingle and make a living.”
So, Cahn enrolled in law school as a night student, moved back to his parent’s house to save money, and switched to a day job in real estate finance to help pay his tuition.
The combined effects of two years of “real world” work experience together with the regimen of school and work, forced Cahn to buckle down and develop good study habits, something he felt he lacked in college. “My social life took a big hit during those three years, but I did make Law Review,” says Cahn with a grin. “That made my dad proud.”
Graduating law school in 1994, Cahn found himself entering a very tight job market. Evaluating the situation, he was determined to put the time to good use. “I did a judicial internship in Nassau County and got to sit in on trials,” he says. “Then I worked for about six months in a legal suite handling various assignments for five law firms with different specialties, one of which was personal injury. With all I had experienced up to that point in my life, helping injury victims just seemed like the right fit.”
Cahn sent out resumes to injury and malpractice firms, embellishing his resume a little bit and holding himself out as an experienced trial attorney. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” acknowledges Cahn, “but my childhood experiences enabled me to talk a good game at interviews and I landed a job at a plaintiff’s mill, a firm that churns out lawsuits and attorneys at a ridiculous pace.
“At 9 a.m. on my very first day, I was sent off to start my first trial. It involved a woman who fell exiting a Transit Authority bus and broke her arm. My boss told me the case value was $50,000. I was in way over my head, I was filled with self-doubt and my blood pressure was through the roof.”
Following a week-long trial, Cahn and his client nervously waited for the verdict to be read by the jury foreman. Cahn thought he had let his client down. Then the jury came back with an award of $180,000.
“I’m not sure who was happier – me or my client,” he says. “I remember we kept hugging each other and I think one of us was crying – hopefully it was her. After that day, all I wanted to do was take another verdict.”
Over the next several years, Cahn jumped from firm to firm, trying better quality cases, which lead to bigger verdicts. Eventually, Cahn’s reputation built and he parlayed his success into securing a job at a highly desirable 30-man firm founded in personal injury and medical malpractice. “This was my dream job,” says Cahn. “The firm had a fantastic reputation, a full staff to assist the trial lawyers, and many big cases with seriously injured clients. But what drew me to the firm was that one of the founding partners, a trial legend, was in the process of easing into retirement and looking to train his replacement. I spent the next six years learning a great deal and perfecting my craft.”
THE PARTNERSHIP BEGINS
By 2005, Cahn was a partner at the firm and supervising his division but the luster had faded. “The firm had begun to focus more on commercial litigation and a lot of the staff had grown unhappy,” Cahn says. “After a few heated discussions, the firm and I reached a compromise that I would exit, but they would allow me to take 120 files with me. Initially I was ecstatic, then as reality set in, it occurred to me that 120 clients were relying on me, a guy without an office, a staff or the finances to litigate their cases. Panic ensued.”
As fate would have it, Cahn reached out to an old colleague of that firm, Matt Sakkas, who had left to open his own “shop” several years earlier. He had also coincidentally married Cahn’s former paralegal. “We sat down to have preliminary discussions, but the circumstances just felt right. I think we agreed to become partners before the meeting was over. Two days later I moved myself into his conference room.
“The first months were exhausting,” Cahn recalls. “Each morning found us in court and the rest of the day, into the evenings, we would learn each other’s files and spit the work out.
“One evening we reviewed a file I had taken from my other firm. The victim, a man with a troubled past, had been run over and dragged by a car while crossing the driveway of a parking garage,” Cahn explains. “He had suffered devastating injuries. The problem was that there appeared to be only $100,000 of liability insurance on the car. As we dug into the file, we found $6 million in excess insurance that hadn’t been disclosed. We retained five medical experts, an accident reconstruction expert, and an economist.”
The stark reality was that the future of the firm lay in the balance, as did their personal financial security. “We had put all of our money into this case, used credit cards and were scrambling to settle smaller cases to fund this one,” says Cahn. “If we had lost the case, bankruptcy would have been the next step.”
On the eve of the trial, the insurance company requested that they come to their lawyer’s office for a discussion. Adjusters were flown in from the west coast.
“Matt and I felt the case value was $2.5 million,” says Cahn, “but the opening offer five minutes into the meeting was $3 million. We negotiated to get our client the best offer we could and, three hours later, the insurance company agreed to settle with us for $5.8 million. That money paid us back and funded the war chest that took our firm to the next level.”
Cahn had become especially close with the client during the litigation process, and several year later, when the man passed away leaving behind three relatively young daughters, he named Cahn the executor of his estate, “When a client thinks of you as family, that is a very special bond,” Cahn whispers.
Four years later, two partners became three when serendipity struck again. Mitchell Weiss was a tenant in the same suite where Sakkas and Cahn had their offices.
“Mitch is a heck of a rainmaker and had been a successful solo practitioner for 25 years,” says Cahn. “Unfortunately a death in the family impacted him to the extent that he wanted to take some time away from work.
“Matt and I gave him a hand with court coverage during that time, and would provide him with daily updates. I think Mitch enjoyed the camaraderie and sharing of ideas that took place in those phone calls, and I think he began to see the utility of strength in numbers. When he returned to the office, for the second time in five years a partnership discussion ensued and once again it was seamless. As they say … the rest is history.”
A PARTNERSHIP DRIVEN BY COMMUNICATION
Since the merger, nearly 10 years ago, this progressive, client-focused firm has grown significantly and consistently, and while the partner’s origins are each unique, they all bring their own special talents and brand of experience to the table, culminating in more than 60 years of expertise. A symbiotic and complementary trio, they work together with a special synergy.
“Matt loves the tough cases and his background began in construction litigation. He is an outstanding writer and researcher and clients adore him,” notes Cahn. “Mitch is an auto specialist and knows the New York and New Jersey No-Fault law cold. He has that ‘country lawyer’ persona in that he visits clients at their homes, has great communication skills and his clients always return.”
Cahn concludes, “We all play a role in this firm of ours. I consider myself very lucky as far as partners go. Mitch and Matt are not just outstanding lawyers, they are genuinely great guys and I trust them both implicitly. We rarely have disagreements. That’s not common in business – truthfully, that’s not common anywhere.
“I suspect they’ll hold that last quote over my head for years to come,” he adds with a laugh.
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