Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with New York real estate attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, the founder and managing partner of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. to discuss his career.
AALM: What drew you to a career in the law?
ALB: Since I was a child, I have fought against injustice on my own behalf and on behalf of others. At the age of 10 I took the stage at a park in Canoga Park, California to protest busing – I referred to it as being forced to take a bus three hours round trip to attend fourth grade. We did not have attorneys living in my neighborhood of Bayside, Queens or this part of California and I did not meet an attorney until I was an adult. In seventh grade, I read a book about the trial of John Peter Zenger, who was arrested for libel. Newspaper editor Zenger was represented by Andrew Hamilton who persuaded a New York jury to acquit. I was hooked. I found a profession where I could use my words and pen to help people overcome injustice.
AALM: How is your practice today different from how you envisioned it in law school?
ALB: I fell in love with the law in law school and I am still in contact with the school and a number of my professors. I found both real estate law, litigation and banking in law school and I had some of the most amazing teachers to foster my energy, enthusiasm and learning in these areas. These teachers worked hard training me, challenging me, pushing me to excel. I took the most challenging classes and even attended a class in the theatre school to improve my trial skills. Because I was so focused on the areas of law I desired to practice, the practice would not be strange to me.
However, I envisioned the practice of law to follow how neatly the cases in the text books took place. I believed in an honest government and that its decisions would be for the good of the people. Since no one in my family had been in business, I thought we lived in an idealist society without the patronage, chicanery, and corruption that our clients and our firm would frequently battle. I had planned for a meritocracy.
You still need to be a dreamer and you better know your stuff and be the best of the best as the talent is high, but you need a thick skin and a lot of patience and courage to take on the demons.
AALM: What compelled you to start your own practice?
ALB: Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. will be 21 years old on January 3 and I hope and believe that the body of work we have produced has realized the reason for starting the firm. We are practicing one type of law in one state more aggressively, creatively, aiming to create the best work product possible. We have trained and recruited some of the best real estate lawyers and litigators in New York and provided a wonderful system and team in which to thrive. These are the reasons why I wanted to start a different kind of law firm and we have never left this initial vision where each day we strive for excellence and success. I thought by doing one type of law in one state and hiring the best people and creating a system with revenue sharing that involves every attorney at the firm, we had a shot at creating one of the best real estate and litigation firms in New York. But we are only as good as our work we completed today.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of your firm?
ALB: Adam Leitman Bailey P.C. understands that if the talent is not happy they will not produce at their maximum levels. So we maintain a professional office where all persons are treated with respect – degrading or yelling at anyone is something that does not happen. We have extremely nice, large offices with fantastic views in a class A building. We keep the closet and refrigerator stocked with food and we take several measures to assist with the firm’s mental heath from paying 80 percent of gym memberships to not maintaining a minimum billing requirement.
Sixty-three percent of our attorneys have been with us over a decade and 20 percent of the firm has been with the firm since they have graduated law school. No attorney has ever been fired from the firm who has been employed more than three months and we have never had layoffs – period. No terminations, furloughs or salary cuts because of Covid, the Great Recession in 2008 or any other reason. At the same time, we work hard and our work is exciting so as one of our associates recently told Chambers the work provides additional meaning to her life.
AALM: Tell us about a single case that has significantly impacted you personally or professionally?
ALB: Starting Mid-March 2020, I have been the equivalent of a seaman navigating a ship in deeply troubled waters. Never before has the real estate industry been attacked by such forces – the pandemic and then the State and City government’s regulations self-destroying the local economies causing a tidal wave of repercussions. I had won what I had thought were some of the most important cases but to help these clients required greater skill – greater thinking, persuasive abilities, vision, forethought, negotiating at its finest and great command of the law – and some luck.
Building owners unable to collect rent were forced to negotiate with commercial tenants and make deals to try to make ends meet with their lenders. Building owners had called on me to decide the deals to make with their tenants and the creative tools we came up with to understand the need for a deal and to enforce the new deal once it was made. Ground lease owners and the ground lessors/tenants who were unable to pay their full rents as a result of their retail and office tenants inability to pay rent resulted in some of the most intense negotiations in my career. Some of these negotiations included several ground leases for some of the most important buildings in New York and the focus became renewal periods.
The crisis caused us to use arcane and new methods to get results such as using creative tools like self help evictions for commercial tenants because the courts had been closed as a remedy or the use of the Pre-Negotiation Agreement as a sword to learn where a tenant kept its assets and how much governmental assistance it received and what assets it carried to learn whether a deal was necessary or whether a tenant would make based on its finances. I immediately understood my role in this crisis was not to simply lawyer – and I seized the reigns and although the storm is still brewing, most of our clients are on a path that will allow them to get to land safely.
I lost my voice and needed voice steroids to keep my voice going per my ENT doctor. Everything I had went into helping each client and every day for more than six months was a constant panic of emergencies. And I was proud to be chosen as the one to help our clients and fortunate enough to be able to do so.
AALM: Tell us about a book, movie or event that changed your perspective on the practice of law or your approach to life.
ALB: First American’s Mike Berey and I co-edited an over 2,000 page treatise published by the State Bar Association on real estate law called Real Estate Titles: The Practice of Real Estate Law in New York. I also drafted two chapters in the book on adverse possession and easements. I learned a lot by working on the book just I had by writing my first book on how to buy your first home titled Finding the Uncommon Deal published by Wiley. It is the only how to book on buying a home that includes a chapter on title insurance. When I read books, I read mostly biographies about great leaders so I can learn from them.
AALM: What are you most proud of professionally and personally?
ALB: One of my character defects is that I am rarely satisfied. I am proud of the firm and what we have accomplished but I see how much more we can achieve. I do see the affect a small firm can have on the community and I believe that we will be an important part of its rebuilding.
AALM: Tell us about your life outside the law.
ALB: I am a husband and father of two boys, 4 and 6 years old. I exercise seven days a week usually running or cycling and now I have picked up tennis at a late age and I enjoy the game since basketball cannot be played the way I play the game without a vaccine. I am a very healthy eater; I do not smoke or do drugs and I am not a big drinker. I do not drive fancy cars and I do not have many hobbies. I am a movie snob – I love good movies and have seen the best going back to the silent film era but not interested in watching a bad movie just to watch.
AALM: If you had the opportunity to start your career over again, what would you change and why?
ALB: Frank Sinatra once sang “regrets, too few to mention.” I have a lot of regrets and I can name most of them and they live within me unfortunately. Besides one regret I cannot get out of my system that I am still angry about, I only worry about the things that I have the power to change and I keep a list and I work to change them one at a time. I love the law and I would become a lawyer all over again in the same field of real estate law and litigation.
AALM: How is COVID-19 affecting your legal practice?
ALB: I have been back at work at our offices since the first week of September as are many of our staff members who feel comfortable returning. Our clients need us working and we are not letting any excuses get in our way no matter where we are working from. At Adam Leitman Bailey, we have learned to work through or with COVID-19 – we are extra careful but we realize that this plague will be with us a long time an we must continue to live our lives and work carefully and safely. This plague has rocked our world and it has not been easy and I could not be more impressed with our team who have not made any excuses and have focused on the tasks to be accomplished.
AALM: At the end of the day, what makes you happiest professionally and personally?
ALB: My DNA/programing was made to be successful. I thrive on results and that means winning cases and closing deals. I am happiest when the firm is thriving and our clients are happy and we are winning our cases and the system is working. On the home front, I am thankful for my family’s health and well being. Everything else is secondary.