As many of you know I am a divorce and family law attorney in East Brunswick, New Jersey. My law firm was born (I still call it my “baby”) on April 1, 1996 and turns 19 years old today. So when did I decide to become a lawyer? Please allow me to share.
It all started around 1975. My family was playing Monopoly and my dad (who taught me so much that I quote him on a daily basis) decided to teach me a lesson about business. Long story short, I traded Boardwalk for a railroad and quickly went bankrupt. Once I realized that I had been railroaded (pun intended) I ran out of the room and locked myself in the bathroom for about two hours. After my mom was finished going off on my poor dad, “He is a little boy, you made him cry! Now look at what we have and on a Sunday!” Mom (the greatest mom in the world ) spent the second hour was on the other side of the bathroom door, pleading with me to come out. Then my mom said the magic words: “We will get you a pizza if you open the door.” Well, that did the trick. (did I mention she’s the greatest Mom in the world?)
As I opened the door, my mother’s demeanor changed immediately; she pointed towards me and pronounced, “When you grow up you are going to be a lawyer because you are a sore loser.” Right there and then my fate was set.
I also recall in 1995 when my parents were selling the home that they raised my sister and I in on Wellington Road. We were going through old boxes (my parents verged on “Hoarders,” but in a good way; they saved everything). As my mom was going through my “Baby Book” she exclaimed, “Oh my God!”
There was a section in the book that was intended to be used once the child is old enough to read and write. On one particular page it stated, “When I grow up I want to be ______.” My mom then pointed to my response; written in crayon this 1970s kid wrote, “lawyer.” The rest is history.
I graduated East Brunswick High School in 1987. I attended college at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. I then moved home to East Brunswick and have been here ever since.
My first job out of college was at a large midtown Manhattan law firm where I earned $18,200 annual salary. I spent more money on my commute than I earned but I needed something more on my resume than, “Delivery Boy” and “Class Clown.”
In August 1992 I received the most important phone call of my life. My mom called me at work and said, “You got into law school … you did it!” I immediately ran downtown to New York Law School to accept their offer in person. I think I ran all the way before they changed their minds! I graduated in 1995 and passed the bar exam that summer. I then hit the streets looking for a job.
As many of my colleagues would attest to, it is tough out there for a young lawyer unless you graduated towards the top of your class. While I would love to report what an amazing student I was, that would not be a truthful statement. Having said that, I always battled and fought my way through every exam and met every challenge. I did not care if I was the last to get over the “mountain top,” as long as I made it. I also understood that ultimately, how I could help folks would matter much more than where I went to school, my class rank and so forth.
Once the dust settled, I was unemployed and in debt. I owed several hundreds of dollars in student loans. From 1991-1996 I could not afford a car. Now who lives in New Jersey without a car (Hoboken not included)? I had a law degree, yet I was destitute. I was living on credit cards (including paying my rent). Fortunately, thanks to my parents, I never lost the faith and kept my chin up. After unsuccessfully struggling to find a law firm to hire me, I reached a crossroad.
In March 1996, while driving to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner, I decided that I must make a big move. I narrowed it down to two choices: A. Move to Hollywood and be discovered. I knew I was funny, I can sing and dance and acting would come second nature; or B. Hang my own shingle and go for it.
I knew better than to tell my parents about the Hollywood, as my mother would have flipped her lid. Instead, I opened with asking what they thought about my starting my own law practice. My mom immediately loved the idea. I remember my dad saying, “If you get a traffic ticket here and you handle a will for another client, before you know it you’ll be in business. My parents were correct once again.
My parents lent me $5,000 which paid for my desk, phone, fax and malpractice insurance. I used my only credit card for the biggest expense, which arrived in a box that looked like a cow. It was my new Gateway computer.
I recall March 1996 pushing a shopping cart through Office Max with my list and wondering to myself, “I wonder if I’ll ever be back?” I was prepared to give the post-its, pens and legal pads to my girlfriend just in case.
I opened my law practice April fool’s 1996. I had no clients, no money and no clue. What I did have, however, was guts and the work ethic that my parents instilled in me. I researched and read every book and article I could get my hands on, ranging from the law to how to start and build your own law practice.
A watershed moment occurred in 2003 when I bought my office building with a partner. A mere 7 years earlier I had no idea if I would even make it, and now I own an office building on Route 18 in the very town that I grew up. It took 7 mortgages to make it happen … but I was on a mission! Once the sign with my name on it went up on Route 18, my career elevated immediately. Suddenly, I was a “somebody” in the legal community.
I must also mention that one of the greatest decision I ever made was when I asked my sister, Carole, to be my Office Manager, bookkeeper and property manager, just to name a few. My sister joining me in business was a game changer. While things were going pretty well beforehand, my sister elevated my law firm to levels that I had only ever dreamed of. I often comment how many siblings cannot make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together without wanting to beat up one another. However, Carole and I make an amazing team and mere words cannot express how proud I am of her and how incredibly loyal she is to her new career and me.
19 years later I am happy to report that my calculated risk paid off and I made my parents, family and friends proud. To this very day I still like to say to people, “I opened up on April 1, 1996 … and I fooled them all!”
I am very proud of how many people I have helped over the years. Moreover, I love that my career has allowed me to protect many children and keep them out of harm’s way. The motto at my law firm is, “Kids Come First.”
I would like to thank all of my fantastic associates, paralegals and support staff. This is the greatest team that my law firm has ever had. My team is full of all amazing and dedicated people whom I am happy to work with.
Finally I must thank everyone in my life that believed in me and supported me through the good times as well as the tough times over the past 19 years. A special thank you to my family. I could never have done any of this without you.