New York real estate lawyer Adam Leitman Bailey founded the firm that bears his name in 2000 when he was just 29 years old. “Adam is a very passionate and strong person and he is definitely inspiring,” one of his associates told us. His clients and peers agree, as Chambers USA awards Bailey an individual ranking for his work in the New York real estate market.
This firm’s USP is clear: “We only practice real estate law. We practice one type of law in one state,” its website states. Attorneys here are primarily litigators, working on matters related to condos, landlord-tenant disputes and mortgage foreclosures, although there’s some transactional work too (mainly the buying and selling of residential property). “What I like about real estate law is that what you are working on is actually tangible – you can see it in real life,” one associate said. Another told us why they enjoy the litigious aspects of the work, proudly reporting that they had “found a lie in a deposition which the opposition had taken – it was the key to winning our case.”
Some of our associate interviewees had a background in the real estate world before joining the firm, but some did not. All were attracted to the firm’s entrepreneurial culture and the promise of being able to work independently early in their career.
Work & Offices
Juniors work within small specialized teams, usually consisting of a partner and one or two associates. The firm’s litigators – including juniors – are variously specialized in foreclosure, landlord-tenant, condominium/cooperative, title insurance, commercial real estate, and appellate matters. Clients include some well-known names like Verizon, Wells Fargo and Citibank, plus title insurance companies Stewart and Fidelity National. The firm also acts for many individual property owners, residents and apartment cooperatives.
“New York has a lot of foreclosure-related statutes,” a junior litigator in this field told us, “so we assist foreclosure clients from the beginning to make sure they are sending out 90-day pre-foreclosure notices and 30-day notices of demand. When a loan is ready to be referred for foreclosure we draft all the necessary documentation. If the borrower does not contest the action you move toward default judgment which is straightforward. When actions are contested it requires a lot of time and more litigation – a lot can go wrong so we need to pay a lot of attention to detail.” An associate who works on more general real estate disputes told us: “I have gravitated toward clients that have particular problems: property owners who want to stop construction taking place next door; or individuals who want to build something and their neighbor opposes it; or people who feel the cooperative board of their building is displaying favoritism.”
“I will review the case, come up with my own arguments and write the initial draft of a motion.”
All our interviewees noted the “hands-on experience” the firm gives them – “clients know me and I am their point of contact,” one junior told us. The structure of the firm means all associates technically work under a partner who supervises them. In practice, juniors are given a lot of independence. “I draft motions, replies, complaints, discovery demands…” one told us. “I also draft creative arguments: I will review the case, come up with my own arguments and write the initial draft of a motion.” Juniors also undertake oral arguments during hearings and may second-chair trials. “Some weeks I will be in court twice a week to argue a motion,” one reported.
Court visits are so frequent, in fact, that proximity to the Lower Manhattan courthouses is key to the firm’s location. It was previously located in the Equitable Building, one block from Wall Street, but moved to One Battery Park Plaza in March 2017, which is still within walking distance of the courts.
Hours & Pro Bono
Juniors said they usually arrive in the office at 9am (sometimes heading straight to court) and “normally leave at 7pm, sometimes at 8pm or 9pm.” Weekend and evening working does happen – the firm has a policy of responding to all client queries within 24 hours – although one source described staying till midnight as something which “happens once in a blue moon.” Another source said: “I don’t work to the exclusion of all else. The firm understands if I have things I need to do in my personal life.” That said, during office hours “you are constantly working and it’s fast-paced the whole time.”
“It’s fast-paced the whole time.”
There is also a significant incentive to work more hours: associates receive a third of what they bill and collect over and above their base salary as a profit-sharing bonus (and that amount is then also their raise the following year). We heard from some that the firm has a 1,600-hour billing requirement, but most aimed to work significantly more than that: one source said they aim to bill around 1,900 hours annually, while another had billed well over 2,000 hours in a year. Pro bono hours cannot be counted as billable, but one associate told us they had helped Adam Leitman Bailey with a pro bono matter. “We only take on pro bono cases presenting significant real estate issues that have serious public implications,” says Bailey. He himself worked pro bono on the so-called Ground Zero Mosque case, defending the Islamic center’s developer against a lawsuit aimed at preventing the center and mosque’s construction near the site of the former World Trade Center towers. Bailey was even grilled on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor over the case.
Pro bono hours
For all attorneys: undisclosed
Average per attorney: undisclosed
Training & Development
There is some formal in-house and external training, but associates agreed that most training happens on the job. “You need to learn and pick things up as you go, and if you don’t understand something you are expected to go ask for help,” one source reported. Happily, “the relationship with the partners is very interactive: you draft a document, get comments back on it, then work on it again, add to it and send it back. If you make a mistake you are called out on it and you rectify it.”
The quality of associates’ work and billing is monitored by Adam Leitman Bailey himself, but there are no formal annual reviews or appraisals.
Culture & Diversity
Besides being an “eye in the sky” when it comes to hours and performance, Bailey is also the point around which the firm’s culture pivots. “He is the central figure of the firm,” an associate said. “It is his baby. He operates at 100% all day, every day. He is excited and passionate about his work and that translates to his employees.” The associates we spoke to were all chatty, ambitious, entrepreneurial and enthusiastic. One associate said of Bailey: “His philosophy is simple: work as hard as you can and earn as much money as you can for yourself and for your team.”
“Adam Leitman Bailey is the central figure of the firm. It is his baby.”
Bailey enthusiastically shares his gains with his attorneys and staff – and not just by means of the profit-sharing bonus mentioned above. There are a bunch of perks on offer: summer and winter parties, cakes to celebrate birthdays, massages and manicures every other Friday, sponsored gym memberships, and regular bagged lunches in the office (or a nearby park in summer). Bailey even buys employees any theater and sports tickets they request and pays for a tailored business suit for every new associate – the office dress code is business formal except on dress-down Fridays.
A third of the firm’s associates are women, and a couple are from ethnic minority backgrounds. “We have people from different walks of life and different backgrounds,” one source told us. “And people are in different stages of their life. For example, some people already have big families, while some are just starting families.”
Strategy & Future
We asked Adam Leitman Bailey what made him start his own law firm 17 years ago. “I learned a lot from my Grandma Betty who grew up during the Great Depression – we balance out our practice areas to allow us to succeed when the market falls and we do types of real estate law that every one needs – everyone needs a place to live and an attorney to handle the purchase or sale or to litigate when a home or office ownership or tenancy is being challenged.” A key way Bailey decided to provide good customer service was by specialization – “one type of law in one state” – not just at the firm level, but by having every attorney specialized in a sub-field of real estate law.
“50 to 60% of our clients have been with us for over a decade.”
Bailey also believes the strength of the firm lies in the countercyclical nature of real estate law practice. “We actually do better when the real estate market is doing worse,” says Bailey. “During the financial crisis in 2007/08 we were hiring and growing. We also keep significant reserves for a rainy day.” It helps that he has many loyal clients who turn to the firm regularly. “We have many clients – including Fortune 500 companies – who have been with us for many years. 50 to 60% of our clients have been with us for over a decade.”
These relationships bode well for the future. “We turn away a lot of transactional business because we are so busy,” says Bailey. It is this area of the firm which he expects to grow most in the near future. “We are hoping to hire more new transactional attorneys in the future.”