March 30, 2018
Colin Kaufman is a litigation partner with Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., a law firm that represents many of the biggest names in New York real estate, as well as most of the major title insurance companies issuing policies in New York. Previously, Kaufman was chief of the District Attorney’s General Trial Bureau in Westchester County, NY and a top litigator with several other New York firms. Kaufman has 40 years of experience trying cases in state and federal courts with past experience as wide-ranging as a multi-million dollar mining disaster to trying the first U.S. jury case to verdict under the UN’s International Trade Law. He is co-chair of the Supreme Court Litigation Department and heads the Bailey firm’s Title Insurance Defense Group, as well as serving as the firm’s General Counsel.
Before I became a lawyer, I was a senior corruption investigator for the New York Special Prosecutor. Preparing for and watching trials exposed me to the excitement of trial work and showed me the good that lawyers could do for society. While working as an investigator, I went to Fordham Law School at night with the specific goal of becoming a trial lawyer. On graduation, I was privileged to become an assistant district attorney in Westchester County. My first jury trial came a week after I got there. I’ve been trying cases ever since.
Preparation wins cases. Much more work goes into a case in preparation than in trial. In modern practice, many more cases are won by motion than by trial, but I work every case as if it was going to trial.
Trial lawyers have a saying that “the first person you have to convince is yourself.” If you can’t do that, you owe it to your client to settle the case on the best terms possible. There are times a client doesn’t like to hear an evaluation of their case which differs radically from theirs, but my legal knowledge, litigation experience, and capacity to deal with facts are why they hired me; a good lawyer won’t play a client along until an adverse verdict.
Once we decide to try a case, I am all in. I spend a lot of time in preparation and anticipating my adversary’s tactics. On trial, I normally work 15 hour days. I believe in building trust with the judge and jury, which means always being truthful, even if some fact or legal principle may hurt my case. I want the judge to look to me as a straightforward professional who will not knowingly mislead the court, and I want the jury to see me as a courteous and truthful advocate whose analysis can guide them to a just verdict (in favor of my client).
Get experience and find a mentor. You can’t be a trial lawyer if you don’t try cases. I think being a prosecutor is the highest and best use of a law degree, plus you get tremendous trial experience as a prosecutor. If you don’t want to do that, go to work for Legal Aid or a city corporation counsel’s office, both of which also put you in a courtroom early and often.
I was privileged to work for a series of great trial mentors—Justice Joe West, Special Prosecutor Maurice Nadjari, and federal Judge John Keenan. Find someone of that caliber and learn how to talk the talk, but more importantly how to walk the walk. The old guys have something to impart—use them as a resource.
One of the reasons I love being a lawyer is that you never stop learning—the law is always moving forward and I learn something new every day. I also love being a senior lawyer because, having finally learned something worth passing on, in my firm I have the opportunity to help exceptional but less experienced lawyers become better at serving our clients. Mostly, I think that law practiced properly ultimately leads to justice. Very few people get to contribute to justice and I feel blessed to be one of them. I also make a decent living.