Superstar Lawyer Adam Leitman Bailey Speaks About 20-Year Anniversary
Adam Leitman Bailey has dedicated his career to reshaping New York City’s real estate law sector for the better. Bailey and his eponymous law firm are associated with some of the most influential legal cases of the new millennium; Bailey upheld religious freedom and the right to free speech in the Ground Zero Mosque case of 2010, reinforced home buyer rights via his groundbreaking use of the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act immediately following the Great Recession, and brought fraud to justice in a 2010 case against Trump Soho.
Adam Leitman Bailey’s fierce persistence, hard-won expertise, and passion for justice have earned him a reputation for being one of the foremost real estate lawyers in New York City. One New York State judge for New York County described Adam Leitman Bailey as “a brilliant lawyer…who always worked zealously on behalf of his clients.” Another state judge from Kings County took his praise even further, sharing that Bailey was “the best trial lawyer I saw in my nine years as a judge in New York City.”
Today, Adam Leitman Bailey maintains his active presence in New York City’s real estate law sector and continues to pursue justice for all New Yorkers — from tenants to landlords to developers alike.
Adam Leitman Bailey P.C. just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Looking back, was there any one decision or moment that you can point to as a turning point in your firm’s journey towards success?
We never had an “aha” moment. It was more of a slow growth — as we kept winning cases, we were referred to bigger and bigger ones.
But if I had to choose a turning point, I would say the firm came into its own and made history when the 2008 crisis happened. People needed law firms to lead New York out of the crisis, and we stepped up. We found the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act and used it to help homebuyers renegotiate terms and regain their balance after the crash. By working on some of the most high-profile and significant cases of the time, we were able to distinguish ourselves as one of the top firms in New York.
But still, it wasn’t any one case that took us there. It wasn’t like David Boies’ rise to fame, where he was virtually unknown before he did Bush v. Gore. We built our reputation over twenty years. Slowly, everybody started to get to know us — and after a while, no one was surprised when we started winning landmark cases.
It’s funny; everyone points to a different case that is most important to them. I get a kick out of that because they come in and say, “You were the one that had that case!” and I’m thinking, “What are they going to say? Which case?”
What goals do you hope to achieve at Adam Leitman Bailey P.C. over the next twenty years?
Since day one, my goal has been to create the best real estate law firm that has ever existed. I know it might sound like a cliche — but when I wake up every day, I clap my hands together and resolve to treat every case, strategy session, and meeting as if it were the most important task in the world.
That was easy when I was a solitary practitioner. Now that we’ve grown into a firm of twenty-some attorneys, the challenge is instilling that same work ethic and passion into every single person. We have to ask ourselves — have we instilled that passion for greatness? Have we cultivated that ability to strive for overwhelming success every day? Once we achieve that, I think that we can become the greatest law firm.
Of course, we’ll still need to avoid the obstacles. It’s going to be critical to sidestep the haters, avoid mistakes that could take us down, and navigate around the problems that hurt other firms. We’ll need to keep morale high and make sure that our employees want to come to work and give their all to cases every day. Then, of course, we’ll need to make sure that our clients are satisfied enough to come back and connect us with some of the most incredible cases that NYC has to offer.
Your firm is known for winning some of the highest-profile cases in recent history. How did you build that reputation? Do you think it’s possible to sustain it as Adam Leitman Bailey P.C. continues to grow?
One of the firm’s driving philosophies is that no matter how small or large a case might be, we handle all equally. We treat every client the same. No matter what meeting I’m going into, no matter how famous or mild a case is, I give the client 100 percent of my effort.
Our marketing team found that our clients don’t come to us because they saw us online or in the newspaper. 99.9% of clients come from referrals because an existing client referred us or because we beat them in a case, and now they want to hire us. Doing well on a case brings in more business — not advertisements.
I have no idea what the future holds or if this model will sustain our growth and reputation. I can’t predict what will happen; I’ve never read a book on how to run a high-profile, fifty-person law firm. But I do know that for each client, we’re going to give them 100 percent. We’re going to make sure that each product that comes out of this firm is fantastic and that each client receives incredible customer service and gets the best expertise. By practicing only one type of law in one state, we really know what we’re talking about. Our knowledge and willingness to give our all to every case will make it hard for any law firm, no matter their size or reputation, to compete with us.
The real estate landscape is always changing. Has the role of the real estate lawyer evolved alongside it over the last couple of decades?
When I first started practicing law, real estate attorneys were not respected as they are today. One of our areas of practice — landlord-tenant — was particularly frowned upon. I didn’t know many lawyers when I first started practicing law, and at the time, one of my best friend’s aunts told me not to go into real estate law, dismissing it as one of the lowest forms of law.
I remember going to courts and seeing that the suits weren’t pressed; it wasn’t what you see on TV. I felt like a new breed of lawyer — I went into court and treated every case like it was the end of the world, and I remember that some of the other attorneys asked me why I was taking it so seriously.
I remember thinking, “My client’s paying me a lot of money to represent them. This is our job. Aren’t we supposed to take this seriously? Aren’t we supposed to fight for our clients’ rights?”
When real estate started to become more valuable in New York, a new breed of real estate lawyer followed, and I was already at the forefront. I started hiring attorneys who believed in bringing excellence to real estate law, and the rest is history.
What drove you to start your own firm? Is it still what motivates you today?
A passion for greatness motivates me. That motivation is something I think I was born with. It’s probably my childhood experiences; it’s probably all the rejections I received; it’s probably that every time I get hit hard with an obstacle, it motivates me more.
I had a fantastic education at the two full-time law firms I worked for before starting mine. I thought that both were great — but I believed that I could do better. I consistently found myself disappointed when they would take cases away from me and settle them. I thought that I could have won them. True, I was probably wrong half the time because I wasn’t old enough to understand why they settled them. But looking back older and wiser, I can see that the product I put out at this firm is greater than at the firms that I left, and I think those firms would agree. I’m not insulting the other firms — they do good work. They just don’t do it at this level.
The judges talk about how they know when an Adam Leitman Bailey attorney is in front of them; they know when they’re reading an Adam Leitman Bailey paper because the product is at another level. We always deliver excellence and greatness, and I’m very proud of that.
What do you feel are the greatest challenges facing those in real estate law today? What do you believe those in your profession will need to do to overcome them?
Ronald Reagan once said that the nine scariest words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
(He was right, by the way.)
The government has passed several laws that harm real estate, loosen criminal laws, and make the city less safe. As a result, many of our clients are no longer investing in New York. This will hurt our economy, this is hurting the people of New York, it’s hurting real estate, and it’s hurting law firms. We’re speaking out, and we’ll hopefully be hired to sue soon, but we haven’t yet. We’re rallying and writing, and I’m speaking to legislators almost every day, proposing alternate legislation to what’s been passed.
Others will need to speak out alongside us, but the usual suspects have not been doing a good job of organizing or rallying or proposing new legislation. It may take a hard downfall to educate the government that they’re harming their own people before this situation turns around.
As an entrepreneur, is there anything that you would have done differently to build Adam Leitman Bailey P.C. if you had the knowledge you have now?
Yes. I have always had trouble reconciling the poor person who grew up in Bayside, Queens and Canoga Park, California, and New Milford, New Jersey, and the person who grew this law firm, who is a go-to, established lawyer. I never protected myself, and I’ve been too cavalier with thinking that I was immune to others’ attacks.
You can’t think you’re immune. You can’t believe that nothing’s ever going to happen to you or that things will be fine when you take on influential people. Our firm didn’t set ourselves up for that. We became the firm to beat really quickly. We didn’t realize that we had haters. In my life, I don’t get jealous; I don’t have the jealousy bone in my body, so I didn’t realize that others do. I should have had the foresight to worry about what others might think of us and prepare for attacks. That’s the first thing I would have done.
The second thing I would have done is recruit more effectively. We need more attorneys here, and quickly, because we’re just too busy. We’ve grown naturally and had very little turnover, but we need to go out and recruit top attorneys to work on some of our high-profile cases. That’s something that we need to work on immediately, and we should have done it years ago — it would have made us an even better law firm.