The Firm Is One That “Thinks out of the Box”… That “Gave Us a Lot of Hope”
Victor Body-Lawson, Black Architect of the Year 2007, and Leader of Save Harlem Association
Body-Lawson Associates – Architects
We’re located in Manhattan, actually in Harlem on 2343 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, uptown. About two years ago (this actually started two years ago), we approached our landlord to purchase, actually, to expand our business, mainly because it was increasing, in terms of the work we had. And a space became available next to ours, and we rented it and indicated that we wanted to renovate the space, which was really bad. And we did, we put quite a lot of money into it and brought it up to our standards, which are relatively decent. And about a year later, unbeknownst to us, the landlord came back and told us that the building had been sold. We signed a lease at that time, a five year lease, and we were hoping that the work that we had done would live out the duration of the lease. So, when we were told that the building was sold, we asked that landlord to compensate us, and, obviously, they said our lease was one that didn’t hold ground and that we had to move in six months. So at that point I was recommended to Adam Leitman Bailey, and I came to see him, and that was how the case got started.
What were your first impressions?
Well, I had heard about Adam. I did some research, I looked him up. I was aware of his tenaciousness. But when I met him I was expecting to meet a regular lawyer, who wasn’t that creative. I had convinced my associates (in other words, associates in terms of other business owners) that we needed to get a lawyer. So when I met Adam, the first impression was: a dynamic guy; had a certain twist of creativity to that, so I was very impressed.
Great, so that brings us to my next question: was there anything notable about Adam Leitman Bailey’s strategy? You said creativity, so maybe you could expand on that a little bit?
Victor: Well the first thing I noticed, again, having done some research, was that his firm is one that thinks out of the box. So, we had approached other lawyers; they had been mine, and I have a lawyer, another lawyer that I work with and I told him about the case and they immediately said ‘Oh no way, you’ve lost the case, just move out. That’s it, you can’t do this.’ The other business owners also had their individual lawyers, and their attitude was that ‘Well, we’ve lost the case.’ So when I met Adam, and he was optimistic, I knew that I had come to the right place. I knew that this was someone who was a person who was creative, literally, I mean that, someone who didn’t believe that ‘no’ was really ‘no.’ Someone who gave us a lot of hope.
Did you end up having to go to court?
Yes we did.
Okay. What happened in court?
Well, we met with the judge. We met with our opponent’s lawyers. And there were negotiations between the judge, the opponent’s lawyers (the landlord’s lawyers), and there were discussions, and I would say that for the first time I felt like my lawyer was really working on our behalf, and that was what Adam was doing. He constantly negotiated the deal. He made it difficult for the opponent to literally kick us out. And he essentially raised our value; you know what I mean by our value – I mean that we had been looked on as tenants who were there, who were scrounging literally like squatters, as if we didn’t have any right to be there, even though we’d been paying rent and literally been sustaining this neighborhood for, in my case, the past fifteen years. So, by bringing everyone to the table, I believe that Adam was able to show the judge that we had a role to play in Harlem, that we were the lifeblood of the community.
Fantastic. I understand that ‘Save Harlem’ reached a settlement.
Were you happy? How did we do it? Anything you want to say on that that really stood out to you?
OK. I think that when I talk about creativity, I have to tell you, that this whole process is literally dealing with the court of public opinion. I think that’s where Adam Leitman Bailey’s strategy plays a key role in this arena. The first thing that he did was he led us to believe that we could win the case, where others had literally said ‘Hey, forget it, you’re out, you’re done. You can’t do this. This is essentially a no- deal; your leases don’t show that… you didn’t sign a good lease.’ So he gave us that confidence that we could do this. Secondly, he then got press releases out, as you know. We actually set up a rally. We had literally thousands of people come. We had petitions signed. Adam Leitman Bailey’s firm approached politicians. We had people come to talk, the TV media, the networks were there; they actually filmed this and it actually made the news! So it actually made this process one that had at least a regional or local importance. In other words, it wasn’t just a landlord-tenant dispute; it was one that had a relationship to the sustainability of the community. And it gave us a certain level of prominence in that, we hired people, we hired families, who worked there for years. So he brought this to the forefront. We made the press. So all of this now started to show that this wasn’t just an ordinary case. And I think that played a major role in the settlement. Our landlord essentially settled with the other businesses in the building. But our settlement was at least three times as much as theirs. And I believe it was because of your firm. It was because of Adam’s tenacity, Adam’s negotiation, Adam’s creativity in looking at this as not just a legal battle, but a battle of right and wrong, where we were right in the work that we put in and the sacrifices and the commitment that we made to the community, and what we deserved. So I think the settlement was one that was amicable. I think the landlord is happy. We agreed to move out at a specific time. It enables us to move our businesses to other places without being completely devastated, which would have been the case if Adam Leitman Bailey hadn’t come into the picture.
So you were satisfied with the amount of money you received – I mean, there was all the other intangible value that you felt was honored by the settlement – but in terms of the money that you received, you thought you were satisfied with it?
Yeah, I would say that we were satisfied. I believe that it was a battle of time, too. There is an issue. The longer we delayed the process, the more value there had to have been associated with it. There was a balance, it’s a balance. There’s a point where you just have to cut the cord and move on. So as far as that’s concerned, I’m satisfied. I believe that the work that was done by this firm was very good work, that would otherwise not have brought us to this point. But as far as being able to move my business, I think at this point, I am satisfied.
Okay. Thank you so much.