Solving Legal Problems Colors My World
Frank Conroy, a novelist who inspired other budding writers wrote in his memoir, "Stop Time" that he had once heard someone say,'I’m a novelist." In response, Conroy thought, "My God, what a beautiful thing to be able to say." I too, as I read that in college thought the same; I was destined to become a great novelist.
When I was in college, my creative writing was well respected, and my teachers saw that I understood the human condition - a quality of a great writer - better than my contemporaries. I dreamed of the title "Novelist" in the back of my mind, and in fact I expected I would be a very great one. After graduation, though, these dreams slowly burned up in small, licking flames and it bothers me to this day to see a young man's dreams dashed so quickly. So I switched to the default, as so many do, and went to law school. But I wouldn't have remained in this profession so long if I hadn't done it my own way, and understood the human condition as I believe that I do. And knowing that the human condition is often the product of oppression, I approach lawyering with a contrarian streak and refuse to kowtow to convention. I'll never be the a Great American Novelist, but I can say with pride that I am not just a lawyer, but a "Civil Rights Lawyer." I am a "Trial Lawyer" an advocate - badges I've earned by experience and following my heart rather than what sounded good at the time. You can even call me "Appellate Lawyer," but don't call me a litigator, even if that is what I technically am at base. But I am more than the plumber's tool of the legal system: I choose cases carefully. I want (and need) to make money, but I care more about justice. Show me a case where there's money and justice at stake and, if the client and I get along, I really want that case.
I am proud to represent victims of employment discrimination, other civil rights violations (wrongful arrests, wrongful prosecutions and police brutality), and clients harmed by people to ehom they have entrusted their lives: neglectful or dishonest lawyers, an occasional doctor, and big businesses that ruin people's lives. Business is good, but it needn't do harm. Since 1994, I have represented hundreds of individuals against some of the biggest corporations and biggest law firms, as well as agencies of the City and State of New York. You can see the results and publicity that I have obtained in many of my cases on my Victories page. In 2015 I was given the highest rating, AV Preeminent by Martindale Hubbell®. That same year, I was named one of the "Best Lawyers in America." Since 2012, I've been named a "SuperLawyer." (There are over 160,000 lawyers in New York State, and about 6,000 are named SuperLawyers.) What do all of these badges of honor mean? I'm happy to have them, but let me tell you who I am, what I've done and what I stand for; that's more important.
I'm not a teacher but have been asked and have given educational sessions for lawyers on issues like opening statements, direct examination, punitive damages, LGBTQ discrimination, police misconduct against transgender individuals, and Ethics and the Constitution.
I got my law degree from NYU in 1993, and was honored there to be elected to Law Review, which is based on a grades and a writing competition; mine was about the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. I was lucky to make it into NYU alone, let alone Law Review, and there I studied under some legal luminaries who shaped my thinking and methods of practice, including Anthony Amsterdam, Burt Neuborne, Sylvia Law, Chet Mirsky, Pamela Karlan, Sheila Birnbaum and Barry Berke - names known not in the household, but among the best lawyers and judges. My undergraduate degree I received in history from Northwestern University, where I participated in intercollegiate debate and had two professors who made me see the world differently, Joseph Epstein and Garry Wills - writers from the opposite sides of the political spectrum who looked at life, literature and history healthily askance. (Each gave me a B+, a grade I hated, but in retrospect who cares?) The study of history is great preparation for being a trial lawter, as the ultimate question in both fields is how did we get from that situation to this one and why? Debate honed my ability to think on my feet and to speak in public, and taught me how to organize documents - a silly little task one needs to learn in order to win a case.
I didn't want to be a lawyer after college: I wanted to be a writer. I couldn't stand the isolation. though, of thinking and honing my work product, over and over and over, so I moved from Chicago to New York, where I took an unusual gig, traipsing and plodding as a child-welfare caseworker. I worked with mostly poor families trying to stay together and to arrange for the state to provide them the services to do so. It didn't always work out so wonderfully. I was brought up middle class, so this job gave me the gift of seeing how the government uniformly mistreats the poor. After almost three years in child welfare, I entered law school. There, during my summers, I worked for a very nice former federal Judge in San Francisco, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, and the following fall with Federal Defenders in Manhattan where I saw my first trial.After getting my JD and passing the bar, I still didn't know what I wanted to do, and worked in the litigation department at a large law firm, Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP. I won an award there (and obtained publicity) for my Pro Bono work, of which I did a lot. But despite my desire to advocate, I felt like an expendable widget in a larger machine. So I left Weil and saw the other side of the legal profession at the Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Division and practiced in Family Court in the Bronx and Manhattan. Family Court is an unhappy place, but there is where I had the good fortune of learning how to stand up to a judge, when some of them simply harbored animus toward my clients, and others rubber-stamped decisions keeping children in foster care and away from their struggling parents, many of whom were unfit, but others of whom jumped through every hoop they asked for, yet still couldn't get their kids back. Some of these judges did not like it one bit that I went an extra mile to be a zealous advocate and question their decision making, including taking their cases up on appeal and succeeding in getting children released from custody who were illegally detained as they awwaited trial. In Manhattan, I made frequent appearances before Judge Judith Scheindlin, aka "Judge Judy." I am lucky to say she never yelled or embarrassed me as she does the pre-chosen loser on her show, but I sw her do it to many others. It's not like she liked me and I remember her telling me as we waited for a case to be called "not to be a Kunstler-like obstructionist." I think that advice was her litle gift, if misplaced; William Kunstler was not an obstructionist - he was a criminal lawyer who knew how far he could go to protect his client. I took her advice with a grain of salt, and I cooperate more with the bench where possible, choosing battles. So hers was decent advice, but I have always admired attorneys like Kunstler who went as far as he could to win for his clients. So, for example, soon after Judy left Family Court for Hollywood, I got her reversed on appeal: she had made one big mistake and I knew I could use it to get my client's charge dismissed or reduced. (It was in fact later converted to a misdemeanor after being sent back to the lower court). Matter of Efrain R., 228 A.D.2d 303 (First Dept.1996). Judy, the highest paid TV personality in history, wouldn't care less; but if I had to choose between being named SuperLawyer ever again in my life or keeping my reversal of Judge Judy, it would be a very easy decision to make. Mostly owing to my curiosity and desire for freedom, after my stint at Legal Aid, I struck out on my own, and I have never (well, rarely) looked back.
In 2003, I wanted to learn what lawyers rarely learn in law school, if in their careers: how to communicate with a jury. I began to insist on taking cases to trial; I had had many trials in Family Court, but they were always before a judge. After three losses, a hung jury and two big wins, I applied and was honored to be selected to attend The Trial Lawyer's College, a three-week seminar, followed by graduate programs, in DuBois, Wyoming for experienced plaintiff's attorneys run by the renown trial lawyer, Gerry Spence. It was there that I understood what kind of lawyer I wanted to be. I've also attended trial-lawyers' programs at the National Criminal Defense College Trial Practice Institute in Macon, Georgia - where I studied with some of the nation's best advocates and jury-communication experts - and, finally, the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre Improvisation Skills Program in New York, a great program for learning how to be quick on your feet - one of the most important skills in a courtroom. Some of the others are memory, intelligence, and understanding your client.
My teacher, Gerry Spence, with me in 2003
Gregory Antollino, Esq.
Most cases – mine or any other lawyer’s – settle, but I crave a case that I can take to trial if the client is not happy with the settlement offered. As a lawsuit comes into my office, and as it crawls into life, I think about how a jury will perceive my client and how the evidence tells a story. I imagine a closing argument, developing themes, and learning to love the case. Between 1998 and 2015, I have had two hung juries, but of the cases that did not settle and went to verdict in this period, every jury rendered a decision in my for my client more favorabke than what he or she (or I) expected or would have settled for. My winning streak ended in 2015 when I lost a hard-fought discrimination case for a gay man whose case I took to trial even though he died before jury selection. It was an easy decision for me not to give up, knowing that justice had been denied: my client got canned for telling a customer he was gay. It was a no brainer to me, despite the disadvantage of having nothing but a transcript to put on the stand. I would have preferred to have won, but even asthe loser, it was a wonderful experience, because I knew I was right, and a challenge is education. My client had lost his career over this termination. I respect the judge who tried the case, but I don't think my deceased client's estate got justice. Most importantly, the loss allows me to argue an appeal not only for retrial, but that asks to expand the law for the greater protection of gay Americans. I may lose, but I would feel worse were I not to try. The ACLU and Lambda Legal Defense Fund are joining us in the fight.
I'm not going to keep score of my wins and losses anymore. You'll never know how hard or easy any of the cases I won were, whether I got lucky or just plain screwed. Close cases go to trial. I'll win again and lose again; but to keep score is less than meaningful in comparison to keeping up with the imaginative use of skills in an environment that is supposed to be fair. "Fair" is a subjective concept, though, that can be stretched to fit results where nobody can predict the outcome - or what impediments (like the death of a client) may arise along the way.
I represent - almost always - plaintiffs. You think you always have a right to a jury trial - well, don't be so fast. Amotion for summary judgment is the tool the defense that tries to prevent that. I have won the overwhelming majority of these motions when opposing them for my clients seeking a trial. (I have lost a few & no attorney can win them all.) On four occasions, I won them for my clients who wanted to hold the other side legally responsible without the jury's input - a much more difficult result to achieve, especially in the areas of law I practice.
I am well versed in appeals, whether supporting or opposing them; you can see some of my wins (and losses) on my "Victories" page.
Check out my LinkedIn profile for more ephemera, including client reviews. here.,
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