Solving Legal Problems Colors My World
Greetings, and please call me Greg; my number is 212-334-7397. You can call right now. I have been practicing civil-rights law since 1994. I was raised in Connecticut, then went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. My law school was NYU, and I worked at two vastly different and prestigious law firms before embarking on my own. If that's all you need to know, then call - again the number is 212-334-7397 and you might be reading this on a cell phone. so call now. But after you call, please return here. The attorney-client relationship is one of trust, and you should know who I am. I'll want to know something meaningful about you if I take your case. Here's my story:
My adult life began a decade before I became a lawyer. At Northwestern, I read Frank Conroy, a deceased writer - a writer's writer - who inspired many others. He wrote in his memoir, "Stop Time" that once he heard someone say, "I’m a novelist." Just those words Conroy heard and he thought, as he wrote, "My God, what a beautiful thing to be able to say." Conroy eventually became a novelist. How easy that sounded. I wanted one day to tell the world I did something that was beautiful to say and hear; I wanted to be a novelist.
My creative writing was respected, won awards, and my teachers thought I understood the human condition - a quality of a good writer. The truth is that I do: I enjoy the simple pleasures of people watching, imagining their motivations. I'm nosy. I've lived in New York City most of my life, worked with many troubled people, travelled to over 100 countries (plus all 50 states), yet I'm still curious to learn what's hiding in my neighbor's attic. What's up there - even if it's nothing - will teach me something about him. Anyway, back to college, I heard the title "Novelist," and decided right then that it was mine for the taking and that I would be a great one. I gave it a decent effort for a year, but after graduation, the mind of an artist did not sustain the stamina required of an artist; this plan quickly burned in small, licking flames: a young man's idea - not really a plan - was dashed quickly as he stepped into the reality show known as Life. So I switched to a common default, as many do, and went to law school, back when jobs for lawyers were abundant. I liked the law, but I wouldn't have remained in this field, and come to love it as I do, if I hadn't done it my own way, applying my understanding of the life to my work in choosing the cases that excite me.
I approach lawyering with a contrarian streak and believe that the misfortune of others is often the product of oppression and inequality - including that of the legal system, which can work if approached with the insights, perhaps, of a novelist, and a very probing and careful one. I'm polite about it, but won't kowtow to convention. I can say that I love the judicial process - that is, how is supposed to work. But I'd rather be a rebel than a slave. If the process is not working as it should, I massage it gently, try to get an acceptable outcome, turn up the heat, and continue to wait patiently for the desired outcome. Perhaps no one will remember me when I retire, but I can say with pride that I am not just a lawyer - I am a Civil Rights Lawyer. I am a Trial Lawyer. These beautiful things for me to say, and perhaps for you to hear, are badges I've earned by experience and by following my heart rather than what sounded like a good idea or the guarantee of a fat bonus by putting in stultifying hours on business disputes involving questions that rarely make a difference in life. You can damn me with faint praise and call me "a good lawyer" if you want, but please don't call me a "litigator." It so happens that litigation - navigating the rules in court, filing papers, appearing for conferences - is what I do, but going to court is no thrill unless one is before a jury or arguing a question of law before one, three, or even multiple judges. I digress because if I'm going to keep your hopes alive, I must see myself as more than a plumber's tool of the legal system: I try to choose cases carefully, and most of the work I do takes place while I'm away from distractions and just thinking about my cases - how they sound, whether they look logical in writing, and when to get a second opinion (almost always, whether a lawyer or someone waiting with me at the checkout counter). I want (and need) to make money, but I care more about the law aligning with respect. Show me a case where there's only money to be made and I don't want it. Show me a case where money and justice are at stake and I really want it - that's where creativity comes into play. if we're lucky - and luck is involved, to be sure - we win.
What matters most is the evidence of illegality and magnitude of unfairness. You don't need a cell-phone video of police misconduct (but if you know someone has one, get it now!) or a recording of a bigoted boss (completely legal in New York) to vindicate your rights. Those things are nice, but sometimes even they don't carry the day, and your testimony alone might do the trick. Proof of injustice must be put together piece by piece, document by document, questioning witnesses with precision, in order to tell a cohesive story. I like to play detective, stringing together the bits, and presenting the evidence to a judge and jury. I never stop reading and training in lawyering, writing and communication. I'm always open to compromising a dispute, but without the skills to take it all the way, what leverage do I have in getting you a decent settlement?
I limit my practice, proudly representing victims of employment discrimination, or other civil-rights violations (wrongful arrests, wrongful prosecutions and police brutality). I also take some few clients harmed by people to whom they have entrusted their lives: neglectful or dishonest lawyers, an occasional Devil-may-care physician, and people who have ruined lives by illegal means. Business is a good thing - I'm in business - and so is law enforcement. But neither the corporation nor the cop needs to break the law to achieve its objectives. 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. There are limits to what the law can achieve, however: Read my Areas page to get a mere sense of what the law does not allow you to complain for in court, and the hoops you need to jump through if you don't settle.
In 2015, I was awarded 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. The methodology of these badges of honor are opaque, but involve nominations by other lawyers and judges, I think. I'm proud to have these other badges, but judge an attorney's work by his results and dedication before you assume that a badge means anything. I'd rather convince you who I am, what I've done and what I stand for; I want you to pick me as a lawyer for those reasons, rather than for you to assume honorable mentions are evidence, in themselves, of much.)
I'm not a teacher, but 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 JD from NYU in 1993, and was honored there to be elected to Law Review - a little feather in my cap based on grades and a writing competition. I was lucky to make it into NYU alone, let alone Law Review. I studied under some legal luminaries who shaped my curious mind with methods of practice and a certain view of the profession, including Anthony Amsterdam, Burt Neuborne, Sylvia Law, Chet Mirsky, Pamela Karlan, Sheila Birnbaum and Barry Berke - names known not in your household but known among the best lawyers and judges. At Northwestern University I got a BA not in writing, but history, and participated in intercollegiate debate. The study of history is good preparation for learning how to try a case, as the ultimate question in history, as at trial is how did we get from one situation to the next, and why. Debate honed my ability to think on my feet and speak in public, and taught me how to organize documents - a silly task one needs to know in order to win; relying on a paralegal only goes so far. I had many good professors at NWU, but remember two in particular who were not impressed by the prestige of that fine academy - 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?)
Yes, I wanted to be a writer, and regret I may never achieve the honor of seeing my name on a book; but the process of writing stultified me. I couldn't stand the isolation of thinking and honing my words, 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, for two years before NYU. 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 wonderfully, but having been brought up middle class, this job gave me the gift of seeing how the government regularly mistreats the poor. After my years in child welfare, I entered law school. There, I had some internships and worked for a former federal Judge in San Francisco, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, and the Federal Defenders in Manhattan. I sat through my first trial with a very gifted lawyer in 1992.
I passed the bar, I probably didn't know what I wanted to do, so I worked in the litigation department at a large law firm - Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP, one of the biggest and best. I was proud to be there and grateful for the brief exposure to what is known as "BigLaw." I won an award at Weil (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 large machine. So I left Weil and saw the other side of the legal profession at the Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Division, practicing in Family Court in the Bronx and Manhattan. Family Court is an unhappy place - abuse, neglect, kids in criminal trouble are the nightmares of its jurisdiction. But it is in that court where I had the good fortune of learning how to stand up to a judge, some of whom harbored animus toward my clients, were quick to rubber-stamp the decisions of government actors. Kids were locked up and taught how to be criminals. Struggling parents, many of whom were unfit, rarely got them 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 on appeal and succeeding in getting children released from custody; they didn't like my trying new strategies that had been floated by my supervisors.
In Manhattan, I made many appearances before Judith Scheindlin, aka "Judge Judy." She never yelled at or embarrassed me, as she does the pre-chosen loser on her show, but I saw her do it to others. It's not as if she liked me - she hated those new strategies and told me to get my "nose out of the lawbook" - but I think, quietly, she respected my intentions. She said to me once, as we waited for a case to be called, not to "be a Kunstler-like obstructionist." I said nothing in response, but think her advice was a small gift, the best she could have given me - you can be a zealous advocate, but not an odious one. I believe that William Kunstler was not an obstructionist. Many loved him, and history remembers him as one of the greatest. He was a criminal lawyer who knew how far he could go to protect his client. I took Judy's advice with a large grain of salt, but I cooperate with the bench wherever possible, choosing my battles; judges are people too. So hers was good advice, but I have always admired attorneys like Kunstler who went as far as he (or she) could to win for the client. The trick I think is to do what he did, but under the radar. So, for example, soon after Judy left Family Court for Hollywood, I quietly got her reversed on appeal: she had made a 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, a big win in a difficult "buy and bust" case.) Matter of Efrain R., 228 A.D.2d 303 (First Dept.1996). Judy, the highest paid TV personality in history, wouldn't care less about this, but the truth is appellate courts rarely reversed her because she couched the law in common sense. So I'm proud to have caught her mistake. If I had to choose between being named SuperLawyer ever again or keeping my reversal of Judge Judy, it would be a very easy decision to make.
Mostly owing to my curiosity (and a strong desire for freedom), after Legal Aid, I struck out on my own, and I have never (well, rarely) looked back. So I continued to file cases that interested me, and I did better than expected. I won several jury trials just before and after 9/11. In 2003, I wanted to learn what lawyers rarely learn in law school, if in their careers: how not just to argue to, but how to communicate with a jury. I had had many trials in Family Court, but they were always before a judge. In 2003, 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. This place changed me in many ways was founded by the renowned trial lawyer, Gerry Spence. It was there that I understood what kind of lawyer I want 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, understanding your client. The hardest thing about what I do is understanding a poker-faced, or simply nasty opponent who doesn't speak or act like a person; lawyers have a bad reputation because of these people. The most frustrating situation is to appear before a judge who simply doesn't like your area of practice.
My teacher, Gerry Spence, with me in 2003
Gregory Antollino, Esq.
Most cases – mine or any lawyer’s – settle, but I crave a case that I can take to trial. As a lawsuit arrives at the office, and 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, develop themes, and learn to love the case; I usually can, though not always the client. Between 1998 and 2015, I have had two hung juries, but of the cases that didn't settle and went to verdict, every jury rendered a decision for my client more favorable than what he, she or I expected. This favorable streak is on pause. In 2015, I lost a hard-fought discrimination case for a gay man whose case I tried even though he died before jury selection. To try a case whose client was dead - this was an unusual situation for me. In retrospect, I might have thought about it for more than a second, but when the heirs called me, it was an easy decision, knowing that justice had been denied: my now deceased client got canned for telling a customer he was gay. I could have bowed out, settled for peanuts, but it was a no brainer, despite the disadvantage of having nothing but a transcript to read to the jury. I would have preferred to have won, but even as the loser, it was an edifying experience - trials don't happen too often for living clients - and I knew I was right. The defense wanted to insult the estate with a pittance, and we would have none of that; a challenge like that is an education in itself. My client had lost his career over this termination. I respect the judge who tried the case, but I don't think the estate got a fair trial. Most importantly, the loss allows me to argue an appeal not only for retrial, but to expand the law for the greater protection of gay Americans. I may lose, but I would feel awful were I not to try. The NYCLU Women's Rights Project and Lambda Legal Defense Fund have joined us in the fight.
I'm not going to keep score anymore. You'll never know how hard any of the cases were that I won, whether I got lucky or the other side got screwed or made a mistake screwed. Close cases go to trial. I'll win and lose again; but to keep score is meaningless in comparison to keeping up with the imaginative use of skills in an environment that is supposed to be fair. "Fair" is subjective, and the concept can be stretched to fit results.
Traditionally, I have represented plaintiffs of modest means. I'm glad I left Weil and Legal Aid: I am needed. Civil rights laws are routinely broken and the law breakers get away with it. If think you always have a right to a jury trial because you believe your rights have been violated, don't be so sure. You well might, but a motion 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 only take cases where I am at least confident in the injustice, that a strong chance will survive summary judgment. People are fired all the time and think they have rights. They don't: termination is usually not an illegal act, even if it's unfair and a complete surprise without explanation. The same with arrests that end up with no criminal conviction. Not all wrongs have a legal remedy. I explain that to people every day, it seems. For those few cases that have merit, however, seek and ye may find more evidence to support your case.
I am well versed in appeals; you can see some of my wins (and losses) on my "Victories" page. I usually don't take an appeal where attorney has lost a trial unless I'm convinced I win. I rarely take appeals for a flat fee if I feel I dont have a good chance of winning. Even if I get paid, you lose. Sometimes there are strategic reason to file a notice of appeal, but usually, I only appeal my own cases unless I am convinced I will win.
Check out my LinkedIn profile for more ephemera, including client reviews. here. Again, my number is 212-979-6899. You can email me on the