David Perecman: “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Attorney”
Consistency is key to build your reputation. Perseverance pays off. One of the most important elements of a successful business is the reputation of you and your company. Building and maintaining a positive reputation comes from delivering high-quality services with skill, time, and constant effort. There are no shortcuts here I’m afraid, and there is no such thing as luck. People who work hard generate their own luck.
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing David Perecman.
David Perecman, Founder and Lead Trial Attorney at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., is a distinguished New York attorney who concentrates his practice in all aspects of personal injury law, including construction accidents, premises liability, automobile accidents, medical malpractice, as well as employment discrimination, false arrest, and civil rights matters. He has successfully represented individuals who were seriously injured and the surviving family members of those who were fatally injured and has helped to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation on their behalf. The Perecman Firm is a full-service personal injury law firm with offices in New York, New York, and Jericho, New York. For more information, visit www.perecman.com.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
I always wanted to be a lawyer and have been driven by this goal since I was very young. After earning my Juris Doctor from Brooklyn Law School, I joined an esteemed New York tax accounting firm as a tax associate, where I assisted high net worth clients with individual tax planning and preparation. The following year, I joined a prestigious New York civil litigation law firm as a trial attorney. It was there that I built my reputation as a skilled and tenacious New York City personal injury attorney and trial lawyer who undertook complex cases that my peers would shy away from. No case was too small or too tough. Subsequently, I developed a large caseload and haven’t looked back. After winning a $600,000 verdict against the now-defunct Gimbels department store in 1983 for falsely detaining an elderly woman when an anti-theft device triggered the store alarm, I decided to finally start my own practice and founded what is now The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
As a personal injury lawyer, every day, every case and every client is a new adventure. For the particular field of law I’m in, the amount of client interaction and your role as their attorney can often morph into being a support system. Many of our clients rely on us during one of the most troubling and anxiety-ridden times of their lives. This lends itself to some interesting and intense cases where you are fueled into achieving great, consistent results for clients. As a consequence, it meant I often took matters to trial rather than settling for lower amounts. The more and more cases I took to trial successfully, the more I developed the reputation as the “go-to” guy for complex trial matters. Looking back now, it helped drive my colleagues and I forward as a team and fueled our passion for the work we do.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
In a way, all of our projects are interesting and exciting now due to the current environment we find ourselves in with the COVID-19 pandemic. The normal workflow for the entire industry has been altered, and we are doing our best to keep up, maintain the highest standards and pursue every avenue as needed for our clients within the confines of working remotely. In New York City, offices must be closed and employees work remotely if they can. We are wholeheartedly committed to our clients. We are continuing to provide phone and video consultations to new clients, as well as work on pending matters for retained clients. We will not stop working tirelessly to get the justice that is deserved.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
Without a doubt, the most profound case I have had the honor to work on was that of Avonte Oquendo. Avonte was a nonverbal 14-year-old boy who went missing from his Queens public school on October 4, 2013. After more than three months of exhaustive searching, his remains were found in the East River. Footage from that day showed him leaving the school through an outside door left open, and that was the last time he was seen alive. School authorities allegedly took approximately 45 minutes to alert the police to Avonte’s disappearance. The search for Avonte was unprecedented in New York City. Flyers and posters were fixed to lampposts, windshields, and throughout subway stations. The search involved hundreds of people, from police officers to marine units to subway workers to volunteers.
I represented Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, in the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of her son. Avonte’s Law (Introductory 131-A) was approved by the City Council on July 24, 2014, by a 49–0 vote, and signed into law by Mayor de Blasio on August 7, 2014. It requires the Department of Education to evaluate the need for door alarms on exterior doors at elementary schools and District 75 schools serving students with special needs. Following this, I also assisted in efforts to pass “Kevin and Avonte’s Law,” federal legislation aimed to make schools safer for special needs students.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I try not to look to the past historical figures for inspiration; rather, I look to those around me. I am consistently inspired by my colleagues, who work tirelessly and effectively to get the job done for our clients. Prior to starting my own firm, I worked for another New York law practice as a trial attorney, where I had a terrific mentor. It was profoundly inspiring to observe how he conducted his own law practice and managed teams according to his vision.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
Do as much research ahead of time as you possibly can. Try not to sweat the small stuff and focus on the clients. Most of the issues attorneys encounter when they first start out are day-to-day stresses. When these issues are right in front of you, they can seem overwhelming — however, it’s important to keep your eye on the big picture. The best thing to do, and something I had to put into practice during my first few years as an attorney, is to take a step back, consider the issue at hand and address it as best as you can with the resources you have. Just keep moving forward.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
If I could make any changes to the judicial system, I would start with the following.
- We need to require lawyers to cooperate more to avoid unnecessary delays. Attorneys who don’t comply and delay for no good reason should be called to task for it, perhaps with sanctions. Motions should be required to be ruled upon by the Courts in a defined time period, depending on the complexity of the motion. I realize the judges are very busy, but there should be a way we can design the system so that the parties don’t have to wait more than 3 months for a motion to be decided.
- We also need to speed up the length of time it takes for a case to be assigned for trial in certain counties after it has been certified as trial-ready. Waiting periods in excess of a year are just too long. Just the same, other than for a good reason, lawyers should be required to be ready to try their cases when they are sent out for trial. The rules in that regard have to be firm but not too rigid so that they are applied in a fair manner, and the parties are not unfairly prejudiced.
- Judges should be given sufficient and properly trained staff so that they can devote more time to mediating the cases and conferencing them so that the issues are fully understood by the Court and resolved. Resolution of issues leads to case resolution. It is also unfair to expect judges to understand a case and help resolve it within a few minutes. Cases should be scheduled and heard in staggered times so that they can be fully vetted with the goal of fair resolution, not just resolution.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Being a licensed attorney gives you the ability, knowledge and power to help people at crucial points in their lives. In remembrance of the life of Avonte Oquendo, my firm started the Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship. Now, in its fifth year, the fund has increased from $1,000 to $5,000 to aid students on the autism spectrum, or students with close family members with autism, to pursue higher education. I personally know that earning a post-secondary degree can be the difference between a strong, successful career and a lifetime of hardship. All of the attorneys in the firm wanted that opportunity to be open to all students equally, especially those who have autism and often face obstacles that other students do not.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
My main motivation is to pursue success on behalf of my clients. Ultimately, I want to leave a lasting, meaningful impact that will last after I am gone. This means effectively training junior lawyers, learning from your peers and mentors, and building a solid caseload that I can be proud of.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
When I started my firm nearly 30 years ago, it was a tough, bumpy road. If I could impart any words of advice to anyone hoping to start their own law firm, it would be the following:
Without risk, there’s no reward
Be prepared to take risks when starting a business. The first few years in particular will take a lot of your time and resources. Ask anyone — the start-up process is grueling. It will be tough, but you will need to make peace with the fact that it may take years before you see a return on your investment, and your company is in the position you were hoping for.
Consistency is key to build your reputation
Perseverance pays off. One of the most important elements of a successful business is the reputation of you and your company. Building and maintaining a positive reputation comes from delivering high-quality services with skill, time, and constant effort. There are no shortcuts here I’m afraid, and there is no such thing as luck. People who work hard generate their own luck.
Maintain a healthy work-life balance
Be careful not to overwork yourself and bite off more than you can chew. When you take on too much, it is very easy to become overwhelmed, and this makes you unable to dedicate yourself appropriately to your clients. Being a reputable attorney means providing individualized, professional, superior service, and you simply cannot do that if you are overworked. Thus, it is very important to take time and care for yourself and create a healthy work-life balance. Working in the office late can happen, but it shouldn’t be a daily occurrence.
Always take the meeting
Networking and meeting new people have been beneficial at every stage of my career. Early on, I found it helpful to join alumni groups and legal organizations to socialize and maintain connections with other attorneys and legal professionals. Building connections throughout the industry can lead to unexpected results later down the road, whether it’s a client referral or a new job offer; it is always helpful to take the meeting.
Invest in your business
While it’s important to provide excellent services and focus on achieving consistent results, it’s equally as important to invest in the sustainability and long-term future of your firm. Don’t overlook investment opportunities if they come your way. It can be nerve-wracking to put capital into business development and marketing, especially early on; however, these projects will help the company grow long-term.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would enjoy the chance to meet with the Chief Administrative Judge of New York, Lawrence K. Marks. The reason would be to try to resolve the issues I’ve mentioned on judicial reform. I hope that I would be able to bring some ideas to the table to help cases get resolved fairly and more expeditiously.