By Dan Orlando
Adam Leitman Bailey’s birth certificate indicates that he is barely middle aged. His physical stamina indicates that he is barely 25. His accomplishments and legal expertise indicate that he is a man 30 years his senior.
Now one of the most respected commercial real estate attorneys in not only New York City, but arguably the country, Bailey’s current value to the business world is the result of two muses from his youth that eventually became intertwined.
“So, I grew up really poor,” said Bailey, taking a seat at the head of his conference room table. “My parents lost their jobs when I was five.
“I skipped kindergarten because we would pay one month’s rent and then we would have to move again because we didn’t have any money.”
Bailey painted the picture of two New York teachers who uprooted a family and headed west to California, only to find more hardship and struggles on the opposite coast.
When he could resume his education, he read about the John Peter Zenger trial. This 18th century case saw the country’s best legal representation, Andrew Hamilton, come to New York in order to successfully defend a publisher who was wrongfully accused of libel.
“I wanted to do something that would make money so that I’d be able to afford to live okay and feed myself,” Bailey continued. “I loved real estate, it was intellectually stimulating,” Bailey told Real Estate Weekly. “It’s useful and it was just fascinating to me.”
Driven by a love of the law, Bailey began to wield his affinity for both fields as one ticket to a better life.
“It all came together,” he said. “I love the fact that someone gets to use words to persuade people.”
When asked to identify the most significant cases that he has worked on, the prolific lawyer instead opted to point to any instance where he can “create a miracle” for his client as a significant moment in his legal tenure.
But in reality, some instances of Bailey’s “creative lawyering and outside the box thinking,” have left even more of an impact than others due to their ability to “have the courts adapt a new interpretation of the law or to see it in a new way.”
Bailey recalled, “During the real estate crisis and now, we have been the leading law firm enabling banks to foreclose on borrowers even though the paper work was not always in order.
“We decided to use the Uniform Commercial Code and asked the judges to follow its rules and allow foreclosures even if the paper work was not in order and the lender did not have all of the ownership documents. Our theories were adapted by the appellate courts and are the law today. You only need the note and to prove delivery of the note to foreclose on a home or building.”
In another scenario, Bailey’s team was the first in New York City to use the ILSA provision to get buyers out of contracts in the wake of the financial crisis.
“We found a 1968 statute that had never been used in New York that allowed deals to close during the mortgage crisis by wielding a weapon that forced developers to negotiate and lower purchase prices equivalent to what banks could lend during the crisis,” Bailey told Real Estate Weekly.
“My name was mentioned in Congress as the person who pioneered the statute and the statute was repealed but did a great service to thousands of people in contract and developers that needed a way around the offering plan to give a discount and close deals.
“When someone has the biggest real estate case of their life and they can only hire one attorney, for the biggest problem of their life,” said Bailey, “Are they hiring me? If the answer is ‘no’ then I’m not doing a good enough job.”
Before a brief tour of Bailey’s offices, the attorney switched gears and began discussing the case that is currently nestled into the top of his docket.
“The biggest case existing right now is the Eminent Domain in Harlem,” said Bailey, discussing the city’s attempt to remove property owners from buildings on 125th and 126th Streets between Second and Third Avenues. “Argument was heard two weeks ago.”
The case involves the newly-formed East Harlem Business Association, which has hired Bailey to combat the potential eviction of about a dozen minority-owned stores that are currently occupying buildings upon land earmarked by the city for the “East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center.”
Bailey, who said that he enjoys soaking up Harlem’s cultural offerings during his free time, feels that removing so many minority-owned small businesses from a concentrated spot would lead to a level of gentrification that would rob the neighborhood of its personality. “That would end Harlem’s businesses forever. It would be the end of Black Harlem,” said Bailey. “It would become White Harlem.”
While defending current Harlem tenants and property owners from the threat of removal may be headlining Bailey’s schedule at the moment, it is only one of numerous pulses on which he keeps his thumb during a typical workday.
A ten minute lap of his office yielded several quick meetings with various members of his staff, each working on a different high-level case.
“It’s weird, but my view is, I’m only as good as today, and I really don’t look back. I really believe that I can still improve as a lawyer and I’m always trying to learn and get better. The day that I say to myself that I’m great, or that I can rest on my laurels, I should probably retire”
And one day, the call of retirement may very well entire the 45-year old legal icon to trade in the pre-dawn runs and the late night work sessions.
Bailey joked that in 20 years of practicing, his surplus of curly hair has dwindled and the appeal of spending more time with his wife and young son may eventually outweigh the adrenaline rush of winning legal battles on the grand stage of New York.
But for now, he isn’t spending much time composing an early exit strategy for the firm that bears only his name.
“Do we have the best law firm in New York? Am I the go-to lawyer for litigation in New York? If the answer is ‘yes’ then I’m doing the right thing, but I’m only as good as my last case.”
While the answer to that question is in many ways subjective, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. is one of only two law firms with under 30 attorneys to notch an AV Martindale-Hubbell rating, bring home repeated Super Lawyers ranking, grab a selection into the Bar Registry of Preeminent Lawyers, and receive a Chambers & Partners award for being one of the Leading Lawyers for Real Estate.
“We do creative lawyering here. We take cases where others have said you’re going to lose and we find ways to win. And that’s why they keep coming back, I believe.
“We are the most successful real estate law firm results-wise,” said Bailey. “No one’s won the cases we’ve won; no one’s had the creative lawyering, no one’s had these results.”
“I love being David versus Goliath. We say that, but at the same time we represent Fortune 500 companies,” Bailey continued.
At only 45, Bailey may have already done enough to exchange the title of David, for the mantle of Goliath.