I love my client...err, wife

Mark Levison, The Levison Group

Through the years, I have become aware of the undeniable fact that some people who practice law are not that enthralled with it. That has never been the case for me. I enjoy fighting for my clients. My wife thinks I simply enjoy fighting.

Some lawyers go to law school and never really practice law — they do other things. Others initially practice law, but eventually quit. Some quit because they made a killing on one big case. You know, the type of cases lawyers dream about, but don’t usually happen. Some quit because they don’t like the conflict, or maybe because of the hours. I doubt that many quit because they are bored.

Some lawyers don’t quit, but start doing things on the side. My fellow writer, Charles Kramer, while being an accomplished lawyer, has always been interested in other business pursuits as varied as publishing unusual books of photography or manufacturing heat/UV repellant window shades.

I thoroughly enjoy representing my business clients, but I never thought about becoming one. On the other hand, my wife, who is much smarter than most lawyers — and spent much less time in school — has always enjoyed business. Her education came on the streets, from different types of people, and varied experiences. Her communication skills — direct, blunt and sometimes coarse — are, shall we say, “markedly different” than most lawyers.

With financial backing from me, and other investors, this year she began purchasing, rehabbing and renting inner-city residential properties. I have represented very large real estate developers, and not-so-large real estate developers, and what is clear to me is that timing in real estate investments is the key. Cheryl convinced me that the combination of historically low interest rates and property values, combined with an expanding and lucrative rental market, produced investment opportunity. In other words, the time was right. In theory it’s hard to argue with her. Of course, other than philosophers, people don’t make much money off of theories; they have got to do something, and she is
Being a supportive husband, I have, on occasion, been drawn into Cheryl’s residential housing gambit as legal counselor. I have helped her with contracts, real estate agents and management companies. I have dealt with housing inspectors and handled the administrative procedure appeals to reduce her property taxes.

Furthermore, I now have more experience than I ever hoped for in evicting tenants and in obtaining garnishments. Lawyers can make a good living representing landlords, but it’s just not an area in which I had much experience. As a young lawyer, I was once asked by a senior partner to foreclose on a property. I was not comfortable with that request; my perspective is a little different now. Today when I venture into the landlord/tenant courts, attorneys I know often ask, “What are you doing here?” “Well, you see,” I explain, “my wife...”

My support of Cheryl’s efforts is not always as routine as rent and possession actions. During her first rehab, I got a frantic call from her. She was in the basement of a property that a tenant had left — after plenty of warnings and a lot of missed rent payments. Since the evicted tenant failed to remove all of his property from the premises, what he left was being thrown away. Not liking that turn of events, the tenant returned to his former living quarters with four friends and a gun. Fortunately, once Cheryl hightailed it to the basement and called me, the very large guy who was removing the property, a fellow Cheryl fondly describes as a “real life Lenny from Of Mice and Men,” grabbed a bat and went after the five attackers. Lenny, well his real name is Jack, announced that since he had been shot several times before, he certainly wasn’t going to let five little guys and a handgun intimidate him. As Jack was plainly out of his mind, the assailants fled.

Cheryl recently had to get the smell out of a house abandoned by Honduran tenants who had disappeared without paying the rent, and left fish heads in an unplugged freezer. I don’t know what, if anything, Cheryl did to upset them, and I am just wondering if dead smelly fish heads sends the same message to a Honduran, that a dead horse head sends to a Sicilian. To be clear, it is not that Cheryl has an aversion to former criminals — just current ones, like the fellows who broke into one of her houses last week in search of copper pipes that had already been stolen. In fact, most of her work crew seems to have spent some time in the pokey. Cheryl, who I call “the queen of the little people,” is more than willing to give folks a second chance, and she is very good with her workers. She has the gift of making each of them think that they are the most important part of her team. Cheryl often stops by the worksites with coffee or soft drinks, and even takes them out to dinner once in a while. Because she makes her work crew feel important, they are willing to work for less than they otherwise might demand, and that benefit is appreciated by the investors.

The experience of being a lawyer for a client wife, while taxing due to various eccentricities — obviously hers, not mine — is valuable. Some people say that the legal approach we take as lawyers can be generally enhanced the more we know about the client, and that a real world understanding of a client’s problems beats a purely academic or clinical approach every time. Since I know my wife better than I could ever know any other client, I have been putting that theory to the test. I can sincerely state that, for the most part, I now agree with and endorse that perspective. For the most part, sometimes things are better left unknown.

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Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm Lashly & Baer. You can reach the Levison Group in care of this paper or by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2012 Under Analysis L.L.C.

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