Families in law

 Working with family has challenges and rewards

By Bernadette Starzee
The Daily Record Newswire

When Jack Genser joined his father’s law firm as an associate, there wasn’t an office available for him.

“The lawyers and one paralegal had offices, and all the other support staff members had workstations,” he recalled. “The paralegal fully assumed I would be given that office.”

But that wasn’t the plan. The younger Genser spent his early days sitting at different workstations and offices, depending on who was in court.

“My father felt I needed to earn the respect of the people around me,” Genser said. “It was probably the smartest thing he ever did. He showed everyone that I would be treated like everyone else. I earned their respect and my father earned a great deal of respect from the staff as well.”

When young attorneys join a practice founded by their parents, they often worry about perceptions. For this reason, some choose to first establish themselves elsewhere, like Genser, who spent more than two years at a Manhattan litigation firm before joining his father, David, in what is now Genser Dubow Genser & Cona nearly 20 years ago.

“I thought it was very important to cut my teeth where I wouldn’t be looked upon as the boss’ son right out of law school, and gain the respect of the people around me for who I was, not who I was related to,” he said. “It was critical for my own confidence.”

Though the possibility of joining his father’s personal injury practice was always on Genser’s mind, it was never a certainty, as he didn’t know if he was interested in personal injury work.

But after getting involved in personal injury cases at the Manhattan law firm, he decided it was a good fit and that the timing might be right to join his father’s firm.

“I have always been close to my father, and I bounced things off him professionally,” he said. “I didn’t know if that firm would allow me to spread my wings as much as I wanted to; I felt I would have more freedom to grow a portion of the practice on my own by joining my father.”

Like Genser, Andrea Friedman didn’t know if she wanted to practice the same type of law as her mother, Sari Friedman, a matrimonial and family law attorney with offices in Garden City. But while attending the Maurice A. Deane Law School at Hofstra University, Andrea Friedman interned at several practices and started to see herself doing matrimonial work.

“I enjoyed helping people and also litigating,” said the younger Friedman, who joined the Law Offices of Sari M. Friedman in 2009. “At the end of the day, if I can make a difference in someone’s life, it is rewarding.”

Jordan Fensterman worked at Lake Success-based Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara & Wolf, where his father is managing partner, during college and law school.

“I was very fortunate in that I was given the opportunity to work in the different vertical areas of the firm to see what I liked,” he said.

An associate at the firm since being admitted to the bar in 2009, he counts among the pluses the opportunity to spend time with his father at work and occasionally lunch together.

On the flipside, if they disagree on a matter in the office, it may carry over to their personal lives.

“There are challenges like this in any family business, not just law,” Jordan Fensterman said. “You try to work through them.”

Though they try to leave what happens in the office in the office, the Friedmans find shop talk inevitably seeps into their personal lives.

“We have established boundaries that we mutually respect, but by nature, sometimes, work-related matters come up in conversation in a social setting,” Sari Friedman said.

In the office, she noted her daughter is good at doing a lot of the detail work, like drafting motions, which frees Sari Friedman up to focus on what she enjoys – overseeing the big picture and strategizing.

It’s often a source of pride for parents when their son or daughter joins the firm. Howard Fensterman, for one, is thrilled that his son came aboard.

“It’s something that I always wanted to pass on to him, and I look forward to seeing him take it to the next level someday,” he said.

Once Kyle Lynch became an attorney, there was never any question he would join the practice of his father, James Lynch. His older brothers became a botanist and a police sergeant, so his father asked him if he would consider going to law school so he could carry on his legacy.

The younger Lynch worked in his father’s law office while attending Hofstra Law. After graduation, he and his father formed Lynch Legal Associates in 2004 and “my father threw me into litigation right away,” Lynch said.

About three years ago, the son took over managing partner duties from the father, and last year the two Lynches partnered with attorney J. Joseph Bainton to form BaintonLynch, a multispecialty firm with offices in Uniondale, East Hampton and Manhattan.

As Genser developed as an attorney and eventually became a partner in Melville-based Genser Dubow, he and his father became more equal in the practice, “but you can never totally put aside the fact that you’re father and son,” he noted.

“There are expectations between parent and child that no matter how hard you might try to push them to the side and deal with each other strictly on a professional basis, they’re there,” he added.

For instance, as a young attorney, Genser said he would never want to disappoint the firm’s senior partner, “but that feeling is a little more acute when the senior partner is your father.”

And while he welcomed constructive criticism, he felt his father had trouble levying it since he was his son. So the criticism was more likely to flow from firm partner Howard Dubow, “though it was probably channeled from my father,” he said.

For many of the firm’s clients, the family atmosphere is a source of comfort, Genser said.

“We deal with many people who are in very compromised situations, and when we sit with them, they appreciate the family dynamic,” he said. “When they see we are a family here, they feel a sense of security and confidence that their family will be in good hands.”

Ultimately, the positives of working together outweigh the negatives for many second-generation attorneys. Friedman called her mother a “great mentor,” adding, “I have learned a lot from her, not only as an attorney, but in business.”

Lynch has always viewed working with his father as a great opportunity. He may regret becoming a lawyer, he half-joked, but he has no regrets about working with his old man.

“Early in my father’s career, there was more cordiality between lawyers than there is today,” he said. “My father has taught me to be respectful and courteous to other attorneys, as well as court officers, clerks and judges. I am very happy I was exposed to that from early in my legal career.”

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