As a partner in a well-known New York City law firm that focused on eminent domain, each day was an unknown. My schedule consisted of taking new cases, urgent meetings, deadlines, court dates, postponements and more. It was often stressful and, at least in the back of my mind, I wondered what my alternatives might be in the future.
Keeping an open mind was a way for me to get through the corporate unknown and made a significant impact on my career. I met my future business partner Jennifer Polovetsky in 2001 when we were adversaries. She was an attorney for the City of New York, and I was on the other side. Her tough style, intelligent arguments and professional demeanor impressed me. For years, we worked against each other, even after she went into private practice. Then in 2012, we appeared in court on behalf of different clients – but this time, we were arguing on the same side, against the same party (the State of New York). After the case was over, we sat down together, and our conversation turned to forming our own firm.
If I was looking for things to be easier than before, they definitely weren’t. I was fortunate that Jennifer, who had started the law firm on her own in early 2011, had already established the groundwork for our new venture. She had a professional limited liability company set up, an office, active cases, a business bank account and the other essentials.
While the workload was harder, the rewards were different: My rewards were brought about through my own hard work. Previously, even though I worked hard, I had no control over my own future. I still don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I do know if I work hard, it will all work out. It’s a different type of challenge to be your own boss, but my schedule is my own, and I am my own person.
One of the unexpected rewards Jennifer and I have come to appreciate is our ability to help “the underdog”. As eminent domain lawyers, government entities have the ability to seize property, be it a commercial/industrial building or a private residence for a public use. The definition of public use is very broad, especially in the State of New York, where the government has what many of our affected clients believe is unlimited power to take away their property and force them to vacate it.
While many of these government projects are important, many owners lose their businesses because they are not able to relocate with the necessary funds in time. We often work with businesses owned by immigrants and/or multi-generational family businesses in which the owners have significant emotional and financial investments. No matter how big or small the case, if the affected owners can’t get the money from the government entity in time, they are usually finished. Yet with our representation, their demise is usually preventable.
Recently, Sanchez & Polovetsky PLLC won the largest trade fixture case in New York State history. By putting our collective legal experience to work, we were able to obtain a substantial trade fixture award for our client, getting them paid for 100% of their equipment, lighting, machinery, etc. Usually, claimants are lucky to get 50-60% of their appraised trade fixture value in cases like these. By thinking outside of the box, we were able to obtain 100% of the appraised value for this client’s trade fixtures.
When I became an entrepreneur, I didn’t expect to have a direct impact on people’s lives. At many law firms, the motto is that corporate clients are not emotional, and therefore don’t require an immediate response; I have learned that nothing is further from the truth. Behind every corporation is a human being. Our clients want to feel that they are important and know what is going on with their case every step of the way.
Sometimes it is hard not to get emotionally involved with your client and their case, which was another unexpected item on my list. When you see a business property that is seized by eminent domain, and the business has the potential to go under through no fault of the owner, it is very hard. But our job is to take as much of the aggravation and stress out of the eminent domain process away from the client as possible, so they can focus on running their business. And when we win their cases, that makes it all worthwhile.
Starting a business with my one-time adversary has lead to a fulfilling career and new discoveries, and keeping an open mind gives me the energy and excitement to always keep searching for the unexpected.
Philip Sanchez is a partner at Sanchez & Polovetsky PLLC. He began his career as the Director of the Community Outreach Division at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, where he worked from 1999-2001, and was a partner at the eminent domain law firm of Goldstein, Rikon & Rikon for 11 years.