Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Law and Pizza (Part 2)

I didn't know exactly what kind of papers I could make, but I had a sense all the players would play ball. The Albanian would play because he wanted to get paid, the landlord would play because he wanted to get paid, and the creditors would play because they wanted to get paid. I also figured the landlord and creditors would prefer happy Egyptian to shrugging Albanian.

I was mostly right. Mohammed arranged some "private financing". In the military they call this "don't ask, don't tell". He had enough money to do what the landlord wanted....pay five months back rent and accept an assignment of the old lease. I actually negotiated a five year extension for Mohammed, conditioned upon him paying the first years rent on time, which he actually did.

The creditors were a little harder. I told Mohammed to try to negotiate with them, but if any of them gave a big problem, to have them call me. One call went like this......

"Counselor, I understand you represent the Egyptian pizza guy on Jamaica Avenue. My name is Vincent. I represent the Scarola Flour Company."
"Oh, are you their attorney?"
"No, let's just say I take care of business for them."

Hmmmm.....Sometimes when your client has financial problems you help them prioritize their debts. Something told me Scarola Flour Company was a priority creditor. Mohammed agreed, and told me Vincent had assured him that if he paid what the Albanian owed ($1200), and if he made his future payments on time, Vincent would not visit him any more. Mohammed adjusted his budget and brought me $1200 for Vincent.
"Will you make a paper with him Mr. Barry?" he asked.
"I don't think Vincent goes for papers, and I don't think we need papers with him."
So, I took care of the business with Vincent, and papers were not needed.

We also got the Albanian to accept three years of notes on the amount he and Mohammed had originally discussed, with payments to start in six months. The Albanian had a lawyer who may have been Croatian. I couldn't tell, between his accent and his grunting. At least he could get the Albanian to talk. At the closing I asked them what language they spoke to each other. The Albanian shrugged, and the lawyer grunted. Mohammed then whispered to me...."Who the fuck cares."

Mohammed seemed to be doing OK as a pizza man. About two years later, he called and told me he was selling the pizzeria to "two Peruvian guys". He said, "This time I want you to make the papers from the beginning."

So, we set out to sell the pizzeria to the Peruvians.

Next.....Law & Pizza (Part 3)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Law & Pizza (Part 1)

(*all stories true, all names fictitious)

Until I started practicing, I didn’t realize how many different things solo practitioners did. Every “small” business has legal business. All these “business people” are always “doing business”. The small business chain is particularly fragile when you sprinkle the human links with some other ingredients. Start with cultural differences, add liberal doses of immorality, greed and stupidity. Stir. You now have the type of case young lawyers often get, the “Purchase or Sale of a Business”.

I got a Yellow Pages call from an Egyptian accountant named Omar Haggag. He lived in Brooklyn, worked in lower Manhattan near my office, and needed me to write his landlord a letter regarding some repairs. I did the letter, the repairs were done, and Omar told me I was a great lawyer. The next week he called and said that although he was a New York State sales tax auditor, he also had a small accounting practice in Brooklyn, with mostly Egyptian clients. Would I be interested in accepting referrals? I thought this would be good opportunity, and it was. Over the years Omar sent me many good clients. After awhile we had a running joke. Omar would call, and in his accented English say “Mr. Barry……a man is going to call you regarding the sale of his shish-kabob cart”. “OK, Omar, what’s the man’s name”.
“Well, his first name is Mohammed”.
And I would say “I know that, from now on just call and give me the last names.”

Most of his referrals were productive, practice builders. Some weren’t so good.

Mohammed Elgazi had purchased a pizzeria in Queens. At least that’s what he said. What he had actually done was give a $20,000 to some Albanian men, have discussions about future payments, and started running the pizzeria. He had also lost all his remaining working capitol in Atlantic City. He was having fun making the pizza, selling it to the school kids, and being a boss. The Albanians never bothered him about the rest of the money, and it soon became apparent why. They had left the store many months behind in rent, owing money to all their suppliers, and delinquent in taxes. Mohammed was finding it hard to take delivery orders when every other call was from a creditor. I had him come to my office. He also brought another man, he’s a blur to me now, except I remember him as “The Albanian”. He never said a word, just shrugged his shoulders. “What about the lease?” Shrug.
“What about the taxes?” Shrug .
“What about the creditors?” Shrug.
I asked Mohammed what he wanted me to do, and he shrugged.
I called upon my years of education, and my four months of experience, and I shrugged. Now we were getting somewhere. Then I took out a yellow pad and pen. This prompted Mohammed to say something I had never heard before, but have heard many times since, “Mr. Barry, maybe you could make some papers to fix this.” ……..

Next……Law & Pizza (Part 2)