ONES TO WATCH IN LONG ISLAND LAW
by Bernadette Starzee
Rachel J.B. Weisman, Founding Member, Weisman Law Group
In 2001, Weisman founded her law office, which has since expanded to include three additional attorneys. The Cedarhurst firm, which has a satellite office in Manhattan, recently opened a third office in Uniondale. Weisman concentrates on matrimonial and family law matters, with about 75 percent of her practice devoted to litigation. She has presented continuing legal education courses on family and matrimonial law for Sterling Education Services and the National Academy of Continuing Legal Education. Additionally, Weisman contributed a chapter to the book "Inside the Minds: New York Family Law Strategies."
Money Fix: How to keep finances from fraying a marriage
by Sheryl Nance-Nash
Newsday, August 5, 2012 — Nothing can mess up a marriage like money. It causes an average of three arguments a month, according to an American Institute of CPAs survey.
Money is at the heart of many divorces. It's not surprising, given a Northwestern Mutual poll: Twelve percent of couples didn't talk about finances before marriage, and even after marriage 11 percent never had a formal conversation about financial planning.
How do you keep money from ruining your relationship?
Meet monthly. Go over bills, budgets, financial goals. "I see situations where one spouse has been unaware of mounting debt and/or overspending and discovers too late how big the problem is," says Kevin Worthley, a certified financial planner with the Retirement Planning Co. of New England in Warwick, R.I.
Delegate. "One may be a genius at coupons and budgeting and the other picking investments," says Joel Redmond, a certified financial planner with Key Private Bank in Syracuse. "Don't try to control your spouse or make demands on how he or she can spend money," warns Rachel Weisman, matrimonial lawyer with the Weisman firm in Uniondale.
Avoid extremes. No one should be completely in the dark, and one spouse shouldn't hand the other his or her full paycheck. The middle ground results from good communication. A person who isn't consulted about big purchases may feel a loss of control and anger. "You'll never know without talking," says Mitch Brill, a certified financial planner with MassMutual in New York.
Postnuptial Agreements Offer Alternative Solution to Domestic Drama
Uniondale, N.Y., July 11, 2012 — A growing trend to help couples settle their differences, postnuptial agreements may just be the answer to saving a marriage.
“A postnuptial is any agreement between two people who are married and want to stay married,” according to Rachel J. Weisman, founding member, Weisman Law Group P.C., with offices in Cedarhurst, Uniondale and Manhattan. Since forming her firm, Weisman said she has five clients who initially came to her seeking a divorce and, after explaining their issues, realized a postnuptial agreement could solve their problems. All five clients are still married today.
“I’m in favor of postnuptial agreements,” Weisman said, noting there are “absolutely cases where people need to be divorced. And, then there are people who just don’t know they don’t need to be divorced.”
Providing “parameters” for both parties, postnuptial agreements offer a husband and wife a level playing field. Not surprisingly, a majority of the differences couples cite when meeting with Weisman are financial, she said. “They argue over who’s going to pay which bill; it becomes a power play.” A solution could be as simple as adding both names to the title of their house, she said. Or, the agreement could outline each person’s financial responsibilities, such as the husband pays the mortgage and the wife pays certain bills related to the marital residence and then both parties contribute an additional amount into a joint bank account.
“Whatever terms a couple wants to agree to that will offer both parties an equal sense of power,” Weisman said. “When someone is in a position of weakness, that’s not a fair fight.”
Weisman Law Group P.C. was founded in 2001 and currently comprises four family law attorneys who focus on matrimonial and commercial litigation, estate and social security disability law. Special attention is given to assisting victims of domestic violence.
How to keep jurors interested
by Kristen D'Andrea
Libn.com, June 6, 2012 — Litigator Lidia Szczepanowski was faced with one of the most baffling situations of her career.
And it wasn’t about a point of law, an unreliable client, a spooked witness or an angry judge.
It was much worse: keeping jurors involved who were struggling to keep their eyes open while she was going on and on about plastic bags and fertilizer.
Szczepanowski was representing a client who was hired to redesign fertilizer bags. After receiving approval on prototypes from the defendant, her client ordered the metal plates needed to manufacture and print on the new plastic bags, at a cost of nearly $200,000, only to learn the defendant wanted an aesthetic and costly change. At trial, one of the defendant’s claims was the bags were too small.
Somewhere in the middle of excruciating details and mind-numbing testimony about the intricate manufacturing processes for plastic fertilizer bags, Szczepanowski had an O.J. moment.
“I laid plastic down on the ground, put on rubber gloves and physically poured fertilizer into a sample bag they had used and sealed it,” she said “Dust was flying everywhere and suddenly these jurors who had been falling asleep were leaning forward in their seats to see what was going on.”
While the demonstration didn’t prove the product fit into the actual bags, the jurors could reasonably conclude it was possible, contradicting the defendant’s claim.
“Quite frankly, it wasn’t conclusive but it was entertaining, demonstrative and almost interactive,” Szczepanowski said, noting her client prevailed. “It made it real.”
Turning drab evidence into a compelling narrative is an integral aspect of an attorney's responsibilities. And a lifeless presentation can be the death knell for a favorable decision.
It can happen in any court, to any counselor no matter what he/she bills. Last month at the perjury trial in federal court of former Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens, the judge dismissed a juror who was sleeping in the juror's box. Startling, yes, until you realize she was the second juror ordered off the jury for snoozing in court.
Experts agree making evidence and testimony understandable to a jury and judge is essential to any successful litigation.
Respect, keep it short, no legalese
However, is there a fine line between utilizing a dramatic, entertaining story-telling technique and being too over-the-top theatrical and, in turn, losing credibility?
No way, according to Rachael Weisman of Weisman Law Firm in Uniondale, Cedarhurst and Manhattan. Attorneys don't need to worry about being too animated as long as what they're saying is justified, she said.
"It's very theatrical in front of a jury … it has to be," she said. "But if you know your case, the facts, the law, I don't think a judge will fault you as long as your facts are correct."
Equally important, Weisman said, is the way evidence is presented or a witness is questioned. "If you're belittling or obnoxious, a judge will generally stop you," she said. Szczepanowski agreed, noting the importance of being respectful, likeable and not at all condescending.
Similarly, when dealing with jurors, Weisman said she's aware never to ask them if they understand. "That's insulting and demeaning," she said. Rather, she'll ask, "Did I express myself correctly? Should I rephrase?"
Additionally, Weisman said she speaks in short sentences when speaking before a jury and never uses legal terms. Szczepanowski said she presents evidence to a jury in a way "a child could probably understand it."
When to turn up the heat
Preparing a client for a trial, Weisman will recommend certain buzz words they may use to get the jury's attention and "spice it up."
"Not every case is exciting," she said, admitting she's started arguments with a judge just for the sake of having an argument in an effort to create a little drama and grab the jury's attention.
Szczepanowski stressed the importance of being engaging in front of a jury. She likened jurors to a theater audience watching a one-man show. "If [the performer] doesn't engage you, you're not going to pay attention."
Getting to the heart of the matter
Still, providing compelling testimony and personalizing a client's story is not limited to a lawyer's delivery in a courtroom.
Barrie E. Bazarsky of Birzon, Strang & Associates in Smithtown, recalled a recent arbitration in which her client, an elderly widower, had sustained personal injuries, but not so severe that he needed surgery or was missing any limbs.
But Bazarsky had learned that prior to his accident, he had enjoyed ballroom dancing on an amateur level. She put him on the stand and during his testimony he described the magnitude dancing had in his life.
"He was a regular guy who explained this was the thing that gave his life purpose – that made him get up in the morning," Bazarsky said. "It was compelling because it was honest and truthful."
The arbitrator in the case compensated her client "appropriately," she said. Had Bazarsky's client not spoken, his injury would not have been as compelling. "On its face, [his injury] was not enough to make people recoil," she said.
As a lawyer, it's important to get clients to speak from their heart, Bazarsky said. Even if the court doesn't rule in their favor, "people need to be heard and tell their story," she said.
"That's where the paperwork just doesn't do it justice."
Weisman Law Group Expands with Another Office Located in Uniondale
Uniondale, N.Y., May 15, 2012 — On June 1, Weisman Law Group P.C. will be expanding to accommodate clients located near and around Uniondale, N.Y. Located at 626 Rex Corp Plaza, 6th Floor, the centrally-located office will be the third location for the firm, currently meeting with clients in Cedarhurst and Manhattan.
Opening the Uniondale satellite office will enable the firm to assist a greater number of clients across Long Island, according to founding member Rachel J. Weisman. “As we service more clients, it’s a natural progression to need more space,” she said. “However, as we grow, our focus remains on providing our clients with top-quality representation. We continue to take a hands-on approach to our clients’ needs, providing each with 100% of our attention.”
The Uniondale office will initially be open one day a week and by appointment only.
“In addition to our clients from Nassau County, we serve a lot of people from Suffolk County,” Weisman said. “We are very excited to be more easily accessible for a greater number of individuals in a new location, situated in a beautiful, full-service building.”
Weisman Law Group P.C. was founded in 2001 and currently comprises four family law attorneys who focus on matrimonial and commercial litigation, probate and social security, and disability law.