As a partner at Abrams, Fensterman law firm in New York City, Frank Carone represents ultra-wealthy clients in cases that span both civil and criminal law. A former U.S. Marine, the native of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been practicing law since 1994 and is a member of the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission. In the following interview, Carone talks about his approach to complex litigation and what it takes to resolve conflicts in a way that allows clients to walk away winners.

Prince: Can you please describe Abrams, Fensterman?
Carone: Abrams, Fensterman was established in 2000. It’s a full-service law firm with more than 50 attorneys. Nearly all our work is conducted within New York City and Long Island.

Prince: What are your roles at the firm?
Carone: To begin with, I run the Brooklyn offices. My main roles at the firm are bringing the diverse expertise of the firm’s verticals to our clients and working with our clients on complex negotiations and litigations.

In working with clients, lawyers tend to be somewhat myopic. They often provide their individual expertise and fail to address many of the issues clients have. The way my partners and I think about it is that we need to solve our client’s legal and related problems. This means each attorney has to think outside his or her specialty and make sure we’re really delivering complete solutions to our clients.

Prince: Can you give us an example?
Carone: In order to deliver solutions, there are times lawyers need to be able to go outside their own firms. Say the client is a very rich real estate developer who’s not a U.S. citizen. This real estate developer also has extensive holdings throughout the world.

While our trusts and estates department can handle any wealthy family subject to U.S. taxes and laws, we don’t have the expertise in-house to deal with foreign nationals with multiple citizenships. So, we team up with a law firm that does. At the same time, we also identify a life insurance specialist that can provide insurance for foreign nationals.

It’s my responsibility to make sure we’re helping our clients get what they want and need. It’s about finding the answers in-house, and when that’s not enough, it’s about sourcing the expertise wherever it is. Key to all this is making sure the solutions we provide are cost effective.

Prince: What are your other roles at Abrams, Fensterman?
Carone: My specialty is complex negotiations and litigations. I work with a variety of clients in criminal, civil and governmental disputes.

Prince: Who are your clients?
Carone: It’s everything—governmental agencies, corporations of every size, family offices and high-net-worth individuals. When it comes to the wealthy in New York City, for example, we have every category of rich person. There are the data barons, the real estate empire builders, the hedge fund superstars, world changing philanthropists, every stripe of celebrity; the list goes on and on.

One area where my firm and I do a lot of work in is the health-care field. There’s no question that health care is being transformed. Hospitals and larger medical groups, for example, are buying up practices. Physicians and technology entrepreneurs are developing hardware and software that will change the way you and I get medical care as well as improve the quality of the medical care we receive. In addition, health-care compliance must be at the forefront of any medical professional as a precedent to moving forward, much like other industries such as banking, where regulatory compliance or the lack thereof can be a business killer. Increasingly, physicians are evaluating the possibility of converting to, in whole or in part, concierge medical practices. Some people are going to become very, very rich along the way. At the same time, there are going to be lots of conflicts that will need to be resolved, and that’s where my firm and I come in.

Whenever industries are being transformed, as is the case with many industries today, there are opportunities to create tremendous corporate and personal wealth. But it’s universal that those opportunities will lead to conflicts that often lead to court. When legal battles occur, I’m the advocate; I’m the strategist for my clients.

Prince: What is your approach to being an advocate for your clients?
Carone: Results are what matters. I don’t get paid for effort. The success of my practice is based on my ability to make sure my clients come away from their legal conflicts as winners. This starts with making sure everyone understands that litigation is the last resort, and only if it serves our objective, while negotiating settlements is the preferred approach.

It doesn’t matter if I’m dealing with criminal or civil matters, with governmental agencies, corporations or high-net-worth individuals. By understanding what constitutes success for my clients, and staying focused on that, I’m able to develop and execute strategies that will likely let them get there. While the law brackets everything I do, by being smart and creative when it comes to negotiating, if at all possible, I can make sure my clients win.

I have no problem with the other side also being successful. Actually, if everyone can walk away winning, all the better. But, I’m hired to look after my client’s interests and that’s just what I do. I find that when I can connect dots that other people don’t see in ways that move the negotiations along, I’m able to get the results my clients are seeking. Connecting those dots is what I’ve proven to be very good at.

Prince: What makes your negotiations and litigation so complex?
Carone: I can deal with all sorts of civil and criminal matters. It’s just that I’m usually engaged when the situation is far from straightforward. You must be able to filter out minutiae or background noise and always focus on the issue you are interested in—even when issues are multifaceted. When working for the very wealthy, there are often a number of interrelated issues that need to be addressed at the same time.

Just consider a billion-dollar family office where the chief investment officer is suing over compensation. The situation is complicated by intense intergenerational rivalries and questions about outside professionals on the payroll. Let’s add in a lack of any formal governance structure at the family office and an operating business plagued by infighting in the family-controlled boardroom. Working for the family to negotiate a preferential settlement and not go to court with the chief investment officer requires an understanding of how these other factors played into the compensation decisions and arrangements. Because this family has all these diverse pieces of their financial lives interconnected, this is a very complex negotiation.

Complexity is often part and parcel of dealing with the very wealthy. The more people involved, the more complicated the negotiations can become. Given my choice, and this is a broad generalization, I like working with anyone who is business savvy, such as real estate developers and hedge fund managers. They can look at the situation, know what’s going on and can make thoughtful decisions.

Prince: How do you source new clients?
Carone: I work with institutions as well as individuals, and they all tend to be introduced to me from other professionals or from previous clients.

Prince: Which is the better source of new clients—other professionals or client referrals?
Carone: Hands down, I get most of my new business from other professionals. There are times when a client might refer someone to me, but having to explain how and why they know me can be a handicap to them making referrals.

Other professionals, especially other attorneys, are the way I get most of my new business. My specialty is actually not common. The way I conduct my practice is not common. This makes me an attractive solution to other attorneys whose clients face complicated negotiations and litigation.

Besides attorneys, there are other types of professionals that have referred business. I mentioned the firm’s niche in the health-care field. There are all sorts of financial professionals and consultants who understand what I do and run into appropriate clients for my services. Another example is accountants. They find the problems and I get called in to help fix them.

More and more you’re going to see the need to fix problems at family offices. This is because of the growth in the number of family offices and because so many of them are not being structured very well. Many of them are not being set up to be very flexible and that can lead to problems down the line. Dealing with family offices and having specialized resources in the field opens up the door to my firm and me when things go wrong.

Prince: What are you doing to let professionals know about what you do?
Carone: I believe in taking an educational approach. What I mean is that I share my philosophy, insights and the latest trends on how to negotiate and litigate complex cases with other professionals, including my competitors. I put a lot of time, effort and resources into making sure I stay creative and innovative, which is why I don’t mind sharing with my competitors.

I’m committed to being at the cutting edge when it comes to negotiating and litigation. It’s often important to have a deep understanding of client situations, whether it’s health care or real estate or family offices. Having said this, I still have to let other people know what I know and what I can do.

The most common way I share what I know is one-on-one and in small groups like breakfast meetings. What’s important is that I realize how my services dovetail with the services provided by other professionals. I understand how these other professionals make a living, and I’m sometimes able to get them more business as I deal with the problems they brought me in to deal with.

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