Meet This Month's LAWYER OF ATLANTIC COUNTY #LOAC
Modeled after the infamous HUMANS OF NEW YORK (#HONY) Site, the ACBA Young Lawyers Division started LAWYERS OF ATLANTIC COUNTY (#LOAC) to to get to know our members on a more personal level. Each month, the ACBA Young Lawyers Division Executive Board chooses a different attorney to be featured here as the Lawyer of Atlantic County. Attorneys are nominated by their peers; any attorney who is nominated but not chosen to be featured in a given month will automatically be put back into the running for each subsequent month until featured. Interview questions typically focus on the attorney's professional and life experiences.
Benjamin Podolnick, Esq.
Law Offices of Benjamin Podolnick, LLC, Linwood, NJ January 18, 2017
By: Inna Pokrovnichka, Esq., Co-Director of Mentoring Program and Director of Finance
On January 11, 2017, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Podolnick, Esquire about his life, legal career, and pro bono work. Ben is actively involved with the Atlantic County Bar Association as a member and a mentor to young attorneys. Ben also takes pride in his extensive pro bono work. He was the principal developer, along with South Jersey legal services, of the SJLS Guardianship Program for Children which provides free legal services to parents of disabled children who are attaining the age of 18. Ben is also working with the New Jersey Legislature to create legislation that provides Guardianship services for adults who do not fall within the purview of the Office of the Public Guardian or the Bureau or Guardianship Services. Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to share your professional and life experiences with the YLD and the followers of the LOAC.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
Contemplative family man with strong sense of humor and penchant for traveling, great company and a good dinner.
Are you originally from Atlantic County?
Yes, born in Atlantic City Hospital and raised in Margate.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
No, originally I wanted to be a history professor. My undergraduate degree is in history with concentrations in modern American History and British History. However, practical concerns led me down a different path.
After law school, what was your career path leading up to present day?
I first clerked for the Judge William C. Todd, III. After that, I was an associate at a small law firm in Linwood, Perillo and Rosenberger. After that firm dissolved, I worked at the Northfield office of the Tomar Law Firm, a Cherry Hill based firm. Subsequently, I worked at Brown and Bergman before striking out on my own for a ten-year period. I decided to get back in a law firm setting and had three great years at D’Arcy Johnson Day where I worked with some of the best lawyers in South Jersey. However, ultimately, I decided that I really missed being a sole practitioner and in February 2016, I struck back out on my own again and reestablished the Law Offices of Benjamin Podolnick, LLC.
What made you decide to open your own firm?
I thoroughly enjoy the independence that having my own firm affords. Being my own boss allows me to handle the types of cases that I choose to handle and work with those clients with whom I enjoy working. One of the other aspects of having my own firm is the challenge of handling the business aspects of running a law firm and the obstacles that I face in a very competitive legal market.
There are three key elements to practicing in a small firm:
getting the work, doing the work and getting paid for the work.
What advice would you give to young attorneys who would like to start a solo practice?
Return all calls promptly. Always be forthright with the Court, your adversaries and your clients. Be realistic in setting goals with your clients. There are three key elements to practicing in a small firm: getting the work, doing the work and getting paid for the work. A practice cannot be successful if one of those elements is weak. Finally, always keep in mind that this is still a relatively small legal community. Reputations are easy to establish but difficult to change. Therefore, always act professionally, practically and take the high road. That way you will not have to run your practice always looking over your shoulder.
I know that pro bono work is important to you. One of your biggest pro bono projects, on which I have seen you work tirelessly for months, is the new SJLS Guardianship Project for Children. Please share with our readers what is the SJLS Guardianship Project for Children and how you came up with the idea.
Much of my practice is dedicated to handling Guardianship matters in the Probate Part. I am in Court usually once or twice per week. As I am waiting for my cases to be called by Judge Sandson, I pay attention to the other cases that are being heard because I never know when I may pick up on something related to the interpretation of a law, a legal strategy, how Judge Sandson prefers to handle a particular issue and I just enjoy observing good advocacy.
On one particular Saturday afternoon while I was out with my family, I saw parents walking on the boardwalk with their young adult child who was obviously disabled. I then started wondering what the future for that child held and if his parents were the guardians. My thoughts then led me to consider why I do not see more parents in Court seeking guardianship of their children who are turning 18 years old. I answered my own question: many parents cannot afford to hire an attorney and pay the filing and qualification fees and pay the fees of the court appointed attorney which appointment is a part of the guardianship petition.
This made me conclude that these children and parents must be losing out on benefits to which they are entitled simply because they have turned 18 and no one has been appointed as his or her legal guardian. I also remembered instances which I have observed, both in my own practice and in Court, where parents had difficulty dealing with medical professionals because the child was 18 years old and due to HIPAA regulations, the parents could not access their child’s medical records and in many situations ran into obstacles at doctors’ offices authorizing and organizing care. I knew then that some sort of pro bono Guardianship Program For Children was needed.
I spoke to South Jersey Legal Services, and they loved the idea. I contacted Judge Sandson, Judge Mendez, Atlantic County Surrogate Jim Curcio and Cape May County Surrogate Susan Sheppard. Everyone was incredibly supportive and agreed that all filing fees and costs to qualify as guardian would be waived for the parents who qualify financially under the SJLS guidelines. But I could not have established this program without the unflinching willingness to help out by the attorneys who practice in this area. I never had to ask twice. Everyone I spoke to immediately agreed to accept assignments from SJLS and to also serve as the Court-Appointed Attorney on a pro bono basis.
I am pleased to say that we have more than 15 attorneys who have volunteered for this program. Of course, we will always accept more. The attorneys who accept the assignment from SJLS receive credit towards their pro bono obligation. On a final note, last October, I sponsored a seminar at Linwood Country Club for all of the Atlantic and Cape May County High School Child Study Teams. I, along with Judge Sandson, Surrogate Curcio, Surrogate Sheppard and Michelle Nuciglio from SJLS, all spoke about the program and how it can benefit low income families. I cannot thank enough Judge Sandson, Surrogate Curcio, Surrogate Sheppard and Michelle Nuciglio, along with my staff, for all their help and support in getting this program off the ground.
Something as small as a simple thank you note from a client can really change a bad day into a great day.
What do you like most about the practice of law?
When I know that a client appreciates the work I have accomplished and that work has had a positive influence on their lives. I have a file in the office where I keep all of the wonderful cards and thank you notes that I have received over the years from clients. Something as small as a simple thank you note from a client can really change a bad day into a great day.
What is the most challenging part of the practice of law?
When I run into an adversary who puts principal over practicality. This never leads to a resolution.
Never place principal over practicality. It never settles a dispute.
If you could give young attorneys one piece of advice, what would it be?
Similar to my answer above: never place principal over practicality. It never settles a dispute.
If you could do one thing differently on your path of life, if anything, what would it be and why?
I would have taken greater advantage of the wide range of courses offered at Syracuse University. I also wish I had experienced more of the cultural life and restaurant scene while I lived in London during college and Boston during law school. Unfortunately, the lack of free time and budget of a college and law student does not lend itself to these two hobbies.
Growing up you were the youngest of four children and now you and your wife have three children. How has your family influenced your career and how has your career influenced your family?
My family keeps me grounded and keenly aware of what really is important in life. Wanting to provide my family a stable and happy life drives me to work hard. Most of all, they all keep me laughing every day. Through my profession, I hope that I have instilled in my children a strong sense of ethics and morality along with a strong work ethic and charitable nature. I want them to know that despite the general public perception of lawyers, practicing law is an honorable profession that is based on maintaining a civil society and helping people, and that I am proud of what I have chosen as a career.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Reading the Sunday New York Times with a cup of coffee; going to Flyers games; I have a passion for travel and exploring new places and learning about the local history and culture; live theater and listening to any kind of music; playing around with my guitar; trying new restaurants; getting lost in a novel and getting destroyed at Crossfit. But most of all, spending time with my family and just laughing.
Last question: what is your dream job?
New York Times Magazine Travel Columnist.
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Lawyers of Atlantic County
was created in 2015 by the Atlantic County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division