Worse than drug dealers?

Colin McCarthy
Colin McCarthy | 5 min. read

Published on May 4, 2011

What do you call 50,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? “A good start.” No doubt many of you have heard this joke or a variant. Well I am a lawyer and I am here to tell you that I am also a human being. I have a wife. I have three children. I have the same hopes and dreams for them and myself as you do for you and your family. These jokes are insensitive, unkind, and hurtful. What do you have when a lawyer is buried up to his neck in sand? “Not enough sand.” Hey! Now wait a minute.

No one seems to like lawyers. Especially those who have done well for themselves. Entrepreneurs and business persons, who frequently excel in the world of business often lament the presence of lawyers. “Lawyers only take my hard-earned money,” is a common refrain. “Lawyers add no value, all they do is slow me down,” is another. Why does California have the most lawyers and New Jersey have the most toxic waste dumps? “New Jersey got to pick first.” Why I never.

It is also true that not a lot of people like landlords and real estate developers. Ever hear the one about the tour group in Egypt? The tour guide is describing a crypt within a pyramid. “This crypt is over a 1000 years old. It has not been touched, altered or upgraded in any manner in those 1000 years,” he said. To which a member of the tour replied, “He must have the same landlord as me.” Now to show you how fair I am – being a lawyer and all – I agree that joke was bad, and indeed, offensive. It is well-known that the Egyptian pyramids are way older than a 1000 years. Any amateur historian will be well offended by the lame setup in that joke.

All right, it’s true. There usually aren’t laws which require landlords to upgrade their properties with the latest and greatest technologies. Working electricity, running water, and a structure with minimal integrity are probably universally required, but you as a landlord are not required to supply your tenants with say, Roku. So the joke really does have a bad premise. I only bring it up because, like lawyers, landlords and developers get a bad rap from “the media” and popular culture.

Don’t believe me as that applies to landlords and developers? Like any good lawyer, I’ll cite to an authority. HBO’s “The Wire,” is widely lauded – rightly I might add – as one of the greatest television shows ever to air on the small screen. The reasons for that are many but probably the main reason is that it takes on the extremely challenging issue of the drug trade and its wide-ranging effects from just about every facet involved: the cops, the judges, the lawyers, the drug dealers, the addicts, the politicians, the public schools, and even “the media.” As a result, it’s very well rounded and, like life, not straightforward in its conclusions. Even a show as nuanced and intelligent as this has it in for real estate developers. In season three, two of the police officers are discussing one of their recent drug dealer suspects. The drug dealer is trying to make it in the real world. He’s trying to break free of the drug trade and become “legit.” They don’t buy it. He’s got a printer shop as a front for the drug dealing and they’ve concluded he has removed himself from the drug trade and will be difficult to arrest. “Is he still dealing drugs?” one asks. “Worse,” the other replies. “He’s a real estate developer.”

All right. So what does all of this have to do with us? I guess I just want us to get off on the right foot. You may have pre-conceived notions about me – just because I am a lawyer. How do you know it’s really cold outside? The lawyer has his hands in his own pockets! I may have pre-conceived notions about you – because you are landlords and developers. Why do they bury landlords 600 feet underground when they die? Because deep down, they really are nice. In actual fact, we can get along. We have a common interest and vantage point as scorned members of the business world.

Indeed, I would argue – as I am wont to do – that most people with a few assets, a few different contracts, a company or two and multiple insurance policies should take legal advice now and then. There is an old saying that sometimes it is not a good idea to be pennywise because you will wind up pound-foolish. I have found that to be true in a lot of cases. If you do not do the right legal work up front, you may get involved in expensive and time-consuming litigation later. (Which is great for me. I’m a litigator).

So this blog will focus on legal issues applicable to landlords and developers. I will not be giving legal advice here – I can’t do that absent a signed contract – but I will be highlighting issues of interest for you to think about and to talk to your own lawyer about. Hopefully, it won’t be boring, and you’ll have a chance to think about some things and maybe learn something. Next week, we’ll start with everybody’s favor subject: premises liability lawsuits!

This blog submission is only for purposes of disseminating information.  It does not constitute legal advice.  The statements in this blog submissions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Robinson & Wood, Inc. or its clients.  No attorney-client relationship is formed by virtue of reading this blog entry or submitting a comment thereto.  If you need legal advice, please hire licensed attorney in your state.

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Colin McCarthy

Colin G. McCarthy is a partner in the business litigation, products liability, and insurance practice groups at Robinson & Wood in San Jose, California.

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