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Hello there blog readers!  This is Dave Kalabanka, Mike Bersani’s partner. I’ve hijacked his blog for today to interview him about an important award he just got: Mike has been selected as the “Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year” for the Syracuse metropolitan area. A publication called “Best Lawyers in America” bestows this honor on the lawyer with the highest overall positive peer-feedback (judges and other lawyers rate him higher than any other lawyer) for a specific practice area and geographic region. Yes, Mike was the highest ranking attorney in the field of representing injured folks in personal injury litigation for the entire Syracuse Metropolitan area.  Given this tremendous honor, I decided to take some time from Mike’s busy schedule to interview him about it:

DAVE:  Mike, first, congratulations! That’s quite an honor, and well deserved.  Did you know this was coming?

MIKE:  Thanks Dave, and no, it caught me by surprise.  There are many outstanding personal injury lawyers in the Syracuse area, including right here at Michaels & Smolak.  I had no idea I would be selected.

It just occurred to me that after so many years of blogging, I’ve never blogged about how I ended up becoming a Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer.  That’s actually a pretty interesting question because you can ask a thousand ten-year olds what they want to be when they grown up and I can pretty much guarantee you none of them will say, “a personal injury lawyer”.  They might say “lawyer”, but I doubt any of them aspire to be the guy on the big billboard under the word “INJURED?”

Here’s my story.  Just for fun, I’m going to embed a lie in it.  At the end I’ll tell you what the lie was.  Play along and try to guess what the lie is before you get to the end.

When I finished college, I was undecided on a career, but I knew I wanted to see the world.  So I went back home to Syracuse, New York, where I worked in a textile cleaning company (Coyne Laundry) for a year to save up some money for long trip.

I’ve been settling my New York personal injury cases here in the Syracuse area for what some of my colleagues see as larger than normal numbers.  It seems I don’t have to try as many cases these days because the insurance carriers want to pay me to go away before we get to trial.  My “secret weapon”?  The “Rules of the Road” technique to case preparation.

Here’s a litmus test for picking a New York personal injury lawyer:  Ask your would-be lawyer whether he or she uses the “Rules of the Road” technique from the start of litigation through trial.  If he or she looks bewildered, run away.  The best personal injury attorneys in New York and all throughout these United States use it from day one in their case preparation.

The method was devised, or at least perfected, by the team of Rick Friedman and Patrick Malone.  You can get their book here. (I am not affiliated with them and do not get commissions from sales of the book).

The old me

The coronavirus me

This Central New York and Syracuse area personal injury lawyer hasn’t set foot in his office in three weeks.  (He also hasn’t shaven in three weeks, but that’s another story).  Have I been on vacation?  No.  Have I been laid off because of the coronavirus?  No. (Since I’m self-employed I would have to fire myself!)

Like almost everyone else on Planet Earth, this Syracuse NY injury lawyer has been holed up at home, hunkering down against the pandemic.  My home is in Geneva, NY, which is a pretty nice place to be locked down.  People here are looking out for each other.  I’ve joined a group of corona virus fighters at a local church preparing cheap and even free meals for folks on the weekend.  Can you guess which one in the above photos is me?

My “real” job, though, is not on standstill.  In fact, my laptop keyboard is getting quite a workout:  I have been conducting online research, shooting out emails to adjusters and defense lawyers, preparing legal briefs, etc.  My cell phone has also been working overtime:  Insurance adjusters are still working (from home) so I have been trying to settle cases with them. I have also been catching up with clients on the status of their medical treatment.

The court system, however, is frozen solid, at least in the civil arena.  All motions, court filings, trials, etc. are suspended.  My calendar is just about empty.  And that does give me some extra time for reading and writing.

If you are like us, about 90% of your conscious life these days can be summed up in one word: coronavirus.  President Trump has declared a national emergency.  New York State is just about in total lock-down. Our office, just like all other offices, has been ordered physical “closed” by Governor Cuomo.  No staff is there.  Our doors are locked.  But we are not resting idle!  Read on!

Call us!

We are not at the office, but we are answering the phone!  Call us and one of our staff will pick up and put you through to your lawyer!  While our office is closed, we will be happy to “meet” with you by phone, Skype, or FaceTime, at your convenience.

If you are like me, about 50% of your conscious life these days can be summed up in one word: corona-virus.  President Trump declared a national emergency yesterday.  We are urged to engage in “social distancing”, to avoid crowds, wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, and to refrain from touching our face.

What is Michaels & Smolak doing to keep its staff, clients and others safe?  Here’s our current policy, which is still evolving to meet new developments:

Staying informed

Our senior lawyer, Lee Michaels, has been teaching trial practice at the Syracuse College of Law for decades.  Many of Lee’s former students keep in touch with him well into their law careers.  Lee continues to mentor many long after they have graduated.  Recently, Lee got a letter from a student, Steve Kim, who took his class nine years ago.  Here it is, abridged somewhat.  We publish it with the Kim’s permission.  At Michaels & Smolak, we are all proud of our senior trial lawyer’s achievements not only in the courtroom but in the classroom!

Dear Lee,

I was a student in your trial practice class nine-years ago.  I write to you to thank you for teaching the single most impactful class of my entire career. Although I lost most of my law school notes, books, and outlines– I held on closely to my trial practice binder and always made sure I knew where it was.

I sue for a living. I say that with pride.  I help injured folks get compensation from wrongdoers.  But when the wrongdoer is the Government, it gets tricky. And when I say “the government”, I mean not just “THE” Government, but all the cities, towns, counties, school districts legally deemed subdivisions of the State of New York. On the road to victory against such defendants lies a minefield of bombs.

The procedural requirements for suing the government are rigorous.  On the way to the finish line, government lawyers will be watching for your mistakes.  But not just watching.  Slung across their wool suit jackets, they carry a quiver packed with sharp arrows, legal defenses that are available only to government entities.

Why is suing the government so hard?  Because the legislature has deliberately set up an obstacle course between the injured victim and government money.

We are proud to announce that once again all four lawyers in the Michaels & Smolak team have been selected by other New York lawyers and New York judges for inclusion in “Best Lawyers in America”. The 2020 edition of the publication names all four partners, Lee Michaels, Jan Smolak, Mike Bersani, and Dave Kalabanka “Best Lawyers” in the Syracuse metropolitan area for representing injured plaintiffs in three categories:  Personal injury, professional malpractice and products liability. Senior partner Lee Michaels has been named in the publication for decades, and the other partners have been included since 2012.  All four lawyers have argued and tried personal injury and malpractice cases in courts all over Upstate New York, and each of them have settled or received multi-million dollar verdicts. Lee Michaels, the firm’s senior partner, says, “I am very honored that the law firm my father started decades ago is considered one of the best of the best in Upstate New York for personal injury practice.”  Dave Kalabanka, another M&S partner, responded to the news, saying, “folks who are injured through the fault of others often come to us in desperate economic circumstances, hoping we can save them from ruin. And more often than not, we do save them.  Getting justice for our clients is its own best reward.  But this continued recognition from our peers is great to have.”  M&S partner Jan Smolak noted that “being top-ranked in a publication like Best Lawyers is not only good for us, it’s good for our clients.  Our reputation breeds more success for our clients because the lawyers and insurance adjusters we are up against can see that we are tough and successful, and they are thus more likely to want to settle with us for larger amounts so as to avoid trial”. The American Lawyer magazine describes the Best Lawyers publication as “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”  All four lawyers at Michaels & Smolak are also named in “Super Lawyers”, another prestigious directory of top lawyers.

Mike Bersani

Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com

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