Q & A with Michael J. Tuchman

Michael J. Tuchman, a partner at Levenfeld Pearlstein, has been practicing 25 years. He is a partner in the corporate practice group and leads the taxation service group and the exchange service group, concentrating in corporate mergers and acquisitions, commercial real estate development and joint ventures and Federal income taxation.

What do you find the most interesting about your practice?

By far the most interesting aspect of my practice is the variety — both in terms of clients, who range from foreign government pension funds to local entrepreneurs, and with respect to legal work, which on any given day may involve matters as diverse as setting up a private equity fund, or advising on esoteric tax issues. However consumed in a matter or a particular kind of interpersonal dynamic I might be at a given moment, knowing that next week is likely to be completely different keeps my interest and motivation high.

What makes a good lawyer?

As I tell my younger colleagues, good lawyering in a transactional setting involves recognizing that most legal issues are actually business issues obscured by legal jargon. The lawyer’s responsibility is to peel away the jargon, allowing the client to see the business issues and help it make the appropriate business judgments. Much of the rest of a deal is drafting for clarity and tackling the logistics of closing in an organized way. Lawyers who cannot see that most legal issues are business issues in disguise, often complicate issues and compound problems. While interpreting and translating may seem a rather mundane way of describing what makes a good lawyer, I believe it is an important part of what allows a lawyer to become a client’s trusted advisor.

What is the biggest legal news right now, and what is its impact?

Last year’s economic shocks and the tremors since then have prompted most of us to review the value propositions in our business relationships. Lawyers have not often had to prove up and defend their value quotient at a relationship level. It is interesting to see how clients have made do with less lawyering. Part of it, of course, is a function of a slower economy and a diminished need for legal services, but increasingly it is because clients are doing a more rigorous cost-benefit analysis before they pick up the phone to assign a task or address a potential problem.

The impact on the profession is broad and deep, and goes well beyond finding the correct hourly rate. I know some lawyers think that things will return to “normal” once economic activity picks up, however, I do not believe this will be the case. Prosperity will require lawyers to apply themselves more selectively, that is, only where they add meaningful and perceptible value. If a lawyer can proactively engage a client on how to most efficiently use his skill set, the client is less likely to view the lawyer as merely a toll collector he would rather detour.


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