• Attorney Adrian Baron

My first law office was located in Hartford Connecticut's historic Munsil-Borden Mansion. Built in 1893, the stately home was a bygone reminder to Hartford's gilded past. The home was once owned by a heiress to the Borden milk fortune. The home featured a dumb waiter, a billard room and a beautiful handcarved staircase that was silhouetted by stained glass windows. The windows contained images of the previous Victorian owners forever entombed in stained glass. Their ghostly visages stared down intently at anyone who dared to traverse the halls. The building was actually a popular jaunt for ghost hunters. I couldn't blame their interest. The milk heiress was a distant relative of suspected infamous axe murderer Lizzie Borden. When the moon shone through the stain glass windows, I could feel the previous owner watching me as I prepared legal briefs and made copies. The house was full of creaks and hisses. Naturally, I made an effort to get out of there at sundown. No one was going to get me with 40 whacks with an axe. At the time, I only had my law degree for a few months. I still had the will to live. After 15 years of practice, I might welcome a visit from Lizzie. But I digress.


Of course, the Munsil-Borden mansion was not the only place of interest for ghost hunters. One of Connecticut's most unique courthouses can be found in Derby, Connecticut. Located on Elizabeth Street, Derby Superior Court is directly adjacent to the elegant Sterling Opera House. Visitors to the court can stop for a bite in one of the area restaurants or take a stroll at the nice little park across the street. But don't be fooled by the nice landscaping, the quaint park benches and the friendly court staff. Locals warn that the courthouse is attached to a haunted opera.


Opened in 1889, the 1200 seat Sterling Opera house was once the premiere entertainment venue in the lower Naugatuck Valley. It has hosted the likes of comedian Red Skelton, academy award winning actor Lionel Barrymore (great uncle of Drew Barrymore), escape artist Harry Houdini, tuba aficionado John Phillip Sousa and boxer John Sullivan. It is said that D.W. Griffith premiered his controversial film "Birth of A Nation" here. Even Amelia Earnhart once graced the Opera House halls when she spoke to a local women's group. The Sterling Opera House was the gem of Derby. Unfortunately, the gem lost it's luster and the Opera House closed it's doors in 1945. For the next 20 years, it served as a police substation until finally shuttering it's doors in the 1960s. The property would remain neglected and abandoned until the good people of Derby decided to bring it back. In addition to ongoing renovations at the opera house, the adjacent courthouse recently got an upgrade.


The author with paranormal investigator Bill Murray


Paranormal investigators claim the Opera House is haunted. Local residents have shared stories of seeing spirit like mists and orbs. They have seen a Victorian woman with a child and have heard the voices of children. They have reported hand prints of a child in several locations. Many believe it to be the spirit of a young boy named Andy. Visitors have even left toys around the opera house for him to play with. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it was enough for the television program Ghost Hunters to investigate. The space was featured in an episode of the popular show. Yet, the question remains. Have the spirits traveled into the adjacent court house? Is the Derby Court House haunted as well? Could the spirit of Houdini help your client escape jail time?

The author with paranormal investigator Dan Akroyd


Ghost hunting aside, if you would like to contribute to the restoration of this once grand structure, I encourage you to visit www.saveoursterling.org


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(From the Archives of the NL Lawyer)


The world has become an exceedingly smaller place. Not surprisingly, proficiency in a foreign language can be quite a desirable and marketable skill. It has even been said that a person who speaks two languages is worth two people. For a job seeker, it can be an edge over other applicants. For an attorney, it can open a whole new market of potential clients. One should not underestimate the draw of having an attorney who can converse in a client's native tongue. There is a certain level of comfort in being able to communicate in your own language. This is especially true when it comes to legal matters where discretion is desired. So unless one of those languages is Klingon, why on earth would you choose to leave such a beneficial skill off your resume?



I offer myself as an example. As the son of immigrants, I grew up speaking both Polish and English. I considered my fluency in Polish a somewhat useless skill that only served a purpose at family functions. In my mind, juggling would have been a better skill to possess. I never imagined the language would become a staple of my daily law practice. I soon learned it would come in quite handy in my professional life. Like most young lawyers, many of my first clients were made up primarily of friends and family. Although they spoke perfect English, some preferred speaking to me in their native language. I obliged. Word soon started getting out that a local attorney was able to give consultations in Polish. I had stumbled into a niche.


While the Nutmeg State had an estimated 300,000 Polish residents, only a handful of area attorneys actually spoke the language. I was surprised to learn that the community was severely under-represented. You could count the Polish speaking attorneys on one hand. We had nothing to lose. As an experiment, our firm elders decided to open a little branch office in New Britain, a small Connecticut city with a large Polish population. And guess who they sent to staff the office. I'll give you a hint. He's my height.



The Outpost

Not unlike Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves, the firm sent me to our new frontier outpost. At the time, our main office was located the historic Victorian Munsill-Borden mansion. My corner window office had views of the capitol dome. The "outpost" was a former cell phone shop. It had one large room with a desk and was located between the Polish church and a popular meat market. A large cement pole abutted my desk and blocked my view of the client sitting across my desk. An air conditioner over the main entrance dripped water on those who entered. I was only supposed to be there once a week. Little did I know that I would never return to the bright lights of Hartford. Within a few weeks, the ramshackle office had clients lining the sidewalk outside. They were desperately seeking legal help with divorces, personal injury matters, criminal defense, and real estate closings. We had stumbled into our niche. Soon other attorneys sought out our services when dealing with Polish clients. I was asked to prepare contracts for one of Europe's largest furniture distributors and to prepare immigration papers for Polish recording artists performing in the United States.


Within a few months, our firm had outgrown our modest branch office. We began seeing the potential in New Britain. The city had a minor league baseball team, several museums, restaurants and the downtown had signs of a revitalization. We decided to invest in a building in the Polish district that was minutes from the courthouse. We hired Polish speaking staff and added Polish magazines to our waiting room. We set up a Polish version of our website mojpolskiadwokat.com and I joined several Polish organizations. Word of mouth quickly spread. Move over Bobby Vinton, there was a new Polish prince in town.



Smelling the blood in the water, competing firms began dipping their toes in our pool. I began noticing an influx of ads in the local Polish language papers. I was no longer the only game in town. Other firms suddenly had Polish speaking secretaries and "paralegals". A second law firm popped up on our street. One firm went as far as to throw a suit on a guy and appointed him their "Director of Business and Marketingu." (That is not a typo. The word they used was "marketingu.") They even prepared a spot on Polish television with their lawyers confidently walking down the street shoulder to shoulder to the techno version of the Mission Impossible theme.


But enough about that. If you are considering incorporating another language into your practice, here are a few things to consider:


It's Not Only Spanish.


Did you grow up speaking Portugese, Italian or the Holy Grail of Spanish? Do you use your skill in your professional life? Some people think that Spanish is the only other language that is useful in law practice. While a knowledge of Spanish is great, you should not discount any other languages you may happen to speak. Take a closer look at your surroundings. Depending where you practice, you may be surprised to learn that there is a community out there who would find your services desirable. Take the Bayou state. Many wouldn't think of Louisiana as a place where your knowledge of Vietnamese would come in handy. Did you know that the Vietnamese community makes up 44% of Asians living in the state. Do you do estate work? I am sure you can find a group of Italian grandmothers who would love to use your services. Do you speak Portuguese? Maybe you haven't noticed the influx of immigrants from Brazil. Practice in Brooklyn? Call grandma and thank her for teaching you Russian. Think of it this way. Imagine getting into a little legal trouble in a foreign land. You are given the choice of two comparable lawyers. One speaks English. Who do you pick?


Advertising:

If you plan to market yourself to a particular group, consider where you advertise. In a tight knit community, the local foreign language paper is often an important resource for information. I have found that a small ad in such a paper will cost you significantly less and will be far more effective than even a full page ad in the yellow pages. We took it a step further. I began writing a legal advice column for the paper.


Proficiency.


Obviously your proficiency in a language will have an impact on your effectiveness. Your two years of highschool Spanish might not be enough. Giving legal advice in another language often requires the added knowledge of legal terms. For example, calling it a "restraining ordero" won't cut it. of course, fluency in the language will put you at a tremendous advantage in a variety of situations. In my own practice, there have been numerous occasions where I have had cause to correct a translator. A mistranslation can have a negative impact on your case. I recall one deposition where an interpreter's poor translation would have led to a dismissal of our case. Had I not been able to speak the language, I would have never caught the mistake.


Of course, if you plan to give legal advice in another language, you must make sure you are accurate and the client understands what you are trying to say. I learned this the hard way. In my defense, Polish can be a rather difficult language to master. In one troubling incident I wanted to tell a divorce client that she had "endured much" throughout her ordeal. Unfortunately, I mispronounced the word "endure" and wound up telling her that she "really got fat." In a more recent language fumble, I mispronounced a client's name. I introduced him to my law partner as "Mr. Prostitute." Again, Polish can be a rather difficult language to master.


Get Involved in the Community


The Polish community was good to me. I wanted to give something back. I helped form a local business association and petitioned the city to designate a historically Polish city neighborhood as "Little Poland" Our neighborhood association worked with local business owners to fight blight and to promote local businesses. Using my background in criminal law, I helped local business owners follow up in court when they were the victims of crime. I attended city council meetings advocating on behalf of local Polish businesses at permit hearings. I sent press releases to newspapers and magazines in the region. We created a Little Poland Festival that attracted 35 thousand people to the city. We received write ups in the New York Times, the Boston Globe and even the Harvard Alumni Magazine. Our efforts were noticed by local politicians earning us visits to the White House. In 2019, our organization was honored by the president of Poland for our efforts. I was humbled to receive the flag of Poland for our efforts. It was also because my parents and my grandmother took the time to teach me Polish. Thank you Babcia.


Be Wary of Cross Cultural Misunderstandings:

Of course, practicing in another language cannot be limited to just knowing the language. Understanding cultural nuances can be as important as knowledge of the language itself. For example, in many European and Latin American countries, a notary is usually the equivalent of an attorney. In the United States, a notary basically witnesses signatures and administers oaths. Unlike foreign notaries, American notaries are not lawyers. Not surprisingly, unscrupulous individuals take the opportunity to play up the confusion. The end result is usually the illicit practice of law by a non-lawyer. Some cultures demand punctuality. Other clients may think its OK to come to their scheduled noon appointment at two. Your clients might even come from a country where it is not commonplace to even make appointments.


Here are a few additional tips to consider from the Nutmeg Lawyer and Cybrolink.com

Arabic: I have been told that in Arabic, you must say "yes" a few times to be taken seriously. One "yes" is not enough. Know that a good old fashioned American "thumbs up" to your client can be considered obscene. Also remember that the left hand is generally considered "unclean." I have also been instructed never to ask about a female member of a devout Muslim's family.


Japanese Clients: For your Japanese clients, avoid using large hand gestures, unusual facial expressions and any dramatic movements. The Japanese do not talk with their hands and to do so could distract your host. Business cards ( "meishi") are given and received with both hands. It is a good idea to print in your home language on one side and Japanese on the other. Present the card with the Japanese language side up. Understand that the Japanese prefer not to use the word no. If you ask a question they may simply respond with a yes but clearly mean no. Understanding this is critical in the negotiation process. Also, keep in mind the number 4 is bad luck, because in Japanese it sounds like the word ‘shuh-shuh’, which sounds like the word for death.


Brazilian Clients: Many areas of the country have seen an influx of Brazilian immigrants. A knowledge of Portuguese is definitely a plus. If you have Brazilian clients remember that three-piece suits carry an "executive" connotation, whereas two-piece suits are associated with office workers. The OK hand signal a rude gesture in Brazil. Make appointments at least two weeks in advance. Never start into business discussions before your host does. Subjects to avoid: Argentina, politics, poverty, religion, and the Rain Forest


New Yorkers: Avoid discussing your love of the Red Sox or New Jersey. Do not make eye contact. When stepping into traffic learn to yell "hey, I'm walkin here!"

I am now in the process of improving my Spanish with Rosetta Stone software. I hope to regain the proficiency I had in college. With luck, I will soon be fluent in both Polish and Spanish. (Kielbasa and Que Pasa, if you will..... stop rolling your eyes.) Feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject.

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Updated: Jan 15


One of my favorite vacation memories stems from a trip my wife and I took to Europe. We eventually found ourselves in the French Riviera. (This story is completely true with perhaps just a dab of Grey Poupon for added flavor.) Taking a public bus to Monaco for around four dollars, I had slapped on a sports coat despite the humidity of the day. My plan was to enter the Monte Carlo Casino made famous in James Bond films. Hell or high water, I was going to order a 007 styled martini. Shaken, not stirred of course. Arriving at the harbor in Monte Carlo, I walked by a guy in a Ferrari. He failed to notice I had come off a bus full of tourists and wrongfully assumed I had just come off one of the many multi-million dollar yachts moored in the harbor. "Nice car" I remarked. "Ah. Merci Monsieur. I can provide you a Ferrari for you and your lovely companion for the day. The cost is $1100 Euro (roughly $1300 dollars)" I winced. "Unfortunately, my yacht leaves in about two hours." I joked. "Do you often summer in Monaco? " He asked. “Yes”, I deadpanned. "My wife and I love it here. We have a villa in St. Tropez" My wife rolled her eyes. “Magnifique! I’m selling the Ferrari for one hundred thousand dollars. We have others as well. I can allow you to take one for a test drive. "Sounds great" I answered. "This one is nice." Eat your heart out Magnum.


Being able to drive an exotic car on the same hills as James Bond, was quite the experience. As a kid, I had a Ferrari poster on my wall next to Spuds McKenzie. The wheels hugged the winding mountain roads overlooking Monte Carlo. The same winding roads where Princess Grace lost her life. The Ferrari growled through the same tunnels the Formula One drivers use during the infamous Monte Carlo Grand Prix. I returned the Ferrari and took home a memory that would last my lifetime. "Let me think about it. I'll see how I do at the black jack table" It was pretty tough getting back on that bus. I immediately posted the photo of the day’s excitement to social media. I was Magnum P.I. and James Bond rolled into one.

I mention this because (1) I shamefully try to work in my Ferrari experience in almost every conversation and (2) the day often pops up as a “memory” on my Facebook newsfeed. Looking at my newborn son, I began thinking that one day he could conceivably go through my Facebook history to see what kind of life I lived. The low days. The fun days. What causes did I support? How did I react when my team won a championship? How did I interact with other people? Was I a good speller. I wondered what it would be like if my own father had such a digital journal of his life. He lived through communism. The shooting of the Kennedy brothers. The Vietnam War. What were his thoughts on those days? What was he thinking when he first stepped on American shores? What was he thinking on the day I was born? My son could easily find my reaction if he was ever curious. For the record, I was elated.



For social media users, we all leave an eternal digital footprint that is frozen for the ages. I can go back and see how I felt when I graduated lawschool. When I passed the bar. When I hung my shingle to practice. At times I posted immature things. I posted jokes that bombed. I posted long boring posts ranting about one injustice or another happening in the day's news. Highschool friends posted old unflattering photos that I wished remained in their photo albums and not plastered on the web.

A digital footprint could have far more reaching effects than potential embarrassment. The word around the watercooler is that agencies like the I.R.S. are using the internet to investigate tax evaders. Imagine claiming no income only to have them find a social media posted photo with you eating lobsters on your new yacht like the Wolf of Wall Street.

Or perhaps an insurance adjuster happens across a youtube or Tik Tok video of your supposedly injured client waterskiing to his heart's content. It can affect your criminal clients just as easily. Investigators often find probation violations on Facebook and other social networking sites. In Illinois, a college student charged in a DUI related crash had a judge reading the captions of her Facebook photos passed out drunk at a party. " 'Erika passed out in my bed. Ha Ha,' " the judge said, quoting one of the captions.


A New Jersey blogger faced charges of inciting violence against a few state law makers. At the time, Connecticut Public Broadcasting reported “The charges stem from a post earlier this month. Turner urged readers in Connecticut to "take up arms and put down this tyranny by force." And that the lawmakers should "obey the Constitution or die." He then threatened to release their home addresses. On the civil side of things, some law firms have gotten into the cyber libel game. In Connecticut, an East Hartford Swimming coach successfully sued a student’s mother over a malicious e-mail campaign in which the mother repeatedly referred to the coach as a pedophile. The mother will now have to cough up $88,000 dollars for her online rants. After making the cast of star-making SNL, comedian Shane Tillis was fired before even making it on the screen. The online discovery of videos where he used a racial slur coupled with a homophobic and racist podcast shot his career in the proverbial foot.. So be careful out there. It can cost you more than you think.


Which brings me to a can of worms that will surely upset some. Parler and its alleged connections to the attacks on Congress. As of this writing, 25 cases of domestic terrorism have been filed against the anarchists that raided the Capitol. Apple and Amazon dropped the platform because it was used to coordinate the attacks.


After posting photos of themselves at the Capitol all over social media, people that took part in the melee have been losing jobs and getting arrested. It was announced that a Associate General Counsel at Gooshead insurance name Paul Davis was fired. He had boasted on social media that he was tear gassed. The company issued a statement saying“While we support our employees’ right to vote and express themselves politically, we do not condone violent or illegal acts. This one former employee’s actions are not reflective of our company culture or values, and we are disappointed with his behavior,” Aaron Mostofsky, the 34-year-old son of Kings County Supreme Court Judge Shlomo Mostofsky,

was seen in several photos during the Capitol breach. He was hard to miss. He was wearing an odd fur outfit along with a bullet proof vest while carrying a wooden staff and a Capitol Police riot shield. Mostofsky faces felony theft of government property, knowingly entering or remaining in a restricting building without lawful authority and doing so with intent to impede government business, and disorderly conduct in the Capitol. Not to mention the embarrassment he caused his prominent father and his family.


In chats with other lawyers, many checked the online histories of potential job applicants. "Sure, I Google the person or check out their public Facebook profile" said one. "It's human nature. You don't want to hire some unhinged nut" One Hartford based hiring partner even expressed reservations about hiring any associate who had a Parler account. "I don't care who you support politically" he groused, "but people who seek out Parler seem to be a bit on the extreme side or like echo chambers. I want someone who thinks independently." To be fair, they said the same about prospective associate applicants who did dance videos on Tik Tok. I once worked for a law firm that withdrew a job offer after the partner ran into him at a bar on Halloween wearing a distasteful costume. Some would say that's not fair. Fair or not, law firms worry about liability and their reputations. Labeled "Mein Space" by the snarky, Parler does have a reputation of being a haven of QAnon conspiracy theorists, Proud Boys, Boogaloos, millitia aficionados, white supremacists, neo Nazis and your Uncle Leo that tells ethnic jokes at Thanksgiving. Still others are very fine people. But is it appropriate for employers to check your social history to get an idea of the type of person you are or to try to determine potential liability? For example, does this guy not believe in wearing masks and could that be a liability for my company? Personally, I am a strong supporter of the first amendment. You have the right to say and believe anything you want. If you want to believe QAnon theories that Tom Hanks and Oprah are in a cult eating children, it's a free country. But in the real world, a business not want some client stumbling across your public profile where you posted a video of yourself yelling at a store clerk for making you wear a mask.


But I digress. I’m basically speaking to the new law grads looking to get their foot in the door. What are you posting on social media? Are you demanding politicians be hung? Are you making racial or ethnic jokes or quoting QAnon conspiracies? Are there photos of you doing keg stands? Do you come across as angry or unprofessional? Are you constantly misspelling things or boasting about drinking too much the night before? Be careful of that digital footprint. Make sure it’s not too muddy if you want to get that job.


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