Don’t sweat the small stuff. This is an incredibly demanding profession and it requires long hours, hard work, and multitasking. You will make mistakes along the way and it’s not worth it to get tied up in a knot about them. Learn from it, move on, and do better. I’ve made mistakes over the years, of course. Every one of them has turned out just fine. That’s the story!
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Zachary Perecman, Trial Attorney at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.
Zachary Perecman concentrates his legal practice in all aspects of plaintiff’s personal injury law, including construction accidents, premises liability, and motor vehicle accidents as well as civil rights violations, including false arrest, wrongful conviction, and police abuse cases. Zachary worked at The Perecman Firm throughout both college and law school, joining the firm as an attorney upon admission to the New York State Bar in 2015. He is a member of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and New York County Lawyers Association. He was named to the New York Metro Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” list in the area of “Personal Injury — Plaintiff” for 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
The Perecman Firm, a boutique personal injury law firm with locations in New York City and Long Island, was started by my father, David Perecman, back in 1983. Growing up, I always had a passion for the law and knew that I wanted to become a lawyer early on. I started working at The Perecman Firm in college as a law clerk and then worked as a paralegal while I was enrolled at New York Law School. Upon my admission to the New York State and New Jersey State Bar, I joined the firm as an attorney. Over the years, I have established a reputation as a skilled trial lawyer who is a fierce advocate for those who have been wrongfully injured and the families of those who have died as a result of negligence.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
As a whole, I would say the most interesting experiences I’ve had as an attorney have been selecting juries. Jury selection was not touched on in law school and involves psychology and pure gut instincts that are hard to teach in a classroom. Most recently, I worked with a jury consultant that allowed us to discover vital information about jurors, including their social media presence and past personal litigation history. This highlighted multiple facets about jurors’ ideas, preferences, biases, and experiences that I never would have known beforehand and allowed me to make better decisions choosing which jurors were appropriate for the case.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The majority of what I do on a day-to-day basis is privileged and confidential but I can say that I am working on multiple cases involving individuals who were seriously injured as a result of the negligent failings and violations of law by large companies. I’m always excited to level the playing field for these people and hold negligent companies accountable.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
Soon after graduating law school, I was asked to assist in seeking permission to appeal to the highest court in New York, the Court of Appeals, for the dismissed false arrest and malicious prosecution case of a woman who served four years on Riker’s Island for a murder she clearly did not commit. There was DNA evidence exculpating the woman that the police knew about within weeks of the murder, yet they, along with the district attorney, allowed her to languish in jail for four years.
Through my research, I was able to discover a shocking disparity between the New York State courts and the Federal courts in New York in appropriately applying the law governing these cases–the New York State courts let the police off nearly every time. When I presented this disparity to the Court of Appeals along with the facts of the case and other laws, they decided to take the case.
Ultimately, once I was admitted to the bar, I assisted in the ultimate appeal which resulted in a unanimous 44-page reversal of the decisions below, reinstating the case and clearing her way towards trial.
The City of New York settled the case for 4 million dollars shortly before trial was to begin.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am uniquely inspired in my career by my father and mentor, David Perecman. He has an incredibly effective way of handling cases and trying cases that is both relentless, aggressive, and even humorous when appropriate, and can only really be understood when it’s observed in action.
Historically, I’m partial to Barack Obama. What a president. What a person and family man.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
Make sure you want this and then give it your all. It is stressful, grueling, and sometimes unfair, but also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling when you accomplish what you set out to do for your client. Don’t take the license for granted and embrace the responsibility.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
First, I would remove caps on damages in any state. The idea of the civil justice system is to make people whole for the damages they have suffered and placing limitations on those awards makes this impossible. The caps are unjust and arguably unconstitutional.
Second, I would remove absolute immunity for prosecutors from civil lawsuits and allow them and police officers to be held criminally responsible if they intentionally cause an innocent person to go to jail or prison, especially if they use false evidence.
Third, I would abolish the death penalty nationwide. If our criminal justice system didn’t send innocent people to prison on a regular basis, maybe my opinion would be different.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I can say confidently that I have advocated for and counseled people through some of the most horrible periods of their lives, dealing with years of severe pain and suffering, and have obtained them full compensation for their injuries and losses. This has not repaired their physical and emotional injuries but has certainly given them a better chance at a more comfortable life.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
I am driven by the passion and desire to right wrongs and make people whole after they are seriously injured or harmed. I understand this is not just a case, it’s their life. On the other side are large companies and insurers who see this as a cost of doing business and a numbers game. It’s my job to teach them that they can’t get away with being negligent and violating the law.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. This is an incredibly demanding profession and it requires long hours, hard work, and multitasking. You will make mistakes along the way and it’s not worth it to get tied up in a knot about them. Learn from it, move on, and do better. I’ve made mistakes over the years, of course. Every one of them has turned out just fine. That’s the story!
- Make time for yourself and your family. While this is a profession and a license with a high level of responsibility, you must stay mentally, emotionally, and physically fit to perform at your best. That requires self-care and care for others around you. Try meditation. Take your kids to the zoo instead of going to the office sometimes. That’s what I do and it pays dividends.
- Find some humor in your work life. Every day I find a moment to talk to one of my colleagues and laugh about life, our children and families, and even work situations. These are serious cases but if I take myself too seriously, I can’t do my job to the best of my ability.
- Always go the extra mile. Sometimes we’re trying to get things done fast. It’s necessary. So when you’re wondering whether to try to get that additional piece of evidence that’s going to give you more work. Just do it! You’ll regret it if you make the opposite decision!
- Treat others how you want to be treated, but don’t be a doormat. Sometimes I have to get tough with my adversary, especially as a young lawyer. Don’t be afraid to lay your boundaries and advocate for your client. I’ve had older attorneys try to intimidate me in depositions, for example, and I stop the deposition and let them know that won’t be allowed to continue. It makes a difference.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Wow, this is a hard one, but it has to be Trey Anastasio, the lead singer and guitarist of Phish. My wife and I are both die-hard fans for so many years. Our dog and daughter are named after their songs. He is also an amazing person and personally inspiring to me.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!