In early 2008, Ira Goldenberg, a partner at the real estate firm of Goldenberg & Selker and an adjunct professor at the Law School, was presented with a unique challenge. As co-chair of the Condominium and Coop Committee of the New York State Bar Association, he worked as a liaison between the Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau and the real estate bar. As it turned out, both parties were in a bit of a bind. With the downturn in the economy, the number of deals in which purchasers were suing sponsors and developers for return of a down payment (known as escrow disputes) skyrocketed from just a dozen a year to a few hundred a year. The AG’s office was overburdened and backlogged with cases to investigate and adjudicate, and practitioners were frustrated with the delay. Goldenberg stepped in with a solution, offering BLS students as a potential source of assistance. The AG’s Office promptly accepted.
Goldenberg developed a seminar to complement the AG work and launched The Advanced Condominium and Cooperative Clinic/Externship in the fall of 2008 placing four students a semester in the AG’s Office. In the fall semester, when Goldenberg was busy with another course, the students participated in the Transactional Community Development Externship taught by Professor Debra Bechtel. With their leadership, and under the supervision of several Assistant AGs, BLS students began chipping away steadily on the backlog of escrow disputes. The students investigated the cases, performed all the legal research and writing required, and wrote the actual decisions and orders for the parties in dispute. The students also gained experience reviewing offering plan amendments. Three years later, however, their services were no longer required.
“The AG’s office let us know that our students were instrumental in bringing down the number of these disputes and resolving hundreds of cases,” said Goldenberg. “But the students were so successful that we were informed that their services will not be needed after the spring term.”
While the clinic will be closing its doors, its end is a cause for celebration. “This clinic was extremely successful for the AG’s office and incredibly valuable to the students,” said Goldenberg. “In addition to the classroom component, where they learned the applicable statutes and case law, they were immediately given the opportunity to apply the law. They had a chance to interact with other counsel, to deal with pro se clients, and to have a ‘real’ legal experience. The opportunity was tremendous.”
Phillip Tucker ’11, one of Professor Goldenberg’s students in the clinic, is currently at a first-year at Starr Associates, where he is working on coop and condo matters. “Professor Goldenberg brings a great mix of practical experience and theoretical inquisitiveness to the material, is extremely clear and engaged in the classroom, and the opportunity to continue working with him was a big reason I wanted to do this clinic,” he said. “I feel incredibly fortunate to not only be working, but to be working in an area of the law that I am very interested in. Thanks to the clinic, I was able to develop a strong concentration in real estate law and to get the experience necessary to make myself very marketable.”