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These articles by Barbara Fox, Melinda Sherwood, and Monika Guendner were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 14,
1999. All rights reserved
The Woman Behind Jacoby & Meyers
You’ve seen the television ads for Jacoby & Meyers.
Perhaps you believe these lawyers pioneered in bringing law services
to the masses. Perhaps you think they are ambulance chasers.
Whatever image this law firm has for you, at least you recognize that
it has one. It achieved brand recognition in a profession that, for
years, labeled the mildest form of marketing as vulgar commercialism.
In the 1950s, when a law firm was mentioned in Life magazine, that
firm was reprimanded. Attorneys were not even allowed to send Christmas
cards to their clients. "Now even large firms are bidding on jobs
and have huge marketing departments," says Gail Koff, managing
partner of Jacoby & Meyers, "and everybody is trying to have a
Koff believes she helped change the face of law firms in America.
She will speak on "The Trials and Tribulations of Building a Brand
Name" at the Venture Association of New Jersey on Tuesday, April
20, at 11:30 a.m. at the Westin in Morristown. Cost: $55. Call 973-631-5680.
"We have a fabulous legal system, and the way it protects the
rights of the individual is terrific," says Koff, "but I know
it was not working to make lawyers accessible to the average person
25 years ago, and the system needed to be changed. My vision —
and what I have been caring about — is trying to make law visible
Koff sets out her vision: "We were the first firm to say legal
services need to be delivered efficiently, that people need to have
an estimate in writing, that law firms should charge set fees wherever
possible, and that clients should have rights."
Koff went to the University of California at Berkeley,
Class of ’67, and to George Washington law school in District of Columbia,
where she worked in the legal services program and discovered that
only the rich and the poor had really good access to legal services.
"I could see that the middle class was getting squeezed,"
says Koff. In 1977 she left the prestigious firm Skadden Arps to join
the consumer-friendly four-year-old Jacoby & Meyers in California.
With Leonard Jacoby and Stephen Meyers she — as a co-founding
partner — moved the firm to New York.
Three years ago, after she and Meyers had bought Jacoby out, Meyers
was killed in a car accident. Now Koff is alone at the top and is
the managing partner with 23 offices nationwide (three in New Jersey)
and a total of 50 attorneys, seven doing personal injury and 20 general
"We were first in the media, the first to go on television, the
first to talk about accessibility," says Koff. She had realized
that in order to more efficiently deliver legal services the firm
should focus on cases that can be dealt with in a step by step way.
Another first, she says, was making law understandable, "talking
in plain English."
Among her credits was a legal challenge to the State of New Jersey’s
rule that no law firm could operate in the state unless a "named
partner" (i.e. Jacoby or Meyers) had passed the New Jersey bar.
This law predisposed law firms to have long lists of partners in the
title, and, as Koff notes, "there were firms with dead partners."
This daughter of a Manhattan advertising executive did not insist
on having "Koff" added to the company moniker, preferring
to retain the catchy double name. "We didn’t want to sound like
a disease," she says, referring to traditional law firm names.
"We were all very focused on the brand concept from the beginning
and having my name there detracted from establishing the brand."
"To brand something," says Koff, "you have to have a vision."
Add to that a good name, a "certain look," and an idea that
appeals to the public. "If you resonate with changes that are
going on in the community, people will identify with it. The average
person wants power in their own hands — that is another piece
of a brand."
The Internet, she says, will be another tool to give power to consumers.
At the VANJ meeting she will announce an addition to the firm’s home
page (http://www.jacoby-meyers.com). An "instant interview"
provides fast, free evaluation to accident victims. The site offers
questions to help clients determine if they have a legitimate case,
how much time they have to file their suits after the incidents occur,
and how much time each step in the legal process might take.
"We can still help consumers by educating them about their situation,
regardless of whether we take their case," says Koff. "That
has always been our intention and will always be our practice. In
the 21st century, we have to reinvent law, to continue to make law
more accessible in the information age."
If Koff was considered an outsider in changing the ethics of the "white
shoe" (traditional) law firms, as a woman she was also somewhat
of an outsider in the profession of law. For instance, the first time
she was called on in law school, she had to good-naturedly comply
with the professor’s request to stand up so, as the professor quipped,
"we can all see the dimensions of this case."
Despite her current influential position, Koff denies that she is
one of those women who can claim to have "had it all" in all
areas of her life but points out that she is indeed proud of her "three
fabulous children," ages 16, 14, and 9.
Still on her docket: that unfortunate stereotype. "The image,
unfortunately, of any attorney doing personal injury on a contingent
basis is that of ambulance chaser. I think that exists because at
the turn of the century the lawyers doing personal injury were the
Jews and the Catholics who not allowed into the traditional firms."
"Lawyers who do personal injury, in fact, are the most dedicated
to want to help the little guy," says Koff. "It is really
the opposite of what a piece of the public believes. It is very frustrating
to me. As we move into the 21st century, one of the things I will
be doing is to reeducate the public."
— Barbara Fox
Victorians would outfit their children in adult clothes,
treating their young in most regards as merely small adults. Contemporary
society, on the other hand, places an almost sacred value on childhood,
protecting it from the intrusions of adult pressures. Some aspects
of adulthood, however, are best taught at an early age. How to manage
money is one perfect example.
A new book is showing parents how they can teach their children to
manage their finances, even before they’re making a real salary. "Kids
and Money: Giving Them the Savvy to Succeed Financially," written
by Jayne A. Pearle and published this year by Bloomberg Press,
based on Business Park Drive, is a how-to book on managing finances,
from the first allowances to getting the first career job.
Chapter titles sound scary: The Battle for Your Kids’ Brains and Bucks;
Gambling, Betting, Lottery Tickets and Other Bad Habits; When to Bail
Kids Out; and Answering Sensitive, Nosy, Touchy Questions. But the
advice is down-to-earth:
is discretionary — by charging them room and board and/or requiring
them to increase the amount they save.
find (or help you find) products that meet your criteria.
you buy a better deal.
piece of junk now than a high-ticket piece of junk when they are older.
spending, talk to your children honestly about the issue."
Skilled labor is New Jersey’s most precious resource
says Rae Rosen, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank
of New York. "With unemployment down to around four percent,"
she says, "businesses can’t wait for people to come to them. They’re
going to need to take a proactive stance in maintaining the labor
A panelist at this year’s Capital Opportunities Conference, Rosen
will meet with other business owners, accountants, bankers and members
of the business community to discuss New Jersey’s economic outlook
and how businesses can expect to grow and compete in the next year.
Sponsored by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the conference
will be held at the Marriott on Monday, April 19, from 8 a.m. to 2
p.m. Cost: $25. Brian Williams, anchor of news shows on MSNBC
and NBC, will be the luncheon speaker. Call the NJEDA at 609-292-0359.
speaks at 8:45 a.m. Rosen joins Theodore Crone
and regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia,
in a discussion about New Jersey businesses within the context of
national economic trends. Caren Franzini,
of the NJEDA, Bob Buono
and John Grifonetti
conduct a roundtable discussion on programs that help businesses attain
capital and techniques for succeeding in today’s market.
Rosen earned her BA from Barnard College in 1969 and received an MBA
from New York University. At the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Rosen
works with a team of economists researching the economic issues that
affect New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Prior to assuming her
role at the Fed, she was vice president of the Federal Home Loan Bank
of New York and an economic consultant for Merrill Lynch Economics
The scarcity of workers is putting pressure on companies to be more
productive, Rosen says, but a collaborative effort between labor and
employers — typically at odds — may be a good thing for everybody.
"Both New Jersey and Connecticut," Rosen points out, "are
ahead of other states in dealing with the labor shortage." She
cites several examples of how businesses are beginning to invest in
the next generation of workers by working more closely with community
One example: Covance, the pharmaceutical research company at 206 Carnegie,
recently helped Mercer County Community College design and launch
a certificate program in Clinical Research and Drug Development. The
program is aimed at students with BAs who want to work in the pharmaceutical
industry. "Covance is at the forefront of what a very aggressive
community college program might be," says Rosen. "That’s a
win-win for everybody. They hire local people who get the training,
and the business stays where it is because they can get the people
with the technical skills that they need."
If cultivating the next crop of workers sounds like a large investment,
consider the fact that businesses could be shelling out much more
in pay checks. "Labor has been pretty well behaved in terms of
demanding higher wages," says Rosen, "and in that way businesses
have been rather lucky." Given the level of consumer demand, she
says, businesses would be unable to sustain the pressure of large
payroll increases. As it is, businesses are strapped just being more
productive with the resources they have.
The partnership between businesses and local colleges may even bring
about some profound social changes. "People who previously were
left out of the job market because they didn’t have the language or
the technical skills to compete are now getting training because businesses
need them," she says. The American Automobile Association, for
instance, has hired Mercer to give Total Quality Management and customer
service classes at its South Gold Drive headquarters, and the Holiday
Inn offered English classes to workers at its Route 1 site.
"People who were at the bottom, so to speak, will have an opportunity
to reach the top," says Rosen. By altering the demographics of
the labor force, businesses could ultimately foster social, economic
and cultural change across the board.
— Melinda Sherwood
An expert witness can be a crucial player to a legal
team, both in educating the jury and informing the lawyers of the
significance of scientific evidence. And there is more to being an
expert witness than just answering questions on the witness stand.
In his presentation, "How to be an Expert Witness," Richard
Saferstein will discuss the finer points of witnessing for legal
counsel. Sponsored by the ACCC and the Chemical Consultants Network,
the talk will be Wednesday, April 21, at 5:30 p.m. at the Nassau Club,
6 Mercer Street. Cost: $35. Call 215-382-1589.
By following a medical examiner’s testimony on a Court TV segment,
Saferstein will point out the witness’s strengths and weaknesses.
Although an ironclad testimony might speak for itself, there are ways
to ensure a professional image and build credibility with the jurors,
appropriately given the area of expertise you have," he said.
Once that is established and perhaps a report written, interacting
with the attorney is important. It is up to the witness to be able
to explain the science in basic layman’s terms.
"You must have the ability to communicate science to a non-scientist
comprehensively and understandably without talking down to them,”
said Saferstein. This communication also involves explaining the strengths
and weaknesses of your testimony. Review with the attorney the specific
questions that will lead to the points of strengths and let him know
what questions to avoid asking. If audio-visual props are to be used,
a properly directed question should lead into the presentation smoothly.
And if you do plan to use audio-visual props, be sure to let the attorney
know what you will need.
expert witness will look like, and so the witness should consider
that. "It’s part of the presentation," says Saferstein. A
fancy suit with flashy jewelry may be your finest threads, but they
do not project the right image for the witness stand. Dressing conservatively
is more in tune with what jurors expect of a credible witness. Saferstein
himself usually chooses a shirt with tie, a sports jacket and "a
Making eye contact with the jury and correct posture are two other
elements important while on the witness stand. When 12 jurors are
looking at you, having your eyes glued to the floor does not build
credibility, says Saferstein. Similarly, poor posture could be misinterpreted
as insecurity in the testimony. "You want to project an image
of self-confidence," he says.
of creating a situation where I am the teacher and the jurors are
the students," said Saferstein. To do this requires getting out
of the witness box and onto the floor near audio-visual aids. The
movement off the stand, however, has to be a natural progression of
the testimony. "You don’t want to go out of your way to do it,"
he said. "Then it looks phony."
usually comes with the use of audio-visual aids. Equipment such as
blackboards, easels, figures and even slides can be used. "Use
anything that helps you explain your subject," he says.
Saferstein has his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in chemistry
from the City University of New York. He was the chief forensic scientist
for the New Jersey State Police for 21 years until his retirement
in 1991, testifying as an expert witness over 700 times. Since retiring
he has been a private consultant. His book "Criminalistics —
an Introduction to Forensic Science" is currently in its sixth
edition. He has written five other books on forensic science.
Saferstein also became a commentator for television and radio during
the O.J. Simpson trial, appearing on Rivera Live, the E! Network,
and ABC Radio network.
If there is anything that an expert witness should not do on the stand
it is to lie. "The only thing you really have is your credibility,"
Saferstein says. "You should protect it at all times.
— Monika J. Guendner
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