Having spent most of my law career on that infamous stretch between Joralemon Street and Montague Street in Brooklyn, I now find myself at the unlikely address of 186 Joralemon Street. Yet while I am no longer physically on Court Street (around the corner) I will always be a proud Court Street lawyer.
How the term got its derogatory meaning is a mystery to me. For sure Court Street has had its share of shysters, characters and ambulance chasers. The phrase probably goes back to an elitist past when New York lawyers were divided between Manhattan lawyers and “the other boroughs.”
The phrase “Court Street lawyer” likely has it roots in the biases of the legal establishment toward lawyers who where the offspring of immigrants. The phrase revealed an attitude prevalent in an era when young lawyers like Mario Cuomo were not welcomed by the big white-shoe Manhattan firms because of the vowel at the end of their names. I am happy to report, before being elected governor of New York, Mr. Cuomo began his distinguished career at 32 Court Street.
“Court Street lawyers,” are sui generis, to borrow a legal term. They fight hard for their clients, tell-it-like-it-is, and know how to walk up to that line without crossing it. On average Court Street firms are smaller than those across the river and there are more solo practitioners. But you won’t find a stuffed shirt anywhere!
If Saul Goodman from”Breaking Bad” were a New York lawyer he undoubtedly would have an office on Court Street. And also, undoubtedly, he would be disbarred in short order!