When C. Jaye Berger started practicing law in the 1980s, she had a vision of one day starting her own law firm, in her home town of New York City, focusing on real estate, construction law and litigation. At the time, she had just finished law school and was newly located in Detroit, Michigan, which was undergoing a building Renaissance. The City was engaged in many building construction projects from baseball park renovations to the construction of the Renaissance Center. Ms. Berger was fortunate in being in a law firm involved with many of these projects and the Mayor at the time. This allowed her to handle contracts and litigation concerning many of the major projects in the City, when her colleagues were not as interested in construction law. It also catapulted her into becoming a partner after only five years in practice. A sudden opportunity led her to return to her hometown, New York City, where she set up her own law practice, thereby realizing her dream.
Ms. Berger is a Renaissance women herself. She has always believed it was important to be involved in all aspects of the practice of law and to dig your hands in and get dirty, not just have associates do the work. After all, the client is really coming to her for her insight, expertise and advice She is the attorney at a court conference who knows the entire case and was not just handed a file that morning and sent for the day. She has that kind of continuity and knowledge of the cases she handles. She is completely at home in the courtroom and has had many courtroom and arbitration victories.
She also enjoys writing about legal issues, as well as giving seminars about the law, in addition to practicing law. Audiences at her seminars enjoy the way she is able to explain complex issues in such an understandable and sensible way. She can cut through issues and get to the heart of the matter. She is a much sought after speaker by professional organizations. Audiences enjoy the way she uses her war stories to explain legal issues. She has been quoted on numerous occasions by The New York Times and other publications. Her quotes about mechanic’s liens are probably the most popular topic she is contacted about by people searching the Web. Anything to do with construction contracts, renovations and co-op law are all close seconds.
Ask Ms. Berger and you will see that to her construction is part of almost every transaction to one degree or another. New store and office leases always also involve major and minor build – outs. Co-op and condominium buildings are either being newly constructed or are undergoing some type of renovation. There may be mechanic’s liens or alteration agreements or a shareholder who wants to do a major renovation. There may be a new roofs, parapets or hallways being renovated and even boiler conversions. New buildings are being built and condominium associations are being formed and need counsel. Even when she helps a client close on the purchase of a co-op or condominium apartment, there are usually major renovation plans either by the sponsor or the purchaser of the unit.
Then there are those clients who are in the middle of renovations projects, who encounter problems with either the quality of the work, payment for it or damage to their building from another construction project. Cracks in the foundation or walls caused by neighboring construction or encroachments on to property are not uncommon. She puts together teams of experts to determine the problems and to resolve them.
Personal injury accidents occurring during construction projects are unfortunately also common. Ms. Berger has defended many Labor Law 240 claims for insurance companies, co-op buildings, scaffolding companies and contractors, as well as for some private shareholders.
On commercial and residential real estate closings, she is one of the few attorneys who is also experienced in litigation. This is a great asset in advising clients on how to handle tricky situations. In fact, many attorneys come to her to advise them on these matters involving their closings. She understands all sides of these transactions from her many years of doing a wide variety of work for owners, developers, architects, engineers, interior designers, contractors, subcontractors and consultants. This has given her a unique ability to cut through all the facts and see the heart of the problem clearly from all sides and to give practical, no nonsense advice to clients.
She often compares litigation to a chess match, since skilled players can see many moves ahead in the game and plan accordingly. She has won some major litigation cases, some of which have been published. When new clients come to her with projects in chaos and close to litigation, she first tries to help get them back on track with the construction, if possible, before focusing on the potential litigation aspects. She likes to put the positive before the negative.
In order to have a project turn out well, she believes it should be set up properly from the outset. When owners, developers and co-op and condo Boards come in and explain what they want to have done and what arrangements they have been negotiating, she can immediately spot some of the problems that are likely to occur and make suggestions before they get started. This may include showing them that the payment schedule to the contractor involves paying too much too soon or not enough to keep the project running smoothly. Another area is that the plans may not be complete going into the project, which makes change orders increasing the cost of the project inevitable. Contractors and design professionals can always use advice on having better contracts, administering their projects and organizing their corporate structure.
One of her major accomplishments this year was negotiating an elaborate access agreement between her co-op building client and a condominium developer adding floors and expanding next door. She was able to negotiate to have crack monitors and other protection in place before any problems occurred and to have the developer pay a substantial sum of money to the co-op for access rights. Even more exciting was that as a result of comments from the team of professionals she put together, the developer changed their intrusive “in your face” design on the lot line between the properties.
“Being a women involved in this industry has never been a factor in pushing me forward or holding me back.” says Ms. Berger. “I just enjoy construction law and the types of projects and issues I have been asked to handle. “People meet me at real estate events and say ‘You’re that construction lawyer. I read all your articles.’ “
While other law firms have come and gone or split into smaller firms over the years, Ms. Berger has stayed the course and steadily moved forward with her own unique style of getting the job done and her vision of specializing in real estate, building construction law and litigation.
Copyright © 2015. C. Jaye Berger, Esq., Law Offices C. Jaye Berger, is an attorney in Manhattan located at 110 E. 59th St., 22nd Fl., New York, New York 10022, (212) 753-2080. She specializes in real estate, construction and co-op law and litigation.