Local High-Profile Defense Attorney Ben Brafman: “If you do Great Work, People will Start to Take Notice”
Jun 08, 2012
By Amanda Mayo
Standard Staff Reporter
From the most recent high-profile case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (the former head of the International Monetary Fund) to representing rappers like Jay-Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs, to NFL star Plaxico Burress, various mobsters and even pop icon Michael Jackson, criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman is a celebrity in his own right. His law firm, Brafman and Associates, is located in Manhattan, but The Five Towns is the place Brafman calls home.
Even though Brafman has represented a multitude of high-profile “celebrity-status” clients, he keeps things down-to-earth, in his personal life and his professional life. He says the bulk of his clients are just ordinary people in legal difficulty.
“My most significant success stories are the ones that will never be told,” he said, adding that a great deal of his practice is devoted to keeping people from being prosecuted by convincing authorities that they have not violated the law before any actual legal proceedings take place. “That’s a bigger victory in some ways than saving someone after they have been prosecuted,” he said.
Brafman grew up in Brooklyn and Belle Harbor, Queens, the son of Holocaust survivors, and went to a yeshiva high school. He took night classes at Brooklyn College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree, and then went on to graduate with distinction from Ohio Northern University School of Law. Brafman also holds a Masters of Law in Criminal Justice from New York University Law School.
“Upon graduating law school I worked for a criminal defense firm for two years,” Brafman said. He then went on to work as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan D.A.’s office. In 1980 he started his own law firm in Manhattan, and then, in 1981, he moved to The Five Towns.
“I like the people in The Five Towns very much,” Brafman said. “I think sometimes The Five Towns gets a raw deal, but from my experience, the people of The Five Towns represent a group of very charitable, kind, respectful and impressive men and women of every age group. I am proud to be a part of the community.”
Even though Brafman is constantly working with various clients in what he calls “complex litigation with a heavy emphasis on criminal defense work, notably white-collar criminal defense work,” he still finds time to get involved and give back to The Five Towns community he has spent the last 31 years of his life in.
“I am a member of both local synagogues, Congregation Beth Sholom of Lawrence and the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst,” Brafman said. He is also active in a number of Jewish charities, including the Israel Cancer Research Fund, One Israel Fund, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) and KULANU Torah Academy.
He said he was a key player at the onset of KULANU, a community organization located in Cedarhurst that serves children with special needs. “The initial formative meeting of that school took place in my home,” he said. “The school was started around my dining room table.”
Brafman recently served as Master of Ceremonies for the FIDF fundraising dinner that took place on May 23 at the Sephardic Temple in Cedarhurst. He said he has served as master of ceremonies for many charities in recent years, including the One Israel Fund, the Beth Sholom Annual Dinner and the recent FIDF dinner. “I have probably served as master of ceremonies more than 50 times in the last ten years,” he said. “I like doing it, people tell me I’m good at it, and I think I have always believed that it’s important to share the success you have been blessed with. Whether it’s writing a check or working as a master of ceremonies, I try to do my share.”
Brafman has two children and 13 grandchildren. He lives with his wife, Lynda, in The Five Towns and his daughter and her children also live in The Five Towns. His son lives in Israel, and Brafman says he travels there very often. No matter what the work on his plate may be, Brafman always finds time for family.
Brafman has been prominent on the criminal defense attorney scene since the 1980’s and now more than ever people are recognizing him everywhere he goes. Whether it’s in The Five Towns, the Rockaways, Manhattan, or Israel, Brafman says it’s very hard for him to remain anonymous.
“Since the DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn) case, people in Manhattan stop me all of the time, especially tourists from outside the country who recognize me a lot more now than ever before.” Sometimes people mistake Brafman for the actor Michael Douglas, which he takes as a compliment.
In addition to being picked by New York Magazine as the “best” Criminal Defense Lawyer in New York, Brafman has also received numerous awards from various State and Federal Bar Groups for distinction in the practice of Criminal Defense. Brafman said a lot of his work comes from recommendations of other law firms. The Strauss-Kahn case, for example, was recommended to him by a law firm in Washington, DC. Brafman’s greatest accomplishment, however, may be the fact that his former client, Jay-Z rapped about him by name in a published song.
“There was never a defining moment in my life when I realized I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “Growing up, going to law school was something people did to have three more years of figuring out what they wanted to do.”
Brafman says that right now, there are, unfortunately, less good legal jobs available. “I try to help young lawyers and many have had successful careers because of doors I have opened and recommendations I have given,” he said. “The demand is much larger than the need right now [for lawyers] and it’s heartbreaking to see so many good, talented young people not getting great jobs, but it’s a fact of life.”
Some advice Brafman has to give to young people aspiring to be part of the legal profession is to take as many English and communication courses as possible. “Lawyers need to be able to write very well,” he said. “Being able to express yourself both in writing and verbally is one of the keys to success, but everyone is different. Some people like to live in a library, some in a courtroom, being able to do both well is very rare.”
Brafman says he has worked since the age of 12, so his career successes did not come without hard work and persistence. “I came up in a different time. I was very lucky, but I also worked very, very hard,” he said. “You need to work really hard and hope that the work pays off with success and that people will take notice. If you do really great work, people will start to take notice.” He added that everyone he has ever met who is successful in his or her field worked very hard to get there. “Rarely does success happen by accident,” he said. According to Brafman, “You have to work very hard AND be lucky.”
After hearing that his defense of Strauss-Kahn was successful, and all charges were dismissed, Brafman was told that he was on the cover of every newspaper in the world. “I think one of the strong talents I have developed is being able to say ‘no’ to a client even if you are talking to the most successful person in their field,” he said. “Criminal law is my area of expertise, not theirs, and if we are going to have a chance of winning, they have to listen to me and trust me.”
As an observant Jew, Brafman takes a well-deserved rest at the end of every workweek. “I think being Sabbath-observant has made me a better person, it has had zero negative impact on my professional life, and if it wasn’t for being Shomer Shabbat I would have gone crazy a long time ago given the pace of my schedule,” he said. “The 24 hours of Shabbos every week when my professional life stops is a true blessing.”
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