Meet the Bar Leaders: Richard Klass decides on law career after father’s business ends, parents split
Richard Klass grew up with the assumption that he would someday take over his father’s advertising and print business. After all, he had started working with his father from the age of 13 and went to Hofstra University to major in communications with the idea that it would help him down that path.
Then one day during his senior year, his favorite professor Sondra Rubenstein told him that she didn’t think that he was right for the field. She suggested law school instead. But Klass was just weeks away from graduation, and initially brushed off the suggestion.
Still the thought lingered with him and Klass decided to at least take the LSAT to keep his options open. The morning he was scheduled to take the LSAT, Klass’ mother dropped a bomb on him.
“She called me on the phone that morning and said, ‘Try to do really well because your father is going to be closing the business and it looks like we’re going to get divorced too,’” Klass said almost still in disbelief nearly 30 years later. “It was kind of like, ‘Good luck.’ I don’t think she realized that it was the morning of the LSAT.”
While most people would understand if Klass decided to put off the LSAT after hearing that news, he explained how the thought never entered his mind. Instead, it forced him to realize that things weren’t going to be the same. In fact, the hardship motivated him by giving him an outlet to escape his personal issues.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the things that have pushed me and have motivated me have come from negative places,” Klass said. “Since then, I’ve thought that I’m kind of on my own. It’s a scary feeling.”
Klass took the LSAT, did well enough to get into New York Law School and dabbled in criminal defense with an internship with the Brooklyn DA’s Office, where he worked for Betsy Barros, now a judge on the Appellate Division bench. Ultimately, though, he decided to open his own civil practice because even if it wasn’t going to be his father’s business, Klass was determined to run his own.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Klass explained. “I had the notion when I was going into the advertising and printing business that I was going to have my own business, so I decided to make it a law business.”
Klass opened his own firm in a suite with his uncle and two other lawyers and started off by taking whatever overflow work that they would pass along to him. He also taught himself how to do depositions, motion practice and to make appearances in court. He then took to the streets, handing out flyers and business cards to law offices along Court Street.
Klass, who has labeled himself “Your Court Street Lawyer,” has maintained his private practice, although he briefly partnered with his uncle. He hired two associates about four years ago and prides himself as one of the remaining true general practice attorneys left in the city.
Klass joined the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) as a student at New York Law School. It was a way for him to network with the legal community, but more practically it also was a good way for him to find cases early on in his career thanks to the Lawyer Referral Service.
As his law career grew, Klass became more and more involved with the Brooklyn Bar Association. Past President Steve Cohn insisted that he become more active and he did. First through the BBA’s Young Lawyers Committee, and then through other committees. Eventually, he took over the Mentor Committee and was honored with the BBA’s Distinguished Service Award for his work with that committee.
“I’m really proud of that because what the mentor committee really does is help other lawyers,” Klass said. “A lot of what we do is just offer practice advice. I started my own law firm and I’ve been doing it for long enough that now I’m able to help people with theirs. Lawyers will come to me with questions about how to do something, they’ll email me and ask if I have a form for something or if they just want to run something by me.”
Klass is still active in the BBA. He not only is a member of the board of trustees and several committees, including the grievance committee, he presents many continuing legal education lectures and he attends many of its social events including last year’s trip to Cuba with immediate past President Arthur Aidala. He even admitted that he hopes to one day lead the organization as president.
“I’m still fascinated being a lawyer, and I love being a general practitioner,” Klass said. “Every time a case comes to me it’s like a new puzzle that I have to solve.”
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