Michael Kaplen / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript


Michael Kaplen / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript


Louis Goodman

Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer will talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He is a senior partner at a New York personal injury law firm. He focuses on medical malpractice and traumatic brain injuries. He’s been named as a New York Super Lawyer. He’s taught and lectured at George Washington University School of Law in Washington, DC. He has appeared on most major TV news outlets, and has often been quoted in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Daily News. Michael Kaplen, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Michael Kaplen

Thank you very much, Louis, and I look forward to our chat this evening.



Louis Goodman

I do too. I love talking to a New York lawyer for a change.



Michael Kaplen

Alright, just don’t call me Vinny. Because you know, this is not my cousin Vinnie might sound like



Louis Goodman

Where is your office located?



Michael Kaplen

Right now my office is in Westchester County in a town called Pleasantville, we used to be in Manhattan. And then after the events of the World Trade Center, we were compelled to move because we’re very close to that incident.



Louis Goodman

How does being located in Westchester compare with being in Manhattan?



Michael Kaplen

Well, I’d like to say that I’m a country lawyer now. But that’s really not true. Although the pace up here is a lot slower. But at the same time, as we’re talking lawyer to lawyer, I missed the camaraderie of being in the city with my colleagues, because there is a lot of back and forth that adds to the practice and my ability to properly represent my clients, and we just don’t have that interaction up here in Westchester.



Louis Goodman

I really understand that when I started this podcast, I did in large part because I wanted an opportunity to be able to talk to my colleagues.



Michael Kaplen

Yes, I get it that’s so important for us.



Louis Goodman

Describe your practice a little bit for us.



Michael Kaplen

Well, it’s an interesting practice as a personal injury practice. As you said, we have a good deal of clients that we represent who are victims of medical malpractice. We have a subspecialty in traumatic brain injuries. And it’s so difficult for anybody from the outside looking at a person with a brain injury, to understand what happened to them.



Louis Goodman

How long have you been practicing law?



Michael Kaplen

I’ve been practicing now for 40 years and only doing personal injury and medical malpractice for that period of time. And only representing injured individuals.



Louis Goodman

Where are you from originally?



Michael Kaplen

I’m from Queens.



Louis Goodman

Where’d you go to high school?



Michael Kaplen

In Queens, Jamaica High School. That was an interesting experience that was many, many moons ago. To make a high school at that period of time was a very interesting place to go to school is very overcrowded. In fact, they have four different sessions. It was a school that had a lot of issues to it. And in fact, they wouldn’t even have a lunch period for the students because they were afraid to put so many students together in one place as to what might happen.



Louis Goodman

Now ultimately graduated from Jamaica High School and went to college.



Michael Kaplen

When I graduated from Jamaica High School and went on to NYU, where I pursued an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Economics. And then I went to Brooklyn Law School and after Brooklyn Law School, I went into private practice.



Louis Goodman

Well, that is the classic route through the New York system of education in order to become a lawyer, isn’t it?



Michael Kaplen

It is, and it’s a good route, and it’s a good system. I got an excellent education at Brooklyn Law School and well versed in New York law and the practicalities of New York law. And I try to emulate that these days in my teaching responsibilities at the George Washington University Law School where I teach a course in Traumatic Brain Injury Law and I try to make it for my students as practical and real world as possible.



Louis Goodman

Do you do those lectures live now or are they over zoom since COVID?



Michael Kaplen

Louis, thank goodness we’re back to doing it live. We did Zoom for a period of time while actually well of last year we did it by zoom. Every class was by zoom, but now we were back to teaching live which is so much better.



Louis Goodman

And you travel down to Washington DC in order to teach?



Michael Kaplen

I do I get on Amtrak every Monday morning and I return every Monday evening from DC. It’s a great thing I loved working on the train and you don’t have that hassles that you have getting in and out of airports. Thank goodness.



Louis Goodman

When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer?



Michael Kaplen

I always was interested in courtrooms and the law. And I recall, even in high school, when I had some time, I would stop in the courthouse in Kew Gardens, the criminal courthouse, just because I was fascinating in watching trials, you know, everything is open, you could just walk in, sit down. And I used to do that it just was something that has always been for whatever reason and interest of mine.



Louis Goodman

So it was that experience of actually going to court and Kew Gardens that made you think, wow, you know, this looks really interesting. This is something that I’d like to do when I could do.



Michael Kaplen

No, I gotta be honest with you. I started college thinking I was going to be a doctor, with a pre med course. And I realized, after two hours of chemistry, this was not going to work. And then I decided pre law is probably a little better for me. And that was the right decision.



Louis Goodman

What did your friends and family say when you told them you wanted to be a lawyer?



Michael Kaplen

No problem. Nobody had any issue with that at all. So that was a good thing.



Louis Goodman

Did you find a different being in Brooklyn going to school as opposed to being in Greenwich Village going to school?



Michael Kaplen

Well, you know, law school is very different than going to college, you don’t have the same time to play to engage in social activities was much more serious pursuit than college. My first legal job out of law school was with a prominent personal injury attorney. And I was very fortunate that I was able to go to court with him and prepare his cases for him and assist him in court. And it gave me just a fantastic experience in understanding trial practice. And working in the area of personal injury law, I got that job because I worked as a law clerk during my third year of law school there. But I just got hooked.



Louis Goodman

When did you go and start practicing on your own? Opening up your own firm?



Michael Kaplen

So I left that firm and I went into private practice, and I became of counsel to another law firm, just I noticed to start my practice. And that allowed me obviously to work on my own cases, and I had to work on their cases, as well. So I did that for a couple of years, and then I just branched out altogether on my own. I give people the opportunity to go up against major corporations, major hospitals, physicians, other entities to seek justice in a way that they normally will they, it would be impossible for them to get that justice, and I am speaking for someone who can’t speak for themselves.



Louis Goodman

If a young person was just coming out of law school, and why you let’s say, would you recommend the law as a career?



Michael Kaplen

Yes, I would. The law obviously, changes over time, the whole field of trial practice has changed since I first started and will continue obviously to change with COVID and restrictions on courtroom access. So the area of trial practice might not be an appropriate area for anybody who is graduating from law school, or thinking about going to law school right now to be considering. But there always be trials and trial lawyers. But there are other areas of law, we as a society are getting older. And there’s a whole field of elder law that has developed in order to record properly represent and provide counsel to people who are getting on and he is and whether it’s with wills or with trusts on their behalf or working to make sure that their assets are protected for Medicaid and Medicare purposes. This is a phenomenal growth area that I urge my students to look at.



Louis Goodman

How is actually practicing met are different from your expectations about it?



Michael Kaplen

Well, you know, after 40 years of practicing law, I’ve learned that experience does have a major value. There is no substitute for experience. When you’re young lawyer, you start out, you don’t understand that you don’t believe that. But it’s true, experience is a valuable commodity, a valuable lesson and it’s really great to have, but you can only have it after you’ve practiced for a period of time learning curve.



Louis Goodman

Okay, so let me ask this is, is there anything that you know now that you really wish you knew before you started practicing law?



Michael Kaplen

That’s a great question. I will tell you that and tell your listeners that you always have to make time for yourself, for your family. And in the practice of law, it is a nerve wracking experience. It’s filled with a lot of tension, many long hours, some aggravation at times and you have to give yourself a break and live a life as well. You can’t be practicing law 24/7.



Louis Goodman

What about the business of practicing law? How’s that gone for you, you know, those of us who are in private practice, ultimately, we’re lawyers, but we also are business people. And we’re required to run a business law under practice law, how’s that gone for you?



Michael Kaplen

We’ve always kept our practice small, we have a small practice. We were very careful on our overhead, we’re very careful in the cases that we take. We are very careful in the number of employees that we have. So it enables me to practice lower, rather than running a big corporation. And I think that’s important, because when you do that you’re not practicing law anymore. You’re just an administrator. So, in what I’ve done, I’ve tried to allow myself while I have to be a businessman at times, of course, it is not become my life.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Michael Kaplen

Well, in my practice field, the best advice that I have received, and the best advice I can give young lawyers is always be yourself, number one. Number two, always be ethical, and follow ethical principles. And you could always ask yourself, just one question. Should I be doing this? Is this ethical? And just by raising that question, in your own mind, 99 out of 100 times, you’ve probably answered the question just by raising it in your mind. And don’t allow a client to dictate to you to do something that you’re not supposed to do. Because your reputation is everything that you have as an attorney, and you don’t want to tarnish it.



Louis Goodman

If a young person just starting out practicing law, were asking you for advice, is that the advice that you would give them? Or do you have some other bit of advice that would go on top of that?



Michael Kaplen

I would give them that advice. And I would tell them in my practice area and personal injury because we work on a contingency basis. Sometimes the best answer is to say no to a case. Because if you don’t like a case, from day one, you’re going to like it a lot less three years down the road when you have to go to court to try the case.



Louis Goodman

What if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?



Michael Kaplen

Well, the legal system, right now has gone haywire. And in many respects, lawyers have become just billing machines. And it’s really not practicing law and representing people or corporations anymore. They’re just timekeepers, which is not a good thing.



Louis Goodman

Have you written or published anything of note that you could share with us?



Michael Kaplen

Well, I have published many articles in the field of traumatic brain injury law are represented individuals with brain injury. I’ve published articles in medical publications as well on the legal aspects of traumatic brain injury. We’re writing a textbook right now for law school students in the area of traumatic brain injury.



Louis Goodman

I’m going to shift gears here a little bit, Michael, what’s your family life like? And how has the practice of law fit into that?



Michael Kaplen

Well, I have a great family. I have two lovely children. I have a son who’s an attorney as well, he does not do the same work that I do. He practices energy law in Washington, DC. I have a daughter who is a teacher in the New York City public school system. I have a great family. We are all very close.



Louis Goodman

How about some travel experience? Have you traveled anywhere that you found interesting?



Michael Kaplen

Well, yes. We always like to take trips in the family. We’re always going on vacations to different parts of the world. We’ve been to China, we’ve been to Southeast Asia. We’ve been to India. We’ve been to Cuba. We’ve been all around the Caribbean. Family loves to ski, so we’ve been ski areas all around the world. We’ve been in just about every major European city. At times, we find that valuable for ourselves, my wife and myself as well as to do it when my children were young, we will go together. I really liked Cuba. I was fascinated by Cuba. You can look back in time. You were back in 1962 1963. With the vehicles with the buildings. It’s just a fascinating thing to see. And the people are genuinely warm and friendly. The cuisine is excellent. And of course you get a great cigar there as well. That was one of the most favorite trips I’ve ever had.



Louis Goodman

How about recreational pursuits? What sort of things do you do to kind of clear your head after a day or a week of practicing law?



Michael Kaplen

So that’s a good question because I just recently moved into New York City. And just last week, you know what I did, I bought a bicycle and a new helmet, we can’t forget that. And I’ve now taken up riding. This past Saturday, I had a great beautiful sunny day, and I was just riding around Central Park all afternoon. And I tell you what, I saw parts of Central Park that I didn’t even know existed.



Louis Goodman

Now bicycle is a great means to seeing the world that seems to me on a bicycle that you’re moving at just the right speed, walking is sometimes a little too slow and boring. And if you’re in a car, you zip past things a little too quickly. But on a bicycle, that’s just sort of the right speed. And it’s easy to stop and get off and look around.

What sort of things keep you up at night?



Michael Kaplen

You know, right now, the politics of this country is keeping me up at night. We’re at difficult place, I don’t want to go into a political discussion with you. But I think we’re at a crossroads in American democracy. We’re in a crossroads when it comes to this pandemic. And people who refuse to wear masks, refuse to get inoculated and exposing everybody else. To a very serious illness.



Louis Goodman

How do you define success?



Michael Kaplen

You have to be happy and what you do, has to be happy in your life. And then that success.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you came into some real money, $3/$4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Michael Kaplen

I don’t know. But I would certainly tell you one thing I would do with it, I’d certainly make a major donation to the Brain Injury Association of America.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you had a magic wand that was one thing in the world, legal world or otherwise that you could change. What would that be?



Michael Kaplen

Well, I’d like to see more peace in the world. I could wave a magic wand end warfare, and have people get along with each other. And treat everybody with respect and compassion. That would be just great.



Louis Goodman

Here’s another question for you. Let’s say you had 60 seconds on the Superbowl. Somebody said, Hey, here’s the Superbowl ad. You can say whatever you want. Big megaphone, big audience. What 6o second message would you want to put out there?



Michael Kaplen

I talked about football, that football is a concussion delivery system, the best prevention, the best cure for brain injuries prevention. And I would tell parents, that they should not allow their children to play tackle football. That no matter what anybody is telling them by marketing geniuses and helmet companies, that a helmet does not make it safe to play football. And that one concussion could be one concussion to many. And that’s what I would be saying if I had 60 seconds. During the Superbowl, though, I don’t think Roger Goodell would be too happy about me doing that. Although he doesn’t like me anyway.



Louis Goodman

Yeah, I’m not sure that ad would go over real well on the Superbowl. But, hey, it’s your suit. I just asked the questions. They’re open ended, I am thrilled I’m getting whatever answer people want to give me. And then the magic of editing, I decide what stays and what goes out, you know, I just gotta have just a couple more very brief things here. I just want to make sure that people know how to get in touch with you. Can you one more time, say what your website is, and how we can get in touch with you if we want to talk to you later on. And we’ll put this in the show notes as well.



Michael Kaplen

So if your listeners want to get in touch with me, the best thing to do is go to my website, www.brainlaw.com. There’s a lot of useful information about what I do, and my practice. And then we have contact forms on there, as well.



Louis Goodman

Is there anything you want to talk about that we haven’t discussed?



Michael Kaplen

We’ve had a great conversation, Louis. I’ve enjoyed it.



Louis Goodman

Well, I’ve really enjoyed it. Michael Kaplen, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and hearing your wonderful New York accent.



Michael Kaplen

Thank you, Louis. I appreciate it. And it was a pleasure being with you as well.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend. And subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always to my guests who share their wisdom and Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Michael Kaplen

Hey, what do you think about this? This is a case I was just retained on. I have this issue How would you handle it and you do a back and forth and it’s a very important part of the process of practicing law.



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