Legal Eagles
Published: April 16th, 2009
By: Melissa Stagnaro

Legal eagles

NORWICH – A few years after we graduated from college, one of my best friends went to Brooklyn Law. He used to call me late at night when he finished studying. (As I was two time zones away in Colorado, I think I was probably the only person he knew who was up as late with the exception of his classmates.) Every time we talked, he’d tell me that he thought I should go to law school, too. I’d laugh at him and tell him he was out of his mind. But secretly, the idea appealed to me. I just didn’t want to admit it.

As it turned out, it wasn’t John (who is now, incidentally, an assistant district attorney in the Bronx) who finally gave me a sneak peek at what it’s like to be a lawyer. That dubious honor went to another Manhattan College grad: Michael Ferrarese of Lee, Emerson and Ferrarese in Norwich.

Normally, when we Evening Sun staffers “do” a Punching the Clock article, we spend an hour or two working alongside someone to get a feel for what they do. Then we go off and write about it. But Mike didn’t think that would be enough. His original proposal involved me spending a couple of days, not hours, tagging along with him. I laughed at him, much as I used to laugh at John.

After a lengthy negotiation (thankfully I didn’t have to pay Mike’s hourly rate), we worked out an agreement that was amenable to both of us. I’d visit him several times over the course of a week, which would allow me to see different facets of his practice but still let me keep up with my day job.

All told, I made about four trips to Mike’s West Main Street office. There wasn’t a lot of time spent in that office however, since as soon as I arrived we were off to either the Chenango County Courthouse, Family Court or one of the town courts. (We visited both Preston and Oxford, but Mike told me he has been in almost every town and village court in Chenango County in his 9 years practicing here.)

It didn’t take me long to realize why Mike knew I’d need more than a couple of hours to get an idea of what he does. As one of the only two partners in the firm, he has to be something of a jack of all trades. And frankly, I don’t think he’d have it any other way.

“I love being a lawyer,” Mike told me. “Every day is different.”

For the most part, he said, he divides his time on real estate transactions, defense work, matrimonial and family law. The majority of the work he does is on retainer, where he is paid an hourly rate (billed in 6 minute increments) by his clients. But he also gets appointed to some cases, by the public defender’s office or as a law guardian in family court. He even does a little pro bono work on the side for the Chenango County SPCA.

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