Trump's Helmsley's lawyer loves life in the fast lane.
"I've tried to do as much as I can, as quickly as I can," Scharf says. "My father's death was instrumental in my development--I always remember that we don't know what tomorrow will bring."
Perhaps that's how Scharf, who always had an inferiority complex about his understanding of real estate, ended up as counsel to such real estate giants as Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley. Having grown up in a development family--the Scharfs were involved in the creation of various assisted living communities around the city--Scharf chose to study law because he wasn't certain he was fit to work in the family business.
"I remember being on the construction site [when I was very young.] My family went into various development projects in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens," Scharf recalls. "Real estate conversions went on around me all the time. But I don't know if it was because my father wasn't alive when I was growing up, I've always had a sense of inadequacy when it came to real estate."
Scharf succeeded in law, however,--having completed his college curriculum within three years, he was one of the youngest people to graduate from Brooklyn Law School. Initially, he handled legal matters on behalf of his family, but after Scharf realized he was a capable lawyer, he went on to some much bigger clients.
According to him, his career has really started taking off when Spectrum Skanska (now WCI Spectrum) approached him about a promise to sell agreement. Spectrum, one of the biggest developers in the country, wanted to buy a prize property in Glen Cove, N.J. and had a letter of intent from the owner, which pretty much guaranteed the sale. However, before any papers had been signed, Spectrum got word that the owner was talking to another prospective buyer. Scharf's assignment was to convince the court that Spectrum had the rightful first claim to the property.
"Spectrum was concerned about filing a claim, but I came up with a strategy that would seek for the seller to give us a contract that confirmed to the terms of the agreement," Scharf says. "It was a novel approach--if the court could force the owner to sell, why couldn't they force him to give us a contract? We had five full hearing days and we were able to prove that we reached an agreement on all the terms of the [transaction], that the owner was violating it and that he lied on the witness stand. In the end, the judge strongly recommended that the property be sold to Spectrum and the seller agreed."
From that day on, Spectrum has been one of Scharf's most loyal clients. The firm has recommended him to Donald Trump, for whom he handled the litigation over the General Motors building sale, and Karl Icon, who used him in a battle with the board of directors of a real estate investment club. Then, after Scharf has won a case against his company North Star, Ian Schrager has joined his list of clients.
"Basically, Ian Schrager told me that he was going to become my client because he didn't want me to be on the opposite side," Scharf laughs.
But even though Scharf clearly enjoys being the advisor to the rich and the famous--a photo album on his desk features several pictures of Trump and his girlfriend--he says that to cater to the needs of celebrities a lawyer cannot allow himself to relax.
"As I progressed through my career, I realized that there is an atmosphere and a level of expectations that all celebrities share," Scharf says. "They have a passion to win. To allow them to do that, a lawyer has to be creative and strategic. You cannot look at litigation problems in a very superficial way. You have to be able to convince the client to take risks and to position your case within the commercial legal norms in a way that would give it judicial acceptance. That kind of approach is something celebrity clients get excited about."
According to Scharf, he has never lost a case in which the client trusted his judgement. But he admits that convincing some people to act in their own best interest can be trying.
"Litigation is always a collaborative process and sometimes my clients don't buy into what I am suggesting," he says.
"But they are all sophisticated business people who make their own decision. I can't force them to do something they don't want to do. I can only give them guidance."
Not that he's about to lose any sleep over a lost case. Scharf, who says that he has already achieved all that he has ever aspired to professionally, has taught himself to look at each new case as a new opportunity.
"My biggest mid-life crisis came at age 29," he says. "I set myself a goal of becoming a partner by 30 and when that happened, I walked around saying 'What do I do now?' But then I realized that the goal that I have to achieve is to be appreciated by my clients. I orient myself on a case-by-case basis now."
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|Title Annotation:||Profile of the week: Divid Scharf, partner, Morrison Cohen Singer & Weinstein|
|Publication:||Real Estate Weekly|
|Date:||Jun 23, 2004|
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