A hotline attorney signs off

By James Goldsmith | June 18, 2019 | 5 min. read

Twenty-seven years ago, I was one of four on a road trip to Baltimore.

Driving was my senior partner and PAR’s general counsel, Tom Caldwell. Also in the car were PAR’s long-standing Executive Director Mike Bernardo and a relatively new PAR employee and Director of Member and Legal Services Patrice Merzanis. We were off to visit the law firm that represented the Maryland Association of Realtors® to observe the operation of its recently inaugurated legal hotline. Realtor® hotlines were few and far between back then and we were impressed. On our way home, Tom stopped at restaurant, where we could make plans for a PAR legal hotline. One or two cocktails later, the PAR legal hotline was born.

Many years and thousands of calls have passed since then. Sadly, Tom and Mike, who contributed so much to PAR, are no longer with us. As for the kids in the backseat of that road trip, Patrice, after a long tenure with PAR, became its executive director serving in that position for seven years. Years ago, I graduated from “junior barrister,” a moniker one hotline caller gave me, to general counsel. And I remained a hotline attorney, the last of the originals.

All good things must end, though I refer to my participation and not the hotline. Yesterday, the hotline began being staffed by PAR’s team of in-house attorneys, Hank Lerner, Desiree Brougher, Brian Carter and Kacy Clouser. The transition will be seamless, and you will be well-served. You will come to know them as you have come know me and the attorneys who have handled the hotline over the past 27 years. For me, giving up the hotline will yield additional time that I can devote to my clients as I start a fifth decade of lawyering. I will continue to represent Realtors®, PAR and several local associations as I have.

So, thanks to all. The experience has been defining. It represents a substantial part of my life for more than a quarter of a century. I loved it when I began and still love it today.

Answering hotline calls is like being a radio talk show host and sometimes a psychiatrist! We can’t see each other though the tendency is to conjure an imaginary world supported by the facts you’ve presented. There are plenty of earthly tethers, such as a written agreement, a disclosure form, a settlement table, wet basement, boundaries, felled trees, newly poured foundations and on and on. At the end of each call, I return to the present and the task of entering details of the call in a computer log. There are mostly heartfelt expressions of gratitude as my caller now has a clearer path ahead. Occasionally, there are times where there is less clarity or the caller is more angst-filled, but at least he or she marches along to do what has to be done. And then on to the next call.

The front end of the call can also be good. I’ve been around so long and am so familiar to many of you that no introduction is usually required. “I got the big guy,” or “I got the old dog” and so on. So far, I haven’t heard what I fear most, “You’re still living?” or “They haven’t fired you yet!” And, not infrequently, I’ll hear how much someone appreciates the service and the attorneys.

I recognize your voices and your greetings too! If it’s “Helloooooooo Mr. Hotline” then, for sure, its Neal. If frequent flyer miles were awarded on a per-call basis, there are a handful of you who would have earned first-class round the world tickets several times over.

Names of the most frequent callers found their way to our “bingo card.”  Wagering on “Hotline Bingo” encouraged the hotline attorneys to take extra shifts. Instead of letters and numbers, names were inserted in the little squares on our bingo cards. One late member, Esther, was always on the card in the center square. One Christmas season, I jokingly asked Esther if she had baked cookies for the hotline attorneys and sure enough, a monstrous tin arrived days later!

I’ve known some of you for close to 40 years. I met you at a Standard Forms Committee meeting or gatherings of the PAR directors. When you call, we catch up on births, weddings and deaths. I will miss you all.

Thank you, callers. You, more than anyone or anything else, have taught me this unique business you enjoy. I would not be the advocate I am had it not been for you. Thank you to my colleagues, past and present, Victoria, Paula, Jake, Melanie, Vera, Aaron, Chase, Doug, Doug, and another Doug, Stan, Brett, Elizabeth, Ray, Peter, Tom, Richard and Jessica for all your turns on the hotline. We share something special. Thank you, PAR, its officers and directors over the past 27 years who have recognized the value of the hotline and trusted me and my colleagues to operate it for you.

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