Listen to your clients. Let them speak before you do.
Be creative. Clients come to us for solutions — they don’t want canned answers.
Be responsive. Clients don’t appreciate feeling as though they are not special. They want to know that you are on their side.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Ortoli, co-founder of Ortoli Rosenstadt LLP, a New York City law firm, and the head of the firm’s real estate and international practices.
Richard represents small to medium-size privately held companies and high-net-worth individuals, both U.S. and foreign, in the U.S. and abroad. Richard’s forty years of law practice and extensive international business experience as an investor and principal enables him to bring a unique perspective for identifying, analyzing and resolving issues arising in cross-border transactions for foreign and U.S. clients.
The core of Richard’s practice crosses a broad range of industrial sectors, and consists of assisting European (in particular French, Belgian, British, and Italian), South American (in particular Brazilian and Argentinian) and other international private companies in their U.S. investments and cross-border transactions and litigation. He also serves as outside U.S. general counsel to a variety of foreign clients, providing day-to-day legal and business counsel in matters of all kinds.
Richard’s areas of specialization include: international and domestic real estate law, international and domestic mergers and acquisitions, general corporate law, international and domestic trademark, licensing, distribution and franchising, international tax, and international trusts and estates.
The son of a French diplomat and an Anglo-South American mother, Richard was born in Sydney, Australia. He has lived in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, France, the United States, England, Spain, South Africa, and Brazil.
Richard is very active in the French community in the United States, and he is an elected local representative (conseiller des Français de l’étranger) of the French community in the tri-state area. He is also a member (conseiller) of the 90-member Assemblée des Français de l’étranger (the Assembly of the overseas French), elected to represent the French in the United States. He has chaired the Board of Trustees of the New York French American Charter School, a bi-lingual (French/English) charter school in Harlem, for over 6 years. For over 10 years Richard was the President and a board member of the 70-member Committee of French Associations of New York. He also served as the President of the Corsican Association in the United States for over 15 years.
He is fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Norwegian.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Sydney, Australia into a multicultural family. My father was a French diplomat; my mother was born in Brazil of an English father who emigrated to Argentina in his early 20s at the end of the 19th century and became a very successful banker in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. My grandfather married my Anglo-Argentine grandmother, who had a British father and a Basque/ Portuguese/Brazilian mother.
I have lived in several countries (Australia, New Zealand, France, the U.S., Spain, South Africa, the U.K.). My education includes a mixture of diverse schools in New Zealand, France, Spain the U.S. (Los Angeles for grade school and upstate New York, for law school), and the U.K. (for high school and undergraduate).
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two quotes that I live by:
“Instead of complaining about having the rug pulled out from under you, you should learn to dance on a moving rug — P.S. The rug is always moving.”
This quote illustrates for me the importance of always being adaptable and flexible.
“Skiing is a sport of dynamic imbalance. This means that if you remain in one position for too long, you will lose balance. You find balance between two positions of imbalance.”
To me, this quote is about finding your rhythm in life despite what may come along. You have to learn to move through life rather than remain stagnant. In other words, don’t hold your position, or you will fall over.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A book that significantly impacted me early in life was Albert Camus’s “L’étranger” (the Stranger). The book’s principal theme is alienation and not fitting into a specific category. This theme resonated with me due to growing up in so many cultures and so many countries.
A film that made a big impression on me was The Graduate. Benjamin, the protagonist, played by Dustin Hoffman, rejects the expectations that other people place on him. Instead, he forges through life with his own set of standards. Similar to my own life., I have always believed that things would work out for me, as indeed they have, but not in the conventional way that others expected they would.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I started practicing law in LA in 1980. My father, who, as a diplomat, understood how important one’s network was, always drilled into me that one of the keys for any form of success would be the network I created. So, from day one, I focused on developing a clientele (in fact, I brought in my first client three months after starting practicing). I later understood that another very important key to success in the legal profession was developing a unique selling proposition, to distinguish myself from the myriad of other lawyers by having an extensive set of “tools” in my skills toolbox. My “tools” include having various legal and practical knowledge areas, speaking six different languages, and insatiable curiosity.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
I have pivoted my whole life, so adapting to the Pandemic was not difficult for me.
Not being able to market in the same way as before, by having face-to-face meetings (lunches, dinners, drinks, etc.), my partners and I decided to increase our online presence by hiring a marketing expert.
In my sphere, I have led several webinars focusing on international estate planning and real estate investment in the U.S. I continue to be active in the U.S. Leeds University (my undergraduate alma mater) Alumni Association as a member of the board of directors, as the elected representative of the French locally in the Tri-State Area and in the U.S., and as the chair of the Board of Trustees of the New York French American Charter School in Harlem, a bilingual (French-English) charter school.
All of this continues to give me visibility, despite the current circumstances.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
My “aha moment” did not come about as a result of the Pandemic.
It came about shortly after I started my first job, as an associate, at a large law firm in L.A. I was asked to go with a partner to a client meeting. When we were at the elevator in our building, the partner handed his briefcase to me and told me to carry it. This was a tactic of his I had been warned about. It was his way of showing that he was the boss and I the subordinate. I took the briefcase but made sure to have him come up with a lame excuse as to why he couldn’t carry it and vowed at that moment that I would never be beholden to only one person and that my path to professional success would be by having my own clients.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Relative to other lawyers that I speak with, things are going very well. Business is not entirely as busy as before, but the increased focus on marketing outreach is serving us well.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I performed military service as a reserve officer in the French Air Force. I was lucky enough at the age of 22 to have been 1 out of 125 young men accepted to the reserve officer’s Academy for a 4-month training course.
On graduation day, all of the freshly minted young officers got to choose their postings based on their class position. I graduated in the top tier. My uncle, who was a General in the Army, and had his sources, told me that there was a posting at the Air Ministry in Paris that was guaranteed for me since the candidate had to speak English and French fluently, which I did. My family had an apartment in Paris so that would have been perfect for me. Unfortunately, the job went to the son of an Air Force General. I was bitterly disappointed. The next posting available was at the Air Force recruitment office in a small town on the Riviera. I thought that that would be perfect for the next year or so. Then one of my classmates came up to me and said that he lived in that same town and had just gotten married, and his wife was pregnant; could I please let him have that posting. In a moment of altruism, I agreed to his request.
However, this still left me without a posting. I found out that the only posting that had any semblance of appeal was on the very same base where I had done my basic training and where I had just experienced an unhappy few months as a lowly private!
When that sunk in, I was very disappointed and I went to see the commander of the Academy to complain. He told me that my disappointment was mistaken and that, in fact, of all the available choices, this would be the most enriching in every respect. Indeed, it was. As the “permanent” officer in the recruit training center (the flying crew officers rotated in and out every two months), I was responsible, at the age of 22, for 450 young recruits and a staff of over 40 NCOs. It was a crash course in every aspect of human existence.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I am primarily an international business lawyer. However, I am on the list of lawyers recommended by the French Consulate for various matters that are completely out of the mainstream of what I do most of the time, but which are always of great human interest.
For instance, through the Consulate, I was contacted in early October by a very elderly lady in France whose sister had passed away in New York in September of a heart attack, apparently without leaving a will. Unfortunately, although the lady in France was in regular contact with her sister by phone, she hadn’t seen her for over 40 years and knew very little about her life.I had to do an amazing amount of detective work in order to get enough information to obtain a death certificate for the decedent so as finally to lay her to rest. In addition, the decedent’s family in France could not and still cannot travel to the U.S. because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions. I, therefore, became responsible for organizing every aspect of the funeral, down to purchasing a burial plot. I have certainly learned a considerable amount about funeral arrangements in the last couple of months, but above all, I am happy to have assisted a client in such a vulnerable time of need.
What are your five things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Harboring feelings of regret isn’t part of my approach to life. My partner, Bill Rosenstadt, and I share a very similar business philosophy that we have thought through and articulated, with few missteps. In broad strokes, these are:
– All of the partners of the firm have to have enough of their own business to stay afloat in rough waters, such as now.
– Listen to your clients. Let them speak before you do.
– Be curious.
– Be creative. Clients come to us for solutions — they don’t want canned answers.
– Be responsive. Clients don’t appreciate feeling as though they are not special. They want to know that you are on their side.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
One has to start out being convinced that everything will work out and also be committed to taking steps to make sure it will work out. My mantra is: “Don’t sweat the small stuff — P.S. it is all small stuff.” If you start getting anxious, it will paralyze you. To help myself, I meditate regularly, for at least 20 minutes at a time, which keeps me calm and focused. Everybody should employ some sort of strategy that helps alleviate their anxiety during stressful times.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest number of people, what would that be?
I am always surprised to be told I am important of great influence. I don’t see myself that way. But assuming that this is how others see me, I would say that if I were to inspire a movement that would do the most amount of good to the greatest number of people, it would be to encourage people to focus on what I do, not what I say. I hope that my actions are consistent enough in the results they achieve that they encourage others to believe that they can also achieve similar results. However, the hard part is that before one can inspire others, one has to get one’s own house in order. Doing so can be a long process, mostly trial and error, with lots of twists and turns, and blind alleys.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would like to have lunch with Joe Biden. Not out of any political ambition, but because of what he has been through. His humble beginnings, overcoming a stutter, experiencing tragedies in his personal life but still finding a way to be empathic to others truly inspires me. I suspect that he has many things to think about other than meeting me, but who knows? It could happen!
How can our readers follow you online?
My schedule is very busy and doesn’t allow me to have a strong presence on Facebook or Twitter, but I am happy to be contacted via LinkedIn or email. It may take me a bit to respond, so patience would be appreciated.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!