Like many other Teaneck residents, attorney Michael Samuel had been commuting to New York before COVID hit, but worked mainly from home during the pandemic. He’s going back across the bridge now—but he’s bringing his office with him.
Samuel has a thriving legal practice in Manhattan, specializing in personal-injury claims and “wage and hour” cases, compensation for workers who are entitled to time-and-a-half over the standard 40-hour week. Many potential clients are unable to use public transportation or come to the office. Samuel has been meeting clients on Zoom, but that’s hard for the people who don’t have computers or access to the internet.
He decided there had to be a better, more personal way of communicating, and came up with the ideal solution—bring the office to the clients. He shared the idea with Richard Hastings, an attorney he knew from a networking group, and together they started The Law Van, in addition to their own practices.
On a busy thoroughfare in the Bronx, four to five days a week, passers-by will see the 28-foot Law Van, complete with office equipment, furniture and a refrigerator. When Hastings found the vehicle, it was already built out as an office. Samuel took a mechanic to check it out and gave it a thumb’s up. After getting a new look with logo and graphics, the van was good to go. “Driving the van for the first time was nerve-racking just due to its sheer size,” Samuel recalled.
The partners take turns driving. They park the van on a street that always has a spot for the office on wheels, and at night bring it to a nearby garage. People in the neighborhood have gotten to know the van. They’ll stop and ask questions; sometimes they take down the phone number and website address and get in touch later. It’s a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood, so Samuel and Hastings have a translator on staff.
The work that Samuel and Hastings do gives them a lot of satisfaction. Many of their clients are restaurant and construction workers who don’t know the law, or how an attorney can help them. The partners take cases on a contingency-fee basis, so they do their homework to decide if a lawsuit has merit before proceeding.
Although personal-injury cases are usually settled quickly, “wage and hour cases” are more contentious. “Damages can get high quickly so there’s a lot of pushback,” said Samuel. “Employers might say, ‘The guy never worked there,’ but we are usually able to prove it with many methods like photos of the worker in the restaurant or corroboration by coworkers who testify.”
The Law Van hit the streets last month. People in the neighborhood are getting used to seeing it, and talking to the partners or finding the app on the App Store or Google Play. The Law Van has already started generating cases.
And this is just the beginning. The partners want to have Law Vans in other boroughs and states. “I think this is the future,” said Hastings. “Traditional office spaces will be giving way to more out-of-the box ideas such as The Law Van.”
By Bracha Schwartz