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Name and title: Mitchell Falber, senior vice president and general counsel Age: 49 The ABCs of ABC: Headquartered in New York’s Flatiron district, ABC Carpet & Home functions as a collection of privately owned corporations operating out of New York City with retail stores in the metropolitan area and Florida. With annual revenues of about $165 million and 800 employees, it ranks among New York’s largest privately held businesses. GC’s duties: Falber, whose office is in an out-of-the-way nook amid the sprawling flagship site of the home furnishings and floor covering retailer, runs the law department with no other lawyers on staff. “The most fun thing about the job is the diversity of the practice,” he said. On a given day, he might tackle issues involving employment law, real estate, risk management, pension plans, workers’ compensation, regulatory oversight, customs, contractual deals and licenses. As a senior vice president and general counsel, “I’m wearing two hats,” he explained. Falber regularly visits each of ABC’s locations and makes an effort to meet each of the company’s employees, particularly managers. “It’s good to be reachable and have an open door” for employees, he said. The close-knit relationship he enjoys with ABC’s rank and file and his longevity are the key to his effectiveness, he said. Litigation: Outside lawyers who fail to understand a client’s business operations often offer solutions that are short-sighted and miss the longer-term goal, Falber said. “I don’t want an outside lawyer to tell me to litigate” to achieve a one-time payment when it could destroy a valuable relationship with a long-time vendor. “That accomplishes nothing,” Falber said. Yet he finds that lawyers are often excessively aggressive because they underestimate the business value of relationships and focus narrowly on legal options and strategies. “I see there is far more room for conciliation” among lawyers, on both sides of a dispute, said Falber. He prefers to use mediation and arbitration over what he calls “gladiator litigation” to preserve business relationships. “Business is all give and take,” he said. “It is rarely all take. It is rarely all give. The same applies to dispute resolution.” Pressing for conciliation does not indicate weakness, Falber emphasized, when a company is willing to fight the battles that are truly important. Transactions: This concern of over-aggressive lawyering applies to corporate transactions as well. Lawyers tend to “show off” by arguing arcane provisions that distract deal makers and create an air of hostility among negotiators, said Falber. “Good lawyers stay out of a business transaction until the principals have reached an agreement,” he said. “The chairman doesn’t want to hear you’re arguing . . . over the force majeure clause” or some other provision unlikely ever to matter. Outside counsel: “Outside counsel need to view the general counsel as a partner rather than seeing him as a stranger or someone who should be bypassed,” said Falber. The partnership, he said, rests on basic concepts often overlooked by lawyers. “The smartest advice I can give anyone is listen,” he said. “Don’t be arrogant, and leave your ego at the door.” He finds that many attorneys, by failing to listen seriously, turn off in-house counsel and arrive at less-than-ideal solutions. “Who best knows what personality [at ABC] will make the best witness?” said Falber. “Not an outsider.” This cooperation, he explains, produces a better work product by combining the expertise of both the outside lawyers and in-house personnel. Falber screens law firms with these principles in mind, regardless of whether ABC has had a relationship with the firm in the past. In the litigation setting, he does not expect to second guess the work of outside experts, which would undercut their effectiveness he said. Instead, with his deep knowledge of ABC, he sits as a second chair during trials and helping to draft pleadings. The myriad of firms used by ABC include Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Anderson Kill & Olick. Falber does not limit his choices to large firms, however. “Many small practitioners offer the same quality of work,” he said. No matter the size of the firm, Falber insists on establishing long-term relationships with outside firms, the same principle ABC applies to its business relations. Billing issues: Falber regularly lectures on outside counsel to law firms at bar association gatherings and other venues. When he lectures, the most common question he receives is: How do we get our bills paid? The topic of bad billing is a pet peeve for Falber. He looks for clarity in billing. If he cannot understand an item, he said, he is less likely to pay the full amount. Some bills, he said, charge for blocks of time with no breakdowns of the specific tasks completed and fail to match personnel with these tasks. Falber also dislikes getting charged for extravagances like expensive dinners and refuses to pay for what he considers training of inexperienced associates and duplicative oversight by multiple partners. Falber cites one “11-hour letter” as the epitome of bad behavior by outside counsel. He described a bill his company received a couple of years ago from one of New York’s largest and most respected law firms. His company had hired the firm to work on a corporate transaction. “We determined after an extensive review of their billings that we were billed 11 hours for a letter we never received,” Falber said. That was one of a string of unforgivable mistakes cited by Falber. “It was a complete billing nightmare,” he said. He vowed to never use the firm again. Route to the top: After graduating from Syracuse University in 1976 and Ohio Northern College of Law in 1980, Falber did personal injury work in the small law firm of Michael Mantell, Esq. ABC’s chairman, Jerome Weinrib, who is Falber’s cousin, called him to help on a multimillion-dollar commercial dispute. A four-month jury trial ended with a significant victory for ABC. In 1985, Weinrib called again, this time offering Falber the job of general counsel. Personal: Falber and his wife, Shari, have been married for 22 years and have two sons: Lee, 17, and Jamie, 15. Last book and movie: Chronicles, by Bob Dylan, and The Station Agent.

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