It’s not surprising that Paul Steven Singerman is a strong advocate of mindfulness in the legal profession. As a Miami attorney nationally known for his bankruptcy practice, Singerman regularly counsels clients in deep financial difficulty who are struggling with their emotions of loss and despair. Taking a pause to acknowledge those feelings and settle the mind can lead to decisions based on clear thinking rather than fear or anger.
“I was mortified when I started my journey of the study and practice of mindfulness by how often I interrupted others,” said Singerman, who is co-chair of Berger Singerman’s Miami office. “I have worked hard to reduce my interruption rate and keep listening. In addition to being more courteous and less rude, I have gathered more and better data about myself, my counter-party, and the environment around me by observing more intently and interrupting less often.”
Singerman is nationally known for handling complex restructuring, insolvency and bankruptcy cases, including loan workouts and cross-border matters. Best known for his representation of debtors in restructuring cases and high-stakes litigation, he also represents creditors’ committees, lenders, large unsecured creditors, and asset purchasers in § 363 sales and trustees. He also has substantial experience in large fraud cases and “bet the company” litigation cases.
“We engaged Paul on a mission-critical and highly complex matter that culminated in a multi-year mediation with some of the top investment companies and banks in the world,” said David Friedman, an investor and financial business owner based in Boca Raton and Austin, Texas. “Paul guided us through a difficult process and enabled us to reach a successful outcome and continues to oversee the most important corporate and tax matters for us, many of which involve international jurisdictions.”
Learning About Business
Born in Lima, Ohio, Singerman learned important lessons early in life from his parents, Morton and Esther Singerman. “They instilled strong values and encouraged me to get a good education,” he said. After graduating from a private boarding school in Michigan in 1974, Singerman enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis. Then, his plans took a sudden change.
“My father had a small family business in Lima that he sold in 1972,” Singerman recalled. “When his non-compete agreement expired two years later, he decided to purchase an electronic security franchise in South Florida. He asked me to go into business with him, and I said yes.”
Three weeks later, Singerman and his father assumed ownership of the Miami company, only to find that the seller has misrepresented the business. “Nearly every client had an unfavorable impression of the former management,” he said. “So, I wound up handling my first workout at the age of 18.”
Singerman rolled up his sleeves and worked hard for three years, helping his father turn the business around, before making a successful exit in 1982. In the meantime, Singerman earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. After completing his undergraduate degree, Singerman returned to Miami and the business for another year before starting law school at the University of Florida
While in law school Singerman met his wife Marte, whose father was a college professor and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Florida. They have two children, Eliza, 22 and Rickie, 19. Marte practiced law in Miami for 15 years and now serves as co-founder and general counsel for The Social Cog, a Miami Beach nonprofit that supports adults with learning and developmental disabilities. She is also a certified yoga and meditation teacher.
Starting a Law Career
While in law school, Singerman took a semester off and worked in the Dade County Public Defender’s office. “Our criminal justice system was horribly overtaxed at the time with numerous drug-related trials,” he said. “I loved being in the courtroom,” he said. “It was a very different experience than clerking at a civil law firm.”
After Singerman passed the bar, the public defender’s office asked him to return to the criminal cases, but lacked the committed budget funding to make a firm offer. Instead, Singerman joined the Miami office of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, where he leveraged his business background and trial experience to start building a bankruptcy practice.
“As a former small business owner, I understood what it meant to meet a payroll and read and understand balance sheets, income statements and financial reporting,” Singerman said. “I felt that would give me an advantage in serving clients which turned out to be true. I still think it’s very important for a litigator to understand the underlying business issues of our clients, as well as the historical performance of a company and its forward outlook.”
While at Stroock, Singerman represented Citibank in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case with Mitchell Berger, co-founder of Berger & Davis, representing the debtor. “Together, we were able to find an effective and elegant solution to a very difficult case,” Singerman said. “So, I started to recruit Mitchell and his brother, James Berger, to join Stroock.”
But, in 1996, Singerman’s brother Richard died at a young age from lung cancer. “He had encouraged me to consider being part of an entrepreneurial law firm, and I took those words to heart.” Rather than bring the Berger firm to Stroock, Singerman joined Berger & Davis, which became Berger Davis & Singerman, and opened the firm’s Miami office in 1997.
Singerman steadily grew the office, while building a practice that included distressed businesses, mergers and acquisitions and commercial and bankruptcy litigation. He was also elected a Fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy and was invited to join The American Inns of Court, Spellman-Hoeveler Chapter, and the American Law Institute.
In the past decade, Singerman’s major cases include serving as counsel to Judge Herbert Stettin as Chapter 11 Trustee for the law firm of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, P.A dealing with $1.2 billion in Ponzi scheme claims. He also served as counsel to the Creditors’ Committee in the Taylor, Bean & Whitaker case, one of the largest bankruptcy cases in Florida history, with in excess of $11 billion in claims when the case was filed in 2009. He and Berger Singerman’s Business Reorganization Team also served as debtor’s counsel to Simply Fashion Stores, Ltd. and its affiliate Adinath Corp., HearUSA, Inc., Aloha Airlines, and Levitt and Sons.
“Today, there is relatively little bankruptcy work outside the oil and gas sector,” Singerman said. “One reason is that private investors can take advantage of low interest rates to take over failing businesses and infuse them with cheap capital.”
Singerman has also seen less interest in using the bankruptcy laws to repair a company’s operations and attract new capital. The new model is to file for bankruptcy and quickly liquidate the assets as retail chains like Sports Authority and Circuit City have done, he said.
Reflecting on his three decades of business and legal experience, Singerman believes it is important for attorneys, entrepreneurs and executives to consider applying mindfulness techniques to deal with the daily stresses of professional life.
“I learned about mindfulness from U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold, who wrote an article in the Dade County Bar Journal about how the study of the mind had enhanced his performance,” Singerman said. After reading about the science behind mindfulness, Singerman began his own daily practice and eventually developed an in-house curriculum for Berger Singerman designed by UM law school professor Scott Rogers.
“Even the toughest litigator can benefit from mindfulness practices,” Singerman said. “You can become a better observer and gain greater knowledge of your client. Being mindful of yourself and others helps you make better decisions about the case, be a more powerful advocate and strengthen your client relationship. It’s a winning strategy on every level.”
South Florida Legal Guide 2017 Edition