By Jenna Greene, Reprinted from Reuters.com, May 21, 2021
When lawyers through greed or hubris or desperation become white-collar criminals – sent to prison and disbarred – their stories often feel like car crashes. We gape at the wreckage of their lives and move on.
But what happens afterwards, once they’ve done their time? How do they pick up the pieces?
Jeffrey Grant found a path to redemption. Seventeen years after he pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining $247,000 through a 9/11 disaster relief loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York earlier this month reinstated his law license.
“I’m beyond excited, but I also take the responsibility very seriously,” he told me. “I’m really grateful for a second chance.”
His journey is extraordinary, from opioid-addicted real estate lawyer to federal prison inmate to seminary student to head of a criminal justice nonprofit. And now, at age 64, he has come full circle to practice law again.
But this time around, he intends to do it very differently.
A 1981 New York Law School grad, Grant, before everything fell apart, headed his own 20-employee firm, Jeffrey D. Grant & Associates, in Mamaroneck, New York, serving as outside general counsel to large real estate companies.
“I viewed life as a competition,” he said, describing himself as akin to “a paid assassin.”
“It was me against everyone else, or me and my client against everyone else.”
After a sports injury, he was prescribed the painkiller Demerol and over the course of a decade, he became addicted to prescription opioids.
When he couldn’t meet payroll for his firm, he borrowed money from client escrow accounts. With a New York state attorney grievance committee investigation pending, he surrendered his law license on July 28, 2002. That night, he attempted suicide by overdose, he told me.
He wound up in rehab, embracing recovery with three meetings a day. He’s been clean and sober ever since.
But his past caught up with him in 2004, when he learned there was a warrant for his arrest. “No one was more surprised than me,” Grant said. Once informed of the charges, though, it “all came rushing back.”
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, he had applied for federal financial aid and falsely claimed that his firm had an office in New York City. In reality, he merely had an arrangement to use a conference room on occasion in the city.
Did he somehow convince himself this qualified? I asked. “I was a lawyer who represented sophisticated businesspeople,” he said. “I knew better.”
“There’s no question drugs had a lot to do with it, but I can’t blame the drugs,” he continued. “I was desperate, clutching at anything I could.”
Grant served 14 months at a low security prison in White Deer, Pennsylvania – but it was a “real prison with bars,” he said, not one of the so-called Club Fed camps where white-collar offenders typically do their time.
As a “privileged kid from the suburbs,” he said, “I had to learn hard lessons there. But it was exactly what I needed to wipe the last smirk off my face.”
Released in 2007, he knew he wanted to use his experiences to help others. He’s Jewish, but a pastor he knew suggested he consider attending a seminary.
“I didn’t know what that meant,” Grant recalled. (His first reaction: Is that where you train to be a monk?) But he discovered that seminaries, at least the progressive ones, “are basically places where you learn about social justice and faith.”
In 2012, he earned a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He’s been baptized, but he’s also still a Jew. “I’m a double-belonger,” he said.
Grant and his wife Lynn Springer went on to co-found Progressive Prison Ministries. Based in Greenwich, Connecticut, they say it’s the world’s first ministry focused on serving the white-collar justice community.
It includes a weekly white-collar online support group for people “who have a desire to take responsibility for our actions and the wreckage we caused, make amends, and move forward in new way of life centered on hope, care, compassion, tolerance and empathy.” More than 310 people around the country have participated, according to the group’s website.
From 2016 to 2019, Grant also served as the executive director of Family ReEntry, a criminal justice nonprofit with offices and programs in eight Connecticut cities.
Three years ago, he began the process of getting his law license back. The first step was taking the multi-state professional responsibility exam and completing CLE. He also submitted “about 12 inches of paperwork,” he said, including his personal story.
He wrote 14,000 words. “I wanted to tell them everything, the whole story, warts and all,” he said. “It didn’t make a difference to me if strategically it was the right thing to do.” He added, “I let go of the outcome.”
He had a hearing via videoconference last May. “I was scared,” Grant said, but he was surprised to find that the panel members questioning him were “kind.”
“They were thorough and probing, but they were not out to tank me. They were supportive,” he said. “It helped me remember the best parts of being a lawyer.”
On May 5, his license was officially reinstated, and he promptly launched GrantLaw PLLC. With an office on West 43rd Street in Manhattan, he’s offering his services as a private general counsel specializing in white-collar crisis management.
That might include helping a white-collar defendant interview defense lawyers and other specialized counsel, reviewing the lawyers’ work product and billing, and acting as a sounding board, all with the goal of achieving a better and more-cost-efficient outcome.
“Most white-collar defendants are very bright, who have a lot of professional experience and are highly educated,” Grant said. “They don’t realize they’re in trauma – and are making generally very bad decisions while in trauma.”
They need “someone who understands trauma,” he said, “and somebody to trust.”
Given his life experiences, it’s hard for me to imagine a lawyer more uniquely qualified.