Peter A. Mahler’s litigation practice concentrates on corporate dissolution proceedings, contested stock valuations, derivative actions and other disputes among co-owners of closely held business entities, including limited liability companies, partnerships and business corporations. He is a recognized authority and frequent lecturer on “business divorce,” about which he has written hundreds of articles on his widely followed blog, New York Business Divorce. Peter provides pre-litigation counseling to business owners involved in emerging disputes with business partners and, when litigation results, he represents clients through all phases of trial, appellate, mediation and arbitration proceedings. Peter also represents clients in a variety of other types of business litigation including intellectual property, real estate and contract matters.
What do you believe sets your practice apart?
I am one of the very few lawyers whose practice focuses almost exclusively on disputes among co-owners of closely held business entities. The depth of my experience in business divorce, going back over 25 years, allows me to see patterns and to devise strategies that best enable my clients to attain their goals, whether it’s being bought out, or buying out a business partner, or dissolving and liquidating the business. My concentration in business divorce representation also allows me to assuage the concerns of clients, who may be in extreme distress over a disintegrating business relationship often involving relatives in family-owned businesses, about what to expect in the litigation process. Clients appreciate and gain confidence from the fact that I’ve “been there, done that” in all sorts of business divorce scenarios. Clients also appreciate the additional know-how and value I can bring to their matters through my constant monitoring of the case law, giving lectures to other professionals and writing weekly articles for my blog.
“The breakup of a business partnership can be a traumatic event with serious financial and personal consequences for the company owners and employees. Just as every business organization is unique, every business divorce case presents unique problems requiring unique solutions.”
What is the biggest challenge you help clients overcome?
The biggest challenge I face is keeping clients grounded and focused on their business and financial goals. Business divorce cases by their very nature are highly emotionally charged. For some clients, the stress of the situation becomes all-consuming; clients may be fighting with a sibling or parent or with a business partner they’ve known for decades. I’m usually able to reassure clients that, either through negotiation or litigation or a combination of both, the upheaval and intense anxiety they’re experiencing will end, and a business solution will be achieved by way of a buy-out or other restructuring that allows them to get on with their lives and pursue their entrepreneurial goals.
Is there a case where this was particularly challenging?
I litigated a case involving a successful business owned 50/50 by two partners who’d run the company for 30 years before they had a falling out. They had a poorly drafted shareholders’ agreement that, among other defects, set the stage for a hard-fought contest over which one of the partners had the right to buy out the other, and also gave rise to a great discrepancy over the buyout price. The adverse partner started a judicial proceeding which I was able to stay in favor of arbitration. The interim uncertainty regarding which of the two partners would end up buying out the other created a host of problems and legal disputes with the day-to-day running of the business. Ultimately the arbitrator ruled in favor of my client, agreeing that he had the right to buy out his partner on the highly favorable terms and at the formula price set forth in the shareholders’ agreement. My client also won an award for reimbursement of his legal fees. The highly gratifying arbitration victory, which later was confirmed by the court, gave my client the freedom to continue growing his business without the turmoil of a dysfunctional business partnership.
What makes Farrell Fritz unique?
I think where Farrell Fritz stands out from the pack is our devotion to building one-on-one relationships with our clients. When you hire Farrell Fritz, the partner is not there just to check in to see how things are going. The partner in charge is closely and directly involved in every stage of the representation. It’s that sense of ownership, connection and responsibility we take as partners that sets Farrell Fritz apart.