Jeremy Lustman is the unlikeliest of shadchanim.
A 42-year-old resident of Hashmonaim who grew up in Baltimore and has been a practicing lawyer for the last 15 years, Lustman spends a significant amount of time flying around the world meeting eligible prospects. But it isn’t marriage-minded singles that Lustman is hoping to match up with qualified partners; instead, the father of three builds business relationships between Israeli companies and foreign firms.
Lustman had been working in Washington as a corporate lawyer with DLA Piper, one of the largest international law firms in the world, for about six years when the economy took a significant turn for the worse.
“It was the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 and the markets were crashing dramatically,” Lustman told The Jewish Link. “It was really hard to be in the world of transactions. When banks are not lending money, companies that want to buy things don’t have the ability to do that. Lawyers, investors, anyone in that world was having a hard time.”
Thinking outside the box, Lustman decided to pitch an idea to his bosses.
“My wife and I had been thinking about going to Israel for a year with the family,” recalled Lustman. “Our kids were young and it was a great way to test the waters. People like me didn’t have a lot of day-to-day work where we were and we were vulnerable. Israeli companies seemed to be doing business around the world and DLA Piper had no organized practice in the area.”
Lustman proposed a one-year trip, to get a feel for the Israeli market and to develop a brand name for DLA Piper in Israel, offering to take a pay cut during the trial run.
“With hashgacha and the stars aligning, I ended up getting the approval to go for a year,” said Lustman.
Armed with a massive amount of determination, Lustman went to Israel with a list of approximately 30 names including family members, distant relatives and odd connections.
“I would call people and tell them I was there for the year and was trying to develop a practice for my firm and asked them if we could go out for coffee,” said Lustman. “I worked out of my house and went from coffee shop to coffee shop to meet with anyone who would give me the time of day.”
By the end of the year, Lustman had brought in enough clients and small corporate transactions to turn a small profit, prompting his bosses to ask him to lengthen his stay. With the U.S. economy still struggling, Lustman happily acceded.
“As someone who threw a dart that landed in the right place, it was great validation,” said Lustman.
With each passing year, Lustman acquired more clients, both Israeli firms who were taking advantage of DLA Piper’s global reach abroad as well as foreign companies looking to connect with Israeli businesses.
“Baruch Hashem, we now have a thriving practice with about 160 clients, Israeli companies who have come through our doors,” said Lustman. “In any month we probably have about 35 to 40 active clients. Our goal is to be one-stop shopping for Israeli companies for anything that they need outside of Israel.”
While most lawyers focus on completing business transactions, Lustman aims to forge relationships by facilitating introductions and serving as a link between Israeli companies and the global market. He estimates that he spends two-thirds of his time building those all-important bridges, and with lawyers in over 30 countries, DLA Piper’s worldwide presence gives Lustman a unique advantage in the Israeli market.
“Because we have offices around the world, we are a great resource,” explained Lustman. “There is no other law firm with a physical presence in Israel that covers the world like we do. It is incredibly valuable for Israeli companies to know that there is a local presence in Israel they can call at 7 on a Sunday morning, who will talk to them in Hebrew and can guide them through anything they need, be it signing a lease in Australia, opening a subsidiary in Spain or dealing with tax issues in the United States. To be able to bring the world literally to their doorstep is really, really helpful.”
Lustman said that his Israel experiment far surpassed his expectations.
“It is a lot of hard work moving away from a large firm and being a startup, but I had the backing of a big organization,” said Lustman. “I was hopeful and encouraged after the first year but I never expected the type of growth that we have.”
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected]
By Sandy Eller