NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In a world where religion is too often used as a tool to divide, three lawyers of different religious backgrounds have come together with a common purpose to serve the legal needs of all faiths and faithful. With its launch today, Nelson Madden Black LLP becomes the first private law firm based in New York, and one of only a handful nationwide, specifically dedicated to the legal representation of religious institutions and individuals.
“There are over 7,000 places of worship in New York City, and they need lawyers who understand their issues,” said co-founder Jonathan Nelson. “Religious organizations have been underserved by our profession. Meeting their needs is the calling of our firm.”
Two of the firm’s founders have been ordained in different capacities, and all have held leadership positions in their faiths. Before the launch of Nelson Madden Black they spent decades separately contributing to religious life in New York and shaping the law affecting it. In 2004, Nelson won a highly publicized case on behalf of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, establishing its constitutional right to minister to the homeless on its steps. John Madden, who sits on the real estate committee of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, served as general counsel for the Lincoln Center Development Project, Inc. during the $1.2 billion renovation of the performing arts center—a project of great relevance to religious institutions with historic properties. Barry Black, an ordained cantor who served congregations for 30 years before stepping down to start the firm, has represented religious institutions and clergy in a variety of matters including employment disputes, governance issues, intraorganizational conflicts, and even criminal proceedings.
The three founders discovered they shared a desire to use their professional talents to support religious entities and a belief that their informed perspective could benefit clients. “Banks and pharmaceutical companies expect to be served by lawyers who understand their organizations. Religious clients should expect no less,” Black said. “In fact, given the unique needs of religious entities and the specialized laws that affect them, it’s vital for them to have counsel who are part of their world and profoundly understand it. That’s what we’re providing.”
In past work, the founders have advised on issues ranging from the termination of clergy to church lease negotiations to the victimization of a congregation in a mortgage-fraud scheme. Their clients have included Hindu temples, Christian ministers, rabbis and cantors, Muslim refugees fleeing religious persecution, and major evangelical organizations.
The firm, which will provide a full suite of legal services to its clients, has already begun hiring and sees substantial growth opportunity ahead. “Of course it’s useful to have years of experience in representing the religious community,” Nelson said. “But each of us also has a passion for this work. We are building that into our institutional DNA.”
While Nelson, Madden and Black bring diverse religious backgrounds to their enterprise, it should not be a surprise that the three have taken a harmonious approach. Black, the former cantor, is not the firm’s only singer; as undergraduates separated by a year at Yale, Nelson and Madden both belonged to the school’s famous Whiffenpoofs a cappella group. “Song is invariably part of religious life. For better or worse, so are legal issues,” Madden said. “That’s why we founded Nelson Madden Black.”
About Nelson Madden Black LLP
Founded by three partners of different faiths, Nelson Madden Black provides a full spectrum of litigation, transactional and advisory legal services to religious institutions and individuals. It is the first New York-based law firm wholly dedicated to the needs of religious clients, and is open to serving clients of all faiths.