If you ask Leslie Tayne for her job title, she’ll likely come back with a list of answers.
“I’m an attorney and a counselor at law. I’m a family practitioner,” she said. “I’m also a therapist. I tell people that I might not be a licensed therapist, but I’m a really great listener.”
Tayne has spent 16 years as the owner of Tayne Law Group, a debt relief law firm she founded in Long Island that now has offices in White Plains and Mount Kisco, along with a practice in Manhattan.
“If you were sick, you’d go to the doctor,” she said. “When your finances are sick, you come to me.”
While those suffering from difficult financial situations could file for bankruptcy, Tayne offers a different approach, one that includes a new financial strategy and monthly budgets.
“The problem is, people often overlook the symptoms of financial issues and look for other alternatives. They look for loans, they look to family, they look to friends, they look for other ways to resolve the issue,” she said. “Here, we work together to solve the underlying issues of your debt. We go deeper to the root cause, and by resolving the root cause of the financial situation, it doesn’t recur.”
Clients seek out Tayne for help with a number of financial struggles, whether they are parents who are unsure how to afford a new child coming into the family or a family struggling with a loss of income and piles of debt.
“We’re living in areas where it is very expensive. The issues are that our income is not increasing at the rate that our expenses are increasing,” she said. “We’re not seeing the rapid growth in income we were seeing 20, 30 years ago.”
Those problems are prevalent even in high-earning areas like Westchester County.
“It’s not lower income,” she said. “People who have big jobs, who make substantial income, still don’t have enough to put money away. They’re meeting their expenses but they are not able to put money away in the bank, and that’s really a majority of the people we deal with.”
Many business owners are also dealing with a more expensive financial environment, one that includes higher rent and “astronomical” increases in employee expenses.
“In the medical world, all these smaller practices are now being taken over by larger health care corporations,” she said. “The income doctors make isn’t the same that it was. The opportunity to make more money is not there.”
Financial professionals are facing similar issues in the wake of new regulations.
“You can’t charge what you could charge in the past,” Tayne said. “You can’t earn the same numbers.”
Tayne opened her first office in Melville only a few months prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “We had a lot of people who left jobs in Manhattan and took real big pay cuts to come out to Long Island or come to Westchester,” she said. “A lot of people had losses of income and a lot of businesses shut down. It really branched out to have a financial impact that lasted a very long time.”
The domino effect of the attacks led to an increase in her firm’s business, she said. Many of her clients would later include first responders, firefighters and city police personnel with mounting medical bills.
“There were a lot of people who came to us with financial issues, because if you’re not working and you can’t pay your bills, you end up relying on credit cards. With the backlog and a loss of income, you’re not going to get a check that makes up for that, so now you’re stuck with the credit card debt, and you’re not sure how to deal with it.”
Similarly, Tayne said she continues to see the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy.
“If you’re struggling to make ends meet and meet your expenses in the first place, it’s difficult,” she said of a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy. “You might have insurance, but insurance is not going to cover all of it. FEMA will come along and offer you some money, but then there’s a loan process and a loan that has to be paid back.”
Despite the sometimes dire situations faced by her clients, Tayne said it is not difficult for her to maintain a positive outlook.
“I love what I do because I can fix it, I can fix these things,” she said. “There are some sad stories, there’s no doubt, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
After beginning her career as a criminal defense attorney, Tayne landed a job as chief in-house counsel to National Consumer Debt Resolution Co., a debt settlement, credit consolidation and debt reduction company. “It was something I would never have dreamed I would ever have been doing,” she said.
That job sparked a passion for Tayne, who spent only two years with the company before branching out and starting her own firm on Long Island in 2001.
“I never could have imagined I would be where I am today,” she said. “I’ve seen it all, so there’s nothing you could come to me about that I haven’t seen. You could be financially naked with me and there’s nothing you could show me that will shock me.”
Tayne is expanding her firm nationwide through her debt resolution franchise program. The company is looking into a number of markets to open new practices.
“We’re looking all over New York, in Buffalo, Rochester, northern Westchester and Rockland County,” she said. “The Houston area would be a perfect area, because we know Houston is going to have this need, and we just know that’s what’s next for them” in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Tayne said the franchising model made sense for her practice, because it allows flexibility for new partner attorneys and the ability to own their own business.
“For us, it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon,” she said. “We don’t want to expand too early.” She said she expects to open two to four franchises initially.
“When you want to open burger joints, it makes sense to get them up as quickly as possible so you can get your name out there,” she said. “For us, we want to meet quality attorneys that we can have long-term relationships with, that we can help build successful practices. We don’t just want to give you the formula. We want to be there and be partners and make sure that it’s really successful.”