From a Jury of 12 to an Audience of 1:
Empowering People with Autism to Find Personal Connections
CBS NEWS TO LAW SCHOOL
Most babies’ first word is “mama.” According to my parents, mine was “Dan Rather”. Can you tell we were an evening news family? It looked for a long time like my career would run through journalism, maybe even CBS News.
During my first college summer break, I interned at The Forward (English), thanks to my grade school Yiddish teacher, Rukhl Schaechter, who edits the Yiddish Forverts. One of the first articles of mine they printed was a review of journalist Daniel Schorr’s memoir. (Even at The Forward, I still found a connection to CBS News.)
A year later, I found myself on a plane to California where I met Esther Kartiganer. Not only was she a producer at “60 Minutes,” but she was also a close friend of my Brandeis University journalism mentor, Michael Socolow. She offered to help me land an internship at CBS News, and I gladly took her up on the offer. I landed at the TV show “48 Hours,” where I scoured the daily news looking for stories to pitch. (One of the stories I found even made it into an episode!)
But trouble was brewing in television news land, and the CBS News HR executive that I had befriended warned me against putting my eggs in that basket, so I did the only other thing I could think of: I went to law school.
WINNING MY FIRST CRIMINAL TRIAL AT 24
The highlight of my time at Cardozo Law School was its Prosecutor Practicum, run by New York County Assistant District Attorney Gary Galperin. For students in the practicum, we spent most of the semester outside the law school building and inside the Manhattan DA. The denouement of the practicum was actually trying a case in housing court. I won! (With the help of a defendant who showed up for half the trial and decided to skip the rest.)
After graduating from Cardozo in 2007, I joined the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office, then run by DA Robert Johnson. Three weeks into my tenure, a slightly more experienced misdemeanor assistant asked me if I’d like to do a trial the next day. The charge was for possession of a “gravity knife,” which sounded like a great opportunity to me.
I tried the case in front of Judge Michael Sonberg, got a conviction on a B-level misdemeanor, and then didn’t win another trial for years! (Getting stuck in the Grand Jury Bureau – where ADAs only work on pre-indictment cases – for 3 consecutive years didn’t help my trial stats.)
VIOLENT CRIME TO ECONOMIC CRIME
The Grand Jury Bureau Chief, Nina Carlow, called me into her office one day and told me I was finally being promoted. Budget cuts be darned, I was moving up in the world! Except, she informed me, I was going to the Economic Crimes Bureau.
Economic Crimes was close to the last place I wanted to land. As a lawyer, I practically prided myself on poor numerical skills. Now they were sending me someplace where I needed to know numbers?
But I went . . . and I loved it!
The highlight of my time there was running a long-term wiretap with ADA Megan Mellem, ADA Graham Van Epps, and Detective Raymond Burke. In the process, I sent hundreds upon hundreds of subpoenas to JPMorgan Chase Bank. I had one of their investigators and one of their subpoena processing employees on speed dial. In the end, we took down a pretty massive identity theft ring.
(Note: Wiretaps aren’t as sexy as they sound. I spent hundreds of hours listening to boring conversations that would make your eyes roll into the back of your head.)
I would’ve continued on as a Bronx DA except that adulthood was calling, and my meager salary wouldn’t pay for a mortgage.
THE BRONX D.A. TO JPMORGAN CHASE’S LITIGATION DEPARTMENT
JPMorgan Chase Bank was still recovering from the Madoff debacle and needed to satisfy the regulators by upping its anti-money laundering game. One of its initiatives was to start a unit that analyzed criminal subpoenas to flag clients who may be posing a risk to the bank.
Who better to bring in than the guy who issued hundreds of subpoenas to the bank in the years prior? (One might even wonder whether Chase hired me to avoid having to fulfill any more of my subpoenas!)
From that unit, I went on to a new position within the bank where I wore two hats: In-house counsel to the subpoena processing units for criminal and regulatory matters, and run-of-the-mill bank and credit card litigation defense.
COACHING IN THE BACKGROUND & MY CLIENT’S WEDDING
All the while, I was coaching autistic and neurodivergent adults. From roughly 2010 to 2013, I was the friendship and dating coach for the Adaptations Program at the Silver Center for Special Needs at the JCC Manhattan, helmed by the incomparable Allison Kleinman. From there, I started taking on private clients in my free time, teaching them the skills they needed to be more social and start dating.
One of my first private clients was a young man named Douglas (not his real name). He came to our sessions prepared, asked great questions, and diligently applied the strategies that I taught him. Then, one day, I found out that he was getting married. Not only that, he and his future wife invited me to give them a blessing (one of the Sheva Berachot) at the ceremony, under the chuppah marital canopy.
That was a career-defining moment for me! It was the moment when I started plotting my exit from law and into full-time coaching. I said to myself, “I want to look back on my life and think about all the weddings I’ve been part of, not all the courtrooms I’ve been in.”
COMMITTING TO A TOTALLY DIFFERENT PATH: FULL-TIME FRIENDSHIP, DATING, AND SOCIAL COACHING FOR PEOPLE WITH AUTISM AND NEURODIVERGENCE
Chase helped make the decision for me. The bank was trying to reduce the size of its legal footprint in New York City while expanding it in places like Columbus (OH), Plano (TX), and Tampa (FL). Having looked into living in those places, none was for me, and I negotiated my eventual exit.
That exit got postponed over and over again, in part due to Covid. But my last day at the bank was in September of 2021, and I started scaling up my autism and neurodiversity social program immediately.
My company is called My Best Social Life, and our flagship program is called Social Life 360. We approach socializing in a way that no other autism and neurodiversity program does: We start by giving our clients a warm and inclusive community so that they start from a place of feeling embraced. Then, over the course of 12 weeks, we teach our clients (and many of their parents) the skills they need to find their “tribe,” make new friends, and even start dating. We do all of that with a combination of online video training, group coaching, and individual mentorship. There’s nothing quite like it on the planet and I’m very proud of it!
GROWING & EXPANDING
The autism community is always on the lookout for innovative ways to make a difference, and Social Life 360 has been exactly that. So, to help serve our clients and grow the business, I took on Ilana Frank, a 16-year special education teacher in the New York City public school system. She became our Director of Education in 2022, and my wife in May 2023!
On the horizon, we’re looking to start a nonprofit to provide scholarships so that more autistic and neurodivergent adults can receive the social skills coaching they need to succeed, and we’re spinning off our flagship program for the religious Jewish community.
Ilana and I want to look back on our lives and feel like we made a difference in the lives of people who want and deserve connection, and we’re confident that we’re on the right track!