Lowenstein Sandler PC: A Firm On The Move

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Rodburg, please tell us something about your background. How did you come to Lowenstein Sandler?

Rodburg: I was born and raised in New Jersey. I spent seven years in Cambridge Massachusetts, first at MIT and then at Harvard Law School. During my final year of law school I did not intend to return to New Jersey following graduation, but Lowenstein Sandler made a very interesting point in its firm description at the Harvard placement office: that, with the exception of founding partner Alan Lowenstein, the oldest partner at the firm was 41. I was intrigued by that, as well as by the interesting corporate work - things seldom seen outside of New York City - the firm was handling. Today, 35 years later, I am still here.

Editor: Can you tell us something about the firm's history?

Rodburg: The firm was founded in 1961. Alan Lowenstein was a very prominent lawyer in New Jersey, and his particular background was in corporate banking. During the early years, the firm focussed on banking and corporate work, but Alan was committed to offering a variety of sophisticated corporate services. He brought in tax attorneys and, in time, the firm acquired excellent litigation skills. By the time I joined, the firm boasted 17 lawyers, but it was a full service firm engaged in some very sophisticated corporate, tax and litigation matters.

Editor: Please describe your litigation and environmental law practice.

Rodburg: I started out as a general litigator dealing, for the most part, with complex commercial disputes. By 1974, the two most significant cases I happened to be working on were environmental. This was a time when environmental law, outside of Washington regulatory practice, was in its infancy. There was considerable support, both from the general public and on the part of both political parties, for strong environmental enforcement and protection policies, however. I believed that the firm's environmental practice was going to grow dramatically, and that has been the case.

Editor: What are the principal challenges that you face as Managing Director of one of New Jersey's largest law firms?

Rodburg: I think that the firm's biggest challenge - and therefore my biggest challenge - is to attract the kind of legal talent that will enable us to continue to make Lowenstein Sandler a great place to practice and a provider of legal services of the very highest quality. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is compensation, destination cities such as New York, San Francisco, even Boston, have absorbed an enormous amount of the available legal talent. That means there is less of that talent available to everyone else. In the 1960s, Harvard Law School was sending something like 15 to 18 graduates a year to New Jersey. I became President of the Harvard Law School Association of New Jersey in the late 70s, and at that point the number was down to three or four. In the years since, those numbers have decreased even more. Our response? In addition to putting our best foot forward with new graduates and judicial clerks, we are aggressive in looking at people with some experience and those who are looking for a new platform from which to practice.

Another major challenge, of course, lies in the fact that Lowenstein Sandler conducts a full service law practice in the same geographic area as some of the largest and most celebrated law firms in the world. There is a great deal of competition in this particular market.

Editor: You wear a number of hats: that of a practicing attorney, that of an author and lecturer and that of the chief executive and principal spokesman of a business enterprise. Would you share with our readers how you manage to juggle these roles?

Rodburg: When I first assumed the position of Managing Director, I thought it was possible to maintain my practice at, say, two-thirds of the time, with the balance given over to running the firm. I was wrong. The work I do for clients is limited to a few significant relationships, and I tend to be in a supervisory role even there. I have really been forced to delegate most of the hands-on responsibility to other attorneys. In addition, I have tended to narrow my focus within the firm's environmental law practice. I have chosen to stay abreast of developments in a few key environmental law areas, but I have deliberately stayed away from others. A person in my position must commit to being a CEO, and that means putting the firm first.

Editor: Lowenstein Sandler has an enviable reputation as one of the leading firms in New Jersey. That did not just happen. Please tell us about the things that have contributed to the firm's success and growth over the years.

Rodburg: The most important element of success is providing service of the very highest quality, and that includes tending to client relationships. From its founding, Lowenstein Sandler has taken great pride in the excellence of its services and the relationships it has built with its clients. In my view, firms are in trouble when annual revenues begin to matter more than clients. Lawyers who are attentive to these things tend to be satisfied in their work. At Lowenstein Sandler, we believe that three things contribute to a satisfied state of mind: a professional life that is challenging and interesting and committed to providing services at the very highest level; a recognition, and a commitment, to one's family and personal life; and a recognition that each lawyer has community obligations as well. We seek a balance in the way we practice law at Lowenstein Sandler. That tends to attract people who care about their family lives, and about their communities, as well as about professional development and client relationships. Finding and then maintaining the right balance is not always easy, but we work hard at it, and, in general, it has been the right formula for us.

About eight years ago we made a deliberate decision to grow. Until then we had grown in a rather haphazard way. A full service practice of our sophistication level requires a certain level of expertise and considerable depth, however. Strengthening our bench meant reaching out to bring in people with extensive experience in a great many disciplines and practice areas, people from a variety of other firm cultures. They have enriched our collective expertise dramatically, and they have also enabled us to recognize what is valuable in our own firm culture and, as a consequence, we try even harder to avoid losing it.

Editor: Are there particular practice areas that you would cite as highlights or key strengths of the firm?

Rodburg: We continue to be well known for our sophisticated corporate practice and in such areas as corporate governance, corporate finance and securities. There was a time when we enjoyed the reputation of being the only firm in New Jersey capable of taking a corporate client from organization and incorporation through the process of going public and being listed on the New York Stock Exchange and remaining that client's principal outside counsel. We brought in a bankruptcy group the very week NASDAQ reached its all-time high, which reflected our sense that the expansion of the 90s was not going to go on forever. With the downturn in the business cycle in recent years, the bankruptcy practice has grown dramatically. I take a great deal of pride in our environmental practice, of course, and it remains one of the firm's strengths. We have also built up a quite credible IP practice, with ten patent prosecution attorneys where we had none just a few years ago. One of our senior patent prosecutors has the distinction of having represented, over a four-year stretch, three different clients whose patents were named in MIT's Technology Review as one of the ten most significant patents for that year.

Editor: Are there practice areas that you would like to expand in the future?

Rodburg: At the moment we are interested in bolstering our healthcare practice and our real estate practice.

Editor: How do you go about expanding?

Rodburg: Today, about one-third of the attorneys we hire are recent law school graduates or law clerks. Two-thirds come to us by way of lateral hire. We also bring in new partners as laterals, experienced practitioners who meet our expertise needs and who have client relationships on which we can build. This is usually done on an individual basis, and we have found it easier to integrate a single person into our firm culture than we have an entire practice group, to say nothing of a small firm. We have tended to avoid expanding through the acquisition of small or specialized firms.

Editor: Lowenstein recently relocated its New York office to larger premises in Rockefeller Center. What led to the decision to open a New York office?

Rodburg: We identified a need to be in New York primarily because many of our clients expected us to be there. Many of them have a presence there, and they felt that we might be better able to serve them if we were there as well. In addition, New York is the financial capital of the United States. Given the quality of legal work that we seek to do, being there provides us with a kind of credibility we would not otherwise have. We do not attempt to duplicate the services we provide from New Jersey, but rather to establish a presence with people who really need to be there as a consequence of client expectations. By the same token, we do have a constant flow of attorneys who practice primarily in New Jersey but whose clients, from time to time, expect them to be in New York. Notwithstanding the fact that the New York office is growing, we remain a very cohesive firm composed of practice groups engaged in constant cross-fertilization. The New York office does not represent any kind of change in the firm's inclusive culture or the balance it seeks to bring to the practice of law.

Editor: Pro bono service is something that defines a law firm's values, and, again, Lowenstein Sandler is celebrated for its commitment in that area. Would you share with us the firm's success in the recently settled litigation to reform DYFS, New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services? And your decision to forego in excess of $1 million in legal fees?

Rodburg: Our representation of Children's Rights, Inc. was a deliberate attempt on our part to focus some of the firm's very finest talent, supported by considerable resources, on a high impact issue. Pro bono service is the part of our firm culture which acknowledges a lawyer's obligations to the community. Meeting those obligations gives a tremendous boost to both the individuals involved and to the firm as a whole. Needless to say, we were very pleased that, as a result of our efforts, the governor and his administration acknowledged the serious problems DYFS faced and has sought to address them. Our role in all of this was for the public good, and the decision to forego our fees was the easiest one I have made as Managing Director.

Please email the interviewee at mrodburg@lowenstein.com with questions about this interview.