Proskauer's New Jersey Labor And Employment Practice: Gaining Momentum

Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Goldstein, please tell our readers something about your background and professional experience.

Goldstein: I received my undergraduate degree from Cornell University in Industrial and Labor Relations, and my law degree is from Boston University School of Law. I spent my first two years out of law school working in-house at a company called General Cable Corporation, where I handled day-to-day labor relations. In 1972, I joined Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman, where I became a partner and stayed for 26 years. In January of 1999, I joined Proskauer with the intention and mandate to build its New Jersey labor and employment practice.

Editor: How did you come to Proskauer? Would you share with us the things that attracted you to the firm?

Goldstein: A number of things attracted me. Proskauer has a national reputation. Its reputation was extremely important for me to further develop my practice. It also possesses an international labor and employment practice, and that meant that in servicing my clients, I would be able to draw upon resources - in terms of both expertise and personnel - from across the firm in a way that I simply had not been able to do before. Finally, Proskauer's labor and employment practice is about as sophisticated as it gets. I therefore knew I would be joining a group of people whose professional accomplishments are extraordinary and through whom I could grow professionally.

Editor: Please tell us about your practice. How has it evolved over the course of your career?

Goldstein: When I first started practicing in New Jersey there was very little employment-side work. There was almost no employment discrimination litigation and no litigation involving non-union employees claiming wrongful termination. Initially, therefore, most of my practice involved day-to-day labor relations, including contract negotiations with unions, labor arbitrations, and litigations at the NLRB. Today, I continue to do traditional labor law, but I also spend a significant amount of time counseling clients on strategic planning in connection with their union situations. In addition, I am engaged in M&A work, counseling clients who are buying and selling companies that have union relationships. I have also developed my trial skills and handle a significant amount of sophisticated employment litigation in state and federal courts and before the NASD, including wage and hour litigation, discrimination claims, and general employment litigation. For example, last month I had a four-week trial in Bergen County successfully defending a client who had been accused of terminating an employee who claimed to be a whistleblower. Next week I start a trial in Union County defending against an employee's sexual harassment claim. I am also in the midst of an extended ADR arbitration involving a claim of race discrimination. Over time, my practice has extended into virtually all areas of labor and employment law.

Editor: What was the reasoning behind Proskauer's decision to open a New Jersey office seven years ago?

Goldstein: Proskauer recognized that there was a very significant market for a sophisticated labor and employment practice in New Jersey. The firm already had a presence in Clifton, New Jersey, which was a small office with one full-time general litigator and a few labor and employment attorneys who were in New Jersey on a part-time basis. When I joined, the firm's focus was on establishing a full-scale labor and employment presence in New Jersey.

The firm thought that my client base and my long-standing contacts in New Jersey, together with a firm-wide client base that included many major New Jersey corporations, would provide a strong platform to develop a deep and sophisticated New Jersey-based labor and employment practice.

Editor: What kind of growth have you seen over the seven years this strategy has been in place?

Goldstein: I started the office with eight lawyers. Today we have about 40, and by September the office will reach 45 lawyers.

Editor: Who are the clients?

Goldstein: Our New Jersey practice extends to a range of clients and industries. Among the pharmaceuticals, we represent Bristol Myers Squibb, Hoffmann LaRoche, ImClone, Purdue Pharma, and Medco Health Solutions. In telecommunications, we work with AT&T, Avaya, and a number of other large companies. In the financial services area, we represent companies such as Prudential, UBS, Bank of America, and Bear Stearns. We do a significant amount of work in the retail industry, including representation of Pathmark, A&P, Hess, and Bed Bath & Beyond. In entertainment, we represent CBS and NBC, and in transportation, we represent Jet Blue and Greyhound.

Without a New Jersey office, I do not believe we would be representing some of these clients. To be sure, some of the work might have been done from other firm locations, but the extensive, in-depth and New Jersey-centric work we do requires a significant on-the-ground New Jersey presence.

Editor: What are the principal practice areas that are represented in the New Jersey office?

Goldstein: At the moment, we are engaged in every facet of labor and employment law representing management. We handle traditional labor law issues. We also represent employers in the full range of employment litigation matters, including non-compete litigation. We have a deep ERISA defense litigation practice as well. Also, the firm's immigration practice is centered in New Jersey.

Editor: Are there particular areas that you have targeted for growth?

Goldstein: Of course, we see New Jersey generally as having tremendous growth potential. More specifically, we have targeted the financial services, pharmaceutical, and telecommunications industries - all significant sectors in New Jersey which have been growing. We hope to be able to grow with them. In the service sector, we also represent major law firms, accounting firms, and insurance companies in connection with their internal employment law problems.

Editor: How do you go about growing the office?

Goldstein: Besides expanding the work we do with existing clients, we have been bringing in talent laterally and also promoting from within the office. There are now five partners in New Jersey, all of whom have joined laterally. We have four senior counsel, all of whom have been promoted from within. Most recently, we brought John Barry on board from Epstein Becker's New York office. John has significant experience in a wide range of employment matters, including EEOC compliance, harassment, wage and hour issues, employment contracts and non-compete agreements, reductions-in-force, and the like. He has brought a strategic complement to our New Jersey employment practice, and we are very glad to have him.

Editor: Six months ago David Grunblatt joined the New Jersey office as head of the firm's Immigration Law Practice Group. What are your plans for this practice?

Goldstein: David is an immigration lawyer of national repute. He has brought a significant amount of business to what was already one of the largest immigration practices within any of the large law firms. We now have twelve immigration lawyers and a large number of paralegals in Newark. With globalization, the movement of both foreign nationals and U.S. personnel around the world is an increasing phenomenon, and we are well positioned to service this need. Our international immigration practice complements just about everything we do in the employment law area, and we have found it to be a great benefit to our corporate clients.

Editor: How does the New Jersey office connect to other Proskauer offices? Are you able to draw upon the resources of other offices in staffing your projects? And vice versa?

Goldstein: Even with our various locations, we are a highly integrated law firm. I call upon Boston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, New Orleans, and Florida on a regular basis, and I am on call for their projects as well. For example, in the last two weeks I have asked one of my Boca Raton partners to handle a major litigation out of Tampa for a New Jersey client, and two Boston partners are working on several technical IP issues which have arisen in Boston for another of our New Jersey-based clients. By the same token, we handle a variety of New Jersey-based litigation and other New Jersey issues for partners from across the firm.

The firm-wide labor group holds a monthly videoconference which brings people from all of our offices together. This is our way of communicating recent developments, learning about the different areas of expertise that may not reside in each office but which are available elsewhere in the firm, and coordinating our efforts.

Editor: As you know, our publication is directed at corporate counsel. What are the issues that we should be calling to the attention of our readers, particularly general counsel and members of corporate legal departments at New Jersey corporations?

Goldstein: We see the continuous expansion of the class action bar, and your readers should be sensitive to this trend. We are seeing more and more wage and hour class actions. Historically, this type of litigation involved a single plaintiff, usually a disgruntled former employee claiming to have been denied overtime. Now the class action bar has gotten involved in a major way. We have seen a significant increase in this type of class-based litigation in the financial services area, and this appears to be a nationwide trend.

In the ERISA arena, we see more class-based litigation of both employee classification claims and fund investment decisions. Employers should be sensitive to the ways in which they classify employees - exempt or non-exempt, employees or independent contractors - in order to protect the integrity of their benefit plans.

The EEOC recently announced its new focus on systemic discrimination, and we therefore expect more class actions to be initiated by the EEOC.

We also see a considerable expansion in the interpretation of New Jersey's whistleblower statute. The case I recently litigated was brought by a technical person who claimed to have suffered retaliation for a report he had issued as part of his job. Another client is being sued by a former in-house counsel under a similar set of circumstances. I think we are going to see more of these types of cases. Also, it appears that the Governor may sign a new piece of legislation making it unlawful to retaliate against employees who refuse to participate in meetings concerning political or religious issues, providing yet another category for whistleblower protections.

Editor: What about the future? Where would you like the New Jersey office to be in, say, five years?

Goldstein: Right now, we are the second largest labor and employment practice in New Jersey. By September, when we reach 45 attorneys, I think we will have the largest employment practice in the state. In five years time, I anticipate we will grow by at least fifty percent.

Please email the interviewee at mmgoldstein@proskauer.com with questions about this interview.