Pitney Hardin: Building A Platform For A Bright Future

Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Would each of you tell our readers something about your professional experience? How has your practice evolved over time?

LaFiura: I have been an attorney since 1977, and I have been at Pitney Hardin since 1979, following a clerkship with Judge George H. Barlow, who was a U.S. District Court Judge in New Jersey. My practice is focused primarily on litigation involving franchises and the representation of companies engaged in the distribution of products and services.

One of the things that has occurred over the course of my career is an increasing trend toward specialization. When I began, I handled virtually every kind of litigation matter that came through the door. Over time, I began to focus on franchise disputes and the representation of franchisors. It is difficult for a generalist to develop a reputation, and, indeed, at the professional level that Pitney Hardin and comparable firms occupy, there are very few generalists left.

Marchetta: I have been admitted to practice in New Jersey since 1974. I began my career with Shanley & Fisher and moved on to Hannoch Weisman. In 1993 I joined Pitney Hardin. My practice focuses on commercial litigation, and I handle a great deal of trial work.

Dennis' comments on specialization are on point. I was fortunate to enter the profession at a time when hourly rates - to say nothing of jury awards - were sufficiently modest to enable a young attorney to try a great many cases. With the dramatic increase in the cost of litigation, jury awards, and the trend toward specialization - and it is not clear which of these developments is driving the others - few young attorneys have an opportunity to appear in court, let alone try cases. Today, if a case does get to trial, it is usually a very seasoned, and highly specialized, lawyer who is going to handle it.

Editor: Would you share with us the factors that went into your decision to join Pitney Hardin?

LaFiura: During my clerkship I had an opportunity to assess the work of all of the major New Jersey firms. The quality of Pitney Hardin's work was consistently among the best.

A second factor was that the judge for whom I was clerking highly recommended the firm. Two of his former law clerks were already here. That constituted a strong recommendation.

Marchetta: I had been practicing for some time before I came here, and, having a number of national clients, I was trying to determine whether to stay in New Jersey or to move to New York City. When I looked at the sizeable firms in New Jersey, Pitney was one of the few I thought was well managed, fiscally conservative and stable. In addition, I knew of its reputation for high quality work, and most of the clients I served knew the firm and thought highly of it. That was the major factor for me.

Editor: Please tell us about the firm's history. How has it evolved into one of New Jersey's preeminent law firms?

LaFiura: The firm was formed in 1902, and in its early days it built its reputation representing major national corporations that were incorporated in New Jersey. The firm then added a variety of litigation disciplines and, with the arrival of William J. Brennan, Jr., began to develop its labor practice. That practice continues to expand, as does the firm's extensive litigation practice. The M&A practice today is also very strong. It is unusual for a New Jersey firm to have as sophisticated an M&A practice as we have, and it differentiates us from other New Jersey firms.

Marchetta: Today Pitney Hardin is noted for its strengths in litigation and in the labor and employment law area. As Dennis indicates, M&A work is also justly celebrated, and our IP practice - particularly with the expansion of our New York office - has made a strong impact on the market.

Editor: Speaking of New York, can you share with us the deliberations that went into the decision to open an office in New York in 1994?

LaFiura: A number of clients were encouraging us to establish an office in New York for purposes of referring work to us. We realized, of course, that New York is the source of much of the sophisticated work that we wish to do, and that a New York presence is necessary to attract it.

Beginning in 2000, we decided to expand the office in New York. We did this by looking at particular practice areas, initially patent and IP. We were able to form an affiliation with a group of patent lawyers then leaving an established New York patent and trademark firm, and that was the start of a substantive operation.

Marchetta: Since 2000, we have added corporate, financial services, employment law, litigation and other practices, in addition to growing the patent and IP practice. We have found New York a very receptive market for our services.

Editor: Given the firm's location, you must face significant competition from the leading firms in New York and Philadelphia. How do you go about meeting this challenge?

LaFiura: New Jersey experience is a differentiator so far as the New York and Philadelphia firms are concerned. Knowledge of the local landscape and a relationship with the courts are important, and we find ourselves serving as co-counsel with firms from the two cities, even though they could probably do the work themselves. Local expertise continues to enable us to meet this particular challenge.

The more difficult challenge is to compete with other firms for national work. Success is built upon establishing a relationship with a client and then impressing them with your ability to address complex issues effectively.

Marchetta: We have national clients who have been with us for many years. They continue to come to us in lieu of firms with more of a national reach, because we do have the expertise and provide them with the attention and service they require. Those clients serve to validate what we are trying to do.

We recognize that general counsel, faced with a major problem, are often inclined to go with the largest firm, the firm with a national, even international, reputation. That is a challenge for us. On the other hand, most in-house counsel are pretty sophisticated. They know the firms that have given them good service in the past, and because it is their responsibility, they know the firms that have a reputation for expertise and good service. That is where we try to compete.

Editor: As an aspect of this challenge with New York and Philadelphia firms, when you recruit law school graduates and young laterals, how do you go about differentiating Pitney Hardin?

LaFiura: We are in competition with the New York firms in particular. We look for a New Jersey connection, and we emphasize our ability to provide a workplace that is very close to one's home. That was something that influenced me some 29 years ago.

We have a very strong summer program, and the people who go through it tend to develop relationships with the associates, partners and other personnel here. Virtually all of our summer associates come back when they graduate.

Editor: Does your pro bono program play a role in your recruiting efforts?

LaFiura: Absolutely. Many, if not most, of the young people who come through our doors are very interested in the pro bono opportunities the firm offers. Our participation in the New Jersey Battered Women's Program, which goes back many years, attracts particular interest.

Marchetta: Our pro bono work gets young attorneys into court, and it enables them to deal with clients on a one-on-one basis. The stronger a pro bono program - and we take great pride in ours - the more responsibility an associate is going to have, and at an earlier point in his or her career. I think that also may be a Pitney Hardin point of differentiation with respect to the larger firms, where a young person may have to wait years before actually standing up and addressing a judge and jury, or speaking to in-house counsel. Our pro bono program is a very strong selling point in our recruiting efforts.

Editor: Would you tell us about the firm's Women in Leadership initiative?

Marchetta: We started that program more than 10 years ago. It derived from the proposition that women lawyers market somewhat differently from their male counterparts. The initiative is a way in which our women lawyers reach out to in-house counsel to network, do things together and develop relationships.

Building personal relationships and partnering with clients is something to which the firm gives great encouragement.

LaFiura: Partnering with clients has many facets here. From time to time, a client will come to us when they are looking for a particular expertise to bring in-house for a period of time. We have been able to accommodate that request. We have also been able to build partnering relationships with our CLE accreditation in New York. Our corporate clients attend, and occasionally participate in, the CLE functions that our New York and New Jersey offices offer.

Editor: What about the future? Where would you like to see the firm in, say, five years?

LaFiura: We wish to be at least regional in our reach, if not national. We are committed to growing the firm - but in a sensible way, not growth for the sake of growth - because we understand that a certain size, a certain critical mass, is necessary if we are to continue to attract the best clients, work and lawyers.

In five years, we see ourselves with more offices and a larger complement of lawyers engaged in practice areas that are both challenging and rewarding.

Marchetta: I think our New York office is going to be the platform for much of our growth. IP is a particularly important driver in this. At the same time, the New York office will handle things that previously were done predominantly in New Jersey. We handle white collar criminal work in the New Jersey office, for example, and New York is going to become increasingly involved in that practice. Coupled with a number of other practices, this will serve to fuel the growth of the New York office, and that, in turn, will bring us to a much wider audience and a much greater reach than we enjoy today.

Please email the interviewees at dlafiura@daypitney.com or amarchetta@daypitney.com with questions about this interview.