Pennsylvania/New Jersey - Law Firms New Jersey - And The View Beyond

Friday, July 1, 2005 - 01:00
Phillip E. Griffin

Editor: Please tell our readers about your background and your practice areas.

Griffin: I graduated from Princeton University with an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering. I worked for a short time as an engineer initially on the design team of the DC-10 Jumbo Jet for McDonald Douglas on the west coast and then on the TIROS Weather Satellite program for RCA Astro Electronics in New Jersey. My original plan was to obtain an MBA rather than a law degree. In fact, I was offered a scholarship to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania's MBA program, but had to postpone my MBA plans to enlist in the New Jersey Air National Guard during the Viet Nam war - a position that resulted in my becoming an aerospace engineer loading concrete bombs in Atlantic City, New Jersey! Following my six-month active military service, I returned to work at RCA Astro Electronics. Shortly thereafter, when RCA lost a competitive bid for a very large military contract, many senior engineers in the company lost their jobs and younger less expensive engineers like myself were given their positions. After seeing how that process impacted my colleagues, I decided to do something else with my life, and with the support of my wife's teaching position, returned to school as a full-time law student.

I graduated from Rutgers Law School in 1974 and clerked for a year on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia for Judge Phillip Forman. At his urging, I then took a job at a small firm in Trenton, Katzenbach, Gildea and Rudner, as a general practice lawyer doing everything from real estate closings to litigation. The firm represented mostly business clients, so I became involved in a lot of tax and business litigation. To give myself a better background in tax issues, I entered the night program at New York University for an LL.M. in tax law. I am now a partner of one of my professors at NYU, Guy Maxfield.

Editor: I understand that you co-chair the firm with Mr. Abraham Reich. Why have two chairs? How is it working?

Griffin: With seven of our ten offices located in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, co-chairs representing both of those states made sense. It demonstrates the importance of our multiple office design and the fact that we are no longer simply a large Philadelphia-based firm. We now have 10 equally important offices. Another important reason for co-chairs is that both Abe and I want to continue practicing law instead of focusing just on running the firm. We are fortunate enough to have our administrative partner, Mark Silow, who handles the day-to-day management work. Abe and I work with him on the firm's strategic planning initiatives, and all three of us work collegially and collaboratively. We allocate many responsibilities, but Mark does more of the actual management work.

Editor: Tell us about the efforts of your Princeton office.

Griffin: Princeton is a high-tech center. Our office there is currently the fastest growing of our larger offices. It has grown from 22 to nearly 80 lawyers in 10 years. We have intellectual property lawyers, biotech specialists, environmental lawyers, and former executives of technology companies. Our firm also has formed an angel investing group for both clients and non-clients. The group invests in small startup companies in a variety of fields. We offer a variety of services to high-tech firms. For example, I have a client who is in microbiology and diagnostic testing whom we are helping develop and build out his business model. We provide him with help in a myriad of fields from employment law to pension designs and litigation, and we are helping the CEO to build a management team.

Editor: Do you see further growth prospects in New Jersey?

Griffin: We have seen an improvement in the economy across the board. We have noticed it particularly in distribution businesses, in health care and in the chemical industry. When you see those basic industries do well, it is a signal that there is something positive going on. We think the state is building a good business base as a foundation for future growth.

Editor: Are New Jersey growth prospects fostered by state government?

Griffin: The state government is going through a transition. Both candidates in the current campaign for New Jersey governor are strong, energetic business leaders who have had tremendous prior careers. I think that bodes well for the state's future. Our firm has direct links with New Jersey's state government and judiciary. The New Jersey Commissioner of Department of Community Affairs, Susan Bass Levin, is a former Fox Rothschild lawyer. She is a tremendous resource for discussing issues important to us and our clients. One of our partners, Roberto Rivera-Soto, was recently confirmed as a justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. As a former business trial lawyer, he has first-hand knowledge of what disputes are all about and how they should be handled. We take great pride in that appointment. Another member of the New Jersey Supreme Court is Virginia Long, whose husband is my partner in Princeton, Jonathan Weiner. And Jeffrey Pollack, son of New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Stewart Pollack, is a Fox Rothschild environmental lawyer.

Editor: Does New Jersey have business-friendly courts?

Griffin: I think New Jersey could use a new look at how it adjudicates business issues. The people serving on the Appellate Division and Supreme Court are superior judges, and generally by the time a matter gets to them, business issues are well-framed and debated. The trial judges have a difficult road to follow in handling business disputes. They frequently move from one type of law to another; they are often overworked and strained, and have calendars clogged with personal injury, matrimonial and criminal matters. The jury system works well in deciding whether someone has done something wrong in matters involving personal law, but I don't think the average person selected to serve on a jury is well-equipped to resolve many of the business disputes before it, nor to fairly measure damages in almost any case for that matter.

New Jersey's federal courts have always had a fine reputation throughout the Third Circuit Court of Appeals where I clerked. I have always been impressed with the system's ability to deal with even complex business matters.