Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players at the top of their fields to find out what makes them tick, what challenges they face, and how they do what they do.
Seth Goldman, division head of the litigation and employment practice at Mintz, sees employers as “increasingly vulnerable” to lawsuits with a Covid-19 angle.
“We have continued to urge our clients to be proactive about creating a safe working environment,” Goldman says, “whether at a physical workspace or virtual.”
Goldman, who’s based in Mintz’s New York office, has more than two decades of commercial, corporate employment, and securities litigation. His clients include professional sports franchises, institutional investors and bond holders, medical technology companies, and real estate investors.
Goldman sets the strategic direction for client development and lateral hiring initiatives across litigation and employment practice groups at Mintz. The firm’s litigation practice has more women than men, though he says Mintz is focused on closing the gender gap in the partnership ranks.
“While the pandemic has not altered our hiring strategy, it has altered how we recruit candidates,” Goldman says. “We’ve needed to become more creative and flexible.”
Bloomberg Law spoke to Goldman about helping clients address their employment challenges, the firm’s efforts to hire more attorneys of color over the next two years, and how the career advice he gives his sons is the same he’d give to new associates.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Bloomberg Law: What is the biggest challenge currently facing your practice area?
Seth Goldman: We are working with so many clients who have been managing a job on top of a job given the impact of Covid-19.
Our clients are dealing with workforce management issues, data security concerns, force majeure with contracts, as well as various business disputes. We have been helping clients deal with their most pressing and important matters, recognizing that some other litigation concerns have been temporarily put on hold.
We also have a number of clients experiencing the current backlog in the courts, and we have been helping them resolve matters through alternative dispute resolution methods.
BL: How will the health challenges posed by the pandemic affect employment litigation?
SG: An unprecedented year forced employers to quickly re-imagine their workplaces and confront other unique challenges, including a sudden increase in potential exposure to employment-related claims, some familiar, some not.
Employers remain increasingly vulnerable to leave, wage and hour, and discrimination lawsuits, but now with a Covid-19-related angle. These include such issues as a failure to grant leaves or accommodate those unable to work because of Covid-19, tracking hours worked by remote workers, and harassment via virtual means.
As we move into the next phase of the pandemic, employers will continue to be susceptible to a bevy of employment-related litigation emanating from Covid-19. Accordingly, we have continued to urge our clients to be proactive about creating a safe working environment, whether at a physical workspace or virtual, and to ensure compliance with all applicable employment laws and regulations to mitigate their exposure and avoid future litigation.
BL: How has the pandemic shifted how you recruit and hire laterals and new attorneys?
SG: While the pandemic has not altered our hiring strategy, it has altered how we recruit candidates. We’ve needed to become more creative and flexible in the hiring process, striking a balance between virtual and socially-distanced, in-person meetings so we can retain some of the personal elements that are critical to determining fit.
In 2020, Mintz added 21 lateral partners, and 12 joined our litigation practices. These were strategic hires that added depth to our nationally recognized securities litigation and insurance practices, along with bolstering our litigation capabilities in New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles.
We are focused on recruiting and promoting attorneys from diverse backgrounds. While the litigation section has more female lawyers than male lawyers, we are focused on closing the gender gap in our partnership ranks. We are committed to hiring more attorneys of color, including our firm goal of increasing the number of Black attorneys by 50% by June 2022.
BL: What sets your firm apart from other Big Law firms?
SG: Mintz has a culture that focuses on collaboration. We bring each other into opportunities, and we think holistically about our client relationships. Everyone—across the entire firm, at all levels—feels like they are part of our success.
BL: Will there be a mix of work at home and work at office, and if so, what is the mix?
SG: I expect when we emerge from Covid-19, there will be a mix of work at home and work in the office. We have been fully operational in a remote environment and gained many efficiencies through our use of technology. This includes interacting with and working with our clients in a virtual manner. That said, Mintz has a terrific culture and I know we all miss the spontaneous conversations and collaborations that occur in the hallways and coffee break rooms. I expect we’ll adapt to being in and out of the office, just as many of our clients will be doing the same.
BL: What is your most interesting war story from your career/practice?
SG: Because everyone loves an underdog, I think my favorite “war story” is about a derivative action in Delaware Chancery Court where I was told by a myriad of opposing counsel that we had a 0% chance of success. We were representing the minority shareholders of an international fragrance retailer, and our client was alleging major breaches of fiduciary duties by the company’s majority shareholders. First, we successfully opposed the defendants’ efforts to dismiss the case, then we proceeded to persuade the court to reject a Special Litigation Committee settlement – a long shot, but we believed in our case. Following the rejected settlement, the majority stockholders realized we would prevail at trial and decided to sell the company. After seven years of litigation, the judge presiding on the case approved a settlement that was very favorable to our clients, amounting to roughly $40 million.
BL: What advice would you give an associate just starting out his/her Big Law career?
SG: My three sons are of the age where they are thinking about career paths, and I have been advising them to ask questions, be observant, be patient, and learn from others. As a new associate in a Big Law career, I think this same advice applies. Ask questions and observe others to help you truly understand the career choice you have made and to confirm it’s what you want for yourself. Be patient. If you demonstrate intensity of effort and produce excellent work, you will be rewarded with new opportunities over time. And be open to learning from everyone. You will never stop learning in this career and your clients, peers, mentors, and team members will teach you so much if you remain open to it.