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They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Muhammad Faridi of Patterson Belknap

July 28, 2022, 9:00 AM

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
I’ve had two trial victories this year. While both were important, the first was a ruling by a judge. The second was a jury verdict where our client was awarded $2.036 billion. There is something special about anxiously standing next to your colleagues and client while the verdict is read out. And then the hugs that follow.

The other important win this year was in a pro bono case where we sued the government for refusing to award U.S. citizenship to a Muslim religious figure from Sudan. The victory was made sweeter when we were awarded our attorney’s fees, which our firm will donate to good causes focusing on the rights of immigrants and refugees.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
During my first-year as a lawyer, I clerked for Judge Jack B. Weinstein, Senior U.S. District Judge in the Eastern District of New York. During my clerkship, I had the honor of assisting Judge Weinstein in, among other things, preparing to deliver the Cardozo Lecture at the New York City Bar Association. In that lecture, Judge Weinstein emphasized the role of empathy in the practice of law. As Judge Weinstein put it in that lecture, “the component of empathy—of humanity, of the human spirits—is vital in enforcing the rule of law, but it is frequently unnoticed, ignored, and even derided in the legal profession where the focus is mainly on the law and the facts.” He implored the members of the bar to not overlook its importance because “it gives life and meaning to our work as lawyers.”

That is perhaps the most valuable lesson that I will ever learn as a lawyer. I have tried to be mindful of Judge Weinstein’s admonition over the years in my representation of corporate as well as pro bono clients. In my corporate and pro bono work, as a litigator, Judge Weinstein’s lecture has served as a constant reminder to not overlook the role that emotion, experience, and perspective play in decision-making in the corporate and personal environments. That has allowed me to better represent my clients—to listen to their concerns more carefully, to write better briefs, to more effectively conduct examinations in depositions and at trial, and to understand the dynamics in the courtroom.

How do you define success in your practice?
I define success as something very simple: being able to go to bed at night knowing that you have helped a client through a difficult situation. That is true both in my corporate and pro bono practice. On occasions where I feel that I have not been able to assist my client or that my client has made the wrong decision despite my counseling, I feel unsuccessful—and those are the nights I have a hard time falling asleep.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
I am proud of the fact that my work has contributed to making the lives of my pro bono clients a bit easier. These clients typically come to me during the most dire times of their lives. I have not been able to help every single one of them, but there are a few who I have helped. That includes my very first pro bono client, an immigrant family from Honduras that lived in Spanish Harlem and whose children suffered from physical ailments, such as asthma, that resulted from poor maintenance (e.g., failure to remove a mold) of their apartment. Through written advocacy, I was able to get the landlord to make repairs to the apartment. The joy that I felt when the client called me after the repairs were made is what compels me to continue to do that type of work.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
I have had many great mentors. On my first day at Patterson Belknap, I was assigned to work on a case with Erik Haas—a partner who is now the head of worldwide litigation at Johnson & Johnson. He mentored by example, and I have tried to do what he did—work hard and be a zealous advocate for our clients. I tried to emulate his commitment to his clients—whether they were corporate or pro bono.

Here’s an example of his commitment: I worked with him on a pro bono case where we represented a grandmother who was being thrown out of her house because her grandson, who suffered from mental disabilities, retaliated against his bullies. After having spent the entire night in the office working for a corporate client, he showed up at the housing projects in Yonkers at 8:30 a.m. to meet with the client and me. That’s the type of lawyer I wanted to be. I would be remiss if I do not point out my parents as my mentors in the law—Munir Fatima Faridi and Mohammad A. Faridi. They are not lawyers, but they have nonetheless mentored me in the law through their fortitude and strength, and by underscoring through their life experiences that struggle is a necessary element of success.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
My musical taste is stuck in the late 1990s. So Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” has been and will continue to be on the playlist forever.

My children are also forcing me to listen to popular music from today. We are all big fans of Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves”—a song we sing in unison when it comes on the radio.

Muhammad Faridi specializes in high-impact matters involving breaches of contract and commercial torts. He immigrated to the US from Pakistan as a teenager and worked as a livery cab driver in New York City while attending the City University of New York School of Law. He co-chairs his firm’s employee resource group for attorneys of color and a New York City Bar committee focusing on the retention of diverse lawyers.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com; Kibkabe Araya in Washington at karaya@bloombergindustry.com