Today, John Genovese is among the most accomplished bankruptcy attorneys in South Florida and presides as a founding partner at his equally respected complex litigation firm, Genovese Joblove & Battista. But as an undergraduate student at Siena College with a nominal interest in the law, he’ll be the first to admit he couldn’t distinguish his LSATs from his bar exams.
“I just started asking around my junior year,” Genovese told the Daily Business Review regarding when his fascination with the law began to firmly take shape. “I was maybe 24, 25 and I really did not have a clue.”
He continued, “I was interested in the law but I really didn’t … know anything about how to get into law school, or how things were.”
Genovese isn’t plagued by any such uncertainty today. His firm is a few short months away from celebrating its 20th year in practice. And his place in litigation history has been secured for his role in serving as co-counsel for class action shareholders during the Chapter 11 proceedings against shuttered energy company Enron.
When it was reached in 2008, the $7.2 billion verdict on behalf of shareholders in the once-monolithic company was the largest securities class action recovery in U.S. history. Even though Genovese notched more accolades in the subsequent decade, he insists he will “always cherish having worked on that case.”
“The size of that and the quality of the lawyering was outstanding,” he said. “To watch lawyers much better than me, who … practiced the best quality law indifferent to what it’s costing and the complexity — and had the resources to do it — was a fascinating thing and a great learning experience.”
According to Genovese, who describes himself as a prolific reader, one of the qualities that’s kept him coming back to cases such as Enron is the captivating characters that are sometimes obscured by formalized complaints and staid proceedings.
“One of the interesting things about the fraud stuff, which [Genovese Joblove & Battista] does a lot of, is you see all of these scammers and this misbehavior. … And these are fascinating human interest stories,” he said. “You hope that you are on the side that gets to do some justice for victims of fraud.”
In light of his transformation from novice into preeminent litigator, Genovese has learned a thing or two about deftly navigating relationships, both adversarial and cordial. He makes it a priority to stress the need for congeniality to novice attorneys under his watch.
“When I was young I was really excited and thrilled about succeeding in the courtroom. … I was aggressive and probably didn’t realize the importance of collegiality, which I’ve tried to train young people that that’s incredibly important,” he said. “You want to achieve an outcome for your client, but you want to do it in a way that you don’t offend or upset adversaries or their clients.”
“Young people want to roar out of the gates and get really upset emotionally. … You try to teach them that this is still a profession, and these are people you’ll practice with your entire life,” he continued. “The line I use is ‘I spent my first 10 years of my practice pissing people off and the next 10 apologizing for it.’ One lawyer, who I’d known forever, said, ‘You’re really a nice guy!’ [although] I’ve known him for like 20 years.”
Genovese Joblove & Battista first opened for business in 1999 on April Fools’ Day and continues to grow, having recently opened an office in Tampa. As the firm inches closer toward its second decade of existence, Genovese is carefully applying the lessons of his own past to best prepare the litigators who may someday be running the company in his stead.
“I think the older people at the firm — and I would be the oldest — are wondering about succession as most firms do. I think [it] is a challenge that many firms face,” he said. When Genovese finds himself urging younger attorneys to tamp down their rhetoric, or sizing up potential Genovese Joblove & Battista figureheads, he remains mindful of the unexpected twists and turns his own career took.
“Different people exhibit different qualities, and you look for those people that could not just adequately [serve as] succession, but actually exceed what the firm has accomplished,” he said. “So you kind of judge them based upon what you’ve learned about managing a firm and the practice of law. You probably don’t consider them worthy today, but they’re equally as worthy as we were 20 years ago.”
John H. Genovese
Born: Sept. 26, 1949, Glen Cove, New York
Children: Stefan H. Genovese and Alessandra G. Genovese
Education: Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law, Honorary Masters of Laws, 2014; Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law, J.D., 1979; Siena College; B.S., 1976
Experience: Named Partner/Shareholder, Genovese Joblove & Battista, 1999–present; Partner, Kelly Dryer & Warren, 1995–1999; Partner, Jenner & Block, 1993–1995; Partner, Holland & Knight, 1990–1993; Partner, Stroock, Stroock & Lavan, 1986–1990; Associate, Holland & Knight, 1981–1986; Law clerk to Chief Judge Norman C. Roettger, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida,1979-1981; Unites States Army, 1968–1971.