Photo by Carmen Natale/ALM.  Left to right: Harris S. Freier, Peter Berk, Allison Benz, Katherine E. Stuart, Justine L. Abrams, Employment Litigation Chair John C. Petrella, Christopher M. Kurek, Charles J. Messina, Firm Chair Angelo J. Genova, Erica M. Clifford, Patrick W. McGovern. Missing from picture: Dina M. Mastellone, Brigette N. Eagan.

The employment litigation group at Genova Burns had a strong 2017, successfully representing clients at the trial and appellate level, and in federal and state courts, handling a variety of matters, including labor disputes, discrimination claims, and wage class actions. Its engagements included the successful defense of the city of Irvington and its mayor, in an employee’s harassment suit. The firm represented such clients as AT&T and Hackensack University Medical Center—the former, obtaining summary judgment dismissal in an employee’s retaliation suit, and the latter, in pursuing and resolving a stolen data claim against a former hospital employee. Genova Burns’ employment litigation practice is made up of 26 attorneys and accounts for about one-quarter of firm revenue, according to the firm.

** The responses were provided by John C. Petrella, partner and employment law practice group chair. **

What were some of the department’s most satisfying successes of 2017, and why?

At its core, Genova Burns is a group of great trial lawyers. Employers lose far more employment trials than they win. Consequently, we take great pride and satisfaction in trial victories like founding Partner Angelo Genova’s “no cause” verdict in Smith v. Irvington. Early on we developed a theme based on the actions our client took in the workplace, we developed that theme throughout discovery, and successfully executed upon it at trial.

Being a Litigation Department of the Year means more than providing good counsel. How does your group go a step further for clients?

We strive to learn our clients’ businesses, what they do and what is important to them. Like the best employment litigation groups, we stay on top of developments in fair employment practices on a federal, state and local level and publish recent developments. But our attorneys, from associate to partner, reach out individually to our clients and make sure they are aware of recent changes that could effect their workplaces. We are also consistently commended for our responsiveness. When our clients reach out to us with an inquiry, we are available and respond immediately.

In an era of increasing law practice portability, what does it mean to be an effective litigator in New Jersey?

We recognize the importance of aggressively litigating employment disputes. But equally important is our recognition that client resources are limited, that employment disputes continue to increase in volume, and that reaching an early, inexpensive compromise may be in the client’s best interest. We are not adverse to recommending early resolution. But even a negotiated settlement requires the litigator to create pressure points that will result in a favorable resolution.

Is it true that clients now more than ever wish to avoid litigation, and if so, how do law firms manage the business of operating a litigation department in the new marketplace?

The volume and variety of employment litigations continue to rise. To be sure, many employers seek to avoid the costs and risks of litigation and try to resolve litigations as quickly as possible. The savvy employer, however, knows that to avoid becoming a “target,” it needs to carefully select and try the “right” cases. We strive to be the firm those employers seek.

Litigators are extraordinarily busy people. What does the firm do to ensure that they remain engaged with pro bono work, their communities and their families?

Genova Burns does have a demanding work environment. We work hard—however, we ensure that work is evenly distributed to allow attorneys the time and flexibility to attend family and community commitments. Of course, we encourage our attorneys to “give back” to the community by engaging in pro bono and charitable activities, and encourage our attorneys both with time and financial support.

Technology and other factors have changed work capabilities and habits. How do you offer flexibility while also effectively managing attorneys and others professionals?

Technology has progressed to the point where it is possible for our attorneys to work from home or satellite offices and still be available for mentoring, training and supervision. Where attorneys have personal needs that take them from the office, we encourage them to work remotely.