By: Gregory Brown, Jr. | Staff Writer
On March 2, 2017, Staffer Gregory Brown had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Ralph Carter, an Associate in the Trial Practice Group at Duane Morris LLP. Mr. Carter offered his insight on the Commercial Division and what it takes to be a successful commercial litigator.
Mr. Carter’s Background
Mr. Carter’s areas of practice are commercial litigation, white-collar defense, cybersecurity/data privacy, and employment litigation. Mr. Carter graduated cum laude in 2014 from the evening program at St. John’s University School of Law. In law school, Mr. Carter was a Ronald H. Brown Scholar (which provided a full-tuition scholarship), a Dorothy Day Memorial Scholar for Excellence in Labor and Employment Relations, and also was the recipient of the Robert J. Nobile Scholarship for Excellence in Labor and Employment. Mr. Carter served as Executive Notes and Comments Editor for the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development, where his note was awarded the law school’s Justice Harold Birns Award in 2014. While attending law school in St. John’s evening program, Mr. Carter worked as a Litigation Project Manager in the labor and employment practice group at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, an AmLaw 100 firm. In his role at Seyfarth Shaw, Mr. Carter earned certification as a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt in Litigation Project Management in Collective and Class Actions. He also served as E-Discovery Manager at Macquarie Holdings (U.S.A.) Inc., a global financial services company. Mr. Carter received his Bachelor of Science degree in 2010 in Organizational Management from St. Joseph’s College.
A Transcript of the Informational Interview
Q: What motivated you to become a litigator?
A: I wanted to become a litigator because I enjoy doing things that challenge me. Making court appearances and helping clients resolve contract disputes can be both challenging and exciting. Crafting arguments to advance your client’s interests is also intellectually stimulating.
Q: Prior to and during law school, you worked as a Litigation Project Manager at Seyfarth Shaw and an E-Discovery Manager at Macquarie Holdings (U.S.A.) Inc. What did these positions entail?
A: At Seyfarth Shaw, I worked very closely with several large companies and managed complex and class-action litigation. I also developed an expertise in E-Discovery. One of my main objectives was to keep clients apprised of what was going on in their cases. This was a great opportunity to learn about sophisticated clients that were involved in employment-related class actions and other complex litigation. Before returning to Seyfarth Shaw to establish the Litigation Project Manager role, I also worked as a paralegal at Seyfarth Shaw for ten years. During my second two years at St. John’s Law, I joined the in-house legal department at Macquarie, where I managed the company’s E-Discovery response on litigation and regulatory matters. My in-house role at Macquarie gave me a new perspective on litigation.
Q: How does your prior work experience impact how you do your job?
A: My experience at Seyfarth Shaw showed me on how cases work and how they should be run. I can use that experience to use the court system to its fullest potential. Also, being in-house at Macquarie has made me a better commercial litigator. A business does not exist just to litigate; they are there to fulfill their core mission. With that in mind, I try to come up with creative solutions that do not always involve the court system. Not every case needs to be a scorched-Earth litigation. Sometimes, it is not about all of the great arguments you can come up with, but rather what your client’s objectives are. Use your skills to get your client the most effective solution. That is always the aim.
Q: What are the skills necessary to succeed as a litigator?
A: A good litigator has several skills. First, you need to be a good listener. This is vital when you are talking to your clients, your adversaries, and the court. It is important to listen to understand what the other person’s motivations are. Second, you need to be flexible. Depending on information that comes up or new developments that arise, your initial theory of the case may need to be adjusted or amended. You want to have a clear plan, but you must still stay abreast of what is happening so that you are still on point. Third, time management and planning are key. Fourth, a strong understanding of civil procedure is important. This signals to the court that you are a professional. Finally, always be prepared.
Q: What types of clients do you work with?
A: At Duane Morris, I work with a wide variety of clients, including Fortune 100 companies, insurance companies, banks, and smaller closely-held corporations.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
A: Client service can be challenging. It is important to help your client understand that you are doing everything in your power to move their case along expeditiously. From a client’s perspective, even in the Commercial Division, cases can take what seems to clients to be an inordinately long time. When you cannot reach an early resolution of a case, it can be challenging to explain to a client that the court moves on its own timetable.
Q: What is your experience with the Commercial Division?
A: Much of my work is done in the Commercial Division. I have represented both Plaintiffs and Defendants in New York, Kings, and Nassau County, and I currently have four cases pending in the Commercial Division. In my experience, the Commercial Division judges and law clerks have been well-prepared and well-versed in the facts of my cases. As a result, they expect the same from the attorneys, and the Commercial Division rules stress that.
Q: In your opinion, what separates the Commercial Division from other courts?
A: The rules of the Commercial Division help streamline business-related disputes between sophisticated parties. The rules are designed to minimize discovery disputes. For example, you are often required to have a pre-motion conference for discovery disputes and other motions, which is similar to the rules of the federal courts in New York. This minimizes time and expense by allowing the attorneys to write a letter to the judge instead of a thirty-page brief. Similarly, the Commercial Division’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program is a great resource, where appropriate. Even in instances where the mediation does not result in a settlement, it allows you to rethink the theory and strategy for your case. In addition, because the rules are similar to the Federal Rules, the expert discovery you get is much closer to the federal model, which can be very helpful in complex commercial disputes.
Q: What advice can you give law students who are interested in pursuing a career in commercial litigation?
A: First and foremost, read the Commercial Division Online Law Report! Second, read other law journals and commercial litigation blogs to keep up on what is going on in the courts. Third, know your civil procedure and contract law. Fourth, take Business Organizations. The experience I had and concepts I learned in Business Organizations have been directly relevant to my current practice. Fifth, look for opportunities to write. The litigators in the Commercial Division are of the highest caliber, so you need to be on point when you are coming up against them in that court. Finally, I would recommend visiting a court and observing a case in the Commercial Division.
Reflecting on the Informational Interview
Thank you, Mr. Carter, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your insights on litigation and the Commercial Division. It was evident that Mr. Carter’s prior work experience has shaped his approach as a commercial litigator. As Mr. Carter described, “A business does not exist just to litigate,” so creative solutions are necessary to devise the best solutions for your clients.
At St. John’s, Staffer Gregory Brown took a course entitled “Litigation in the New York Commercial Division,” where he learned more about the processes that Mr. Carter has described.