By: Anastasia Galstian | Staff Writer
On Wednesday, March 1, 2017, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Justice Marguerite A. Grays (“Justice Grays”) to discuss her path to the Commercial Division and to solicit advice for individuals seeking to enter the commercial field.
Justice Grays’ Background
Justice Grays is the Presiding Justice of the Queens County Supreme Court Commercial Division and the Residential Foreclosure Part and hears matters involving complicated commercial disputes in civil cases. In 2015, she was appointed as the Deputy Administrative Judge in the Eleventh Judicial District located in Jamaica, New York. Justice Grays received her undergraduate degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and received her Juris Doctorate from Hofstra University School of Law in 1982.
Justice Grays’ Legal Career
Following her graduation from law school, she began her legal career at Queens Legal Services where she recalled “diving” right into her new life as an attorney, attending court proceedings, and handling large caseloads involving criminal matters. Indeed, the Justice “liked it there, but it was different, very different from her time as a law student.”
In November 2000, Justice Grays was elected Judge of the New York City Civil Court, Queens County. She served in that position until her election to the New York State Supreme Court, Queens County, in 2002.
Notably, in the fall of 2008, Justice Grays was selected as one of the first two Justices to preside over the Queens County Commercial Division. I found this integral aspect of her background to be quite impressive.
Justice Grays in the Commercial Division
During the course of the interview, Justice Grays stressed that her previous experience in the civil term has prepared her to handle the hefty caseload and complex cases in the Commercial Division.
I then asked Justice Grays to recount her favorite and least favorite aspects of being a Commercial Division Justice. Her response could only be characterized as honest. As to her favorite aspect of being a judge, she focused on the variety of cases before her ranging from multimillion dollar breach of contract matters to multinational or family owned company disputes and corporate dissolution cases. According to Justice Grays, it is this variety that breathes “life” into the Commercial Division.
For such reasons, it is no wonder that the Commercial Division is often coined as being remarkably “unique,” according to the Justice.
As to her least favorite part, or as I later rephrased “the most difficult part” of being a Commercial Division Judge, she pointed to the volume of cases that she deals with on a daily basis which can easily make things overwhelming and difficult to juggle.
Traits of a Successful Attorney
As I aspire to become an Assistant District Attorney, I naturally asked the Justice about the characteristics she looks for in a successful trial attorney and law clerk. In response, she emphasized the importance of “being prepared” (emphasis added).
Specifically, Justice Grays stressed that once an attorney is adequately prepared, the attorney will minimize the elements of uncertainty and surprise. The attorney can then ensure they know the law and know the relevant court procedures. Preparation and knowledge will only contribute to the attorney’s presentation to the Court.
For aspiring law clerks, Justice Grays similarly stressed preparation and knowledge. The Justice also focused on efficiency, strong research and writing skills, and personality.
Justice Grays makes this conclusion based on her perception of a judge’s chambers. Typically, a judge’s law clerks, secretary, clerk, and court attorney operate as a “team.” That is no different from Justice Grays’ chambers. If her team is unable to understand one another, the entire operation may easily crumble.
Advice to Current Law Students
I then inquired about the best way for law students to prepare themselves for the legal profession. I immediately heeded the Judge’s memorable response: “PRACTICE, PRACTICE, AND MORE PRACTICE!”
She opined that law students should invest time in taking mediation or arbitration courses. Courses such as New York Practice, Contracts, Evidence, and Trial Advocacy are also helpful.
If a law student seeks to work in the Commercial Division, the Justice recommended obtaining an internship with a law firm or with a Justice in the Commercial Division.
We ended the interview with my last question about what book Justice Grays believed every law student should read. She suggested two book titles: (1) “Commercial Litigation in NY State Courts” by Robert Haig; (2) “New York Practice” by David Siegel.
Justice Grays emphasized that “New York Practice,” is priceless in terms of the valuable information it provides attorneys and law students alike.
I found Justice Grays to be incredibly welcoming, gracious with her time, and willing to offer her meaningful advice. I found her story very refreshing because of the “real world” perspective on life in the Commercial Division. Justice Grays is a pioneer for commercial practitioners in Queens County. I hope to incorporate her words of wisdom into my own legal career.