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Attorneys often gravitate to law firms that emphasize their legal specialty, but employment lawyer Max Garfield enjoys the opportunities he finds at a firm that is prominent in the financial services field.
Garfield is a special counsel at Schulte Roth & Zabel in New York. Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics feature shows 49 percent of Schulte’s federal court appearances during the past five years were for securities cases but only 2.8 percent were for labor and employment law cases.
The firm represents many hedge funds, so Garfield handles employment issues that crop up for Schulte’s hedge fund clients rather than for big corporations, he told Bloomberg BNA April 19. Garfield said his familiarity with “the mindset” and “unique culture that exists in that private fund space” is “helpful.”
As employment counsel to hedge funds and private equity firms, he often gets involved in noncompete and restrictive covenant work. Garfield described his clients’ employees as “very ambitious people” who often have signed agreements that prohibit them from starting or working for a business that competes with their employer for a specified time period after they leave.
Some departing employees misappropriate information, such as by giving their new employer flash drives containing documents they’ve downloaded from their previous employer’s internal files. When hedge funds sue their former employees in these instances, Garfield finds himself in the role of a plaintiffs’ lawyer. “That’s pretty illuminating,” he said. “It’s a completely different experience” from the typical role of a large-firm employment lawyer who defends his clients against claims filed by employees. “I know what the other side is thinking about.”
Garfield said he also “periodically” switches from employer to employee clients. “I’ve negotiated agreements for individuals,” he said. This flexibility deepens his understanding of the viewpoints of both sides and helps him strategize, he said.
“Business divorce cases” and “founder disputes” are generally Garfield’s most interesting cases, he said. When partners start a business together, especially if they’re already friends, “people are not always as careful as they should be,” Garfield said. “At the inception of these entities, there’s a rush to get things started,” and the partners often rely on “a handshake deal” without a written contract. Unresolved details later can become “fodder for contentious” disputes “about money, ego, trust and feelings of broken trust,” he said.
These are universal themes, but it is employment law’s connection to everyday life that appealed to Garfield in the first place. Workplace law “intimately affects people’s lives” because work is “where people spend a meaningful part of their lives,” he said. “I like that personal component.” Garfield is also intrigued by “the relationship between the employer and the employee.” The “expectations” of each side create “a really interesting dynamic,” he said.
Garfield has been practicing law for 13 years. During that time, he’s witnessed “a demand in the industry for highly calibrated expertise,” he said. “The market for the traditional “broad-based” labor and employment practice “seems to be pretty saturated.” Instead, “there’s a greater emphasis based on developing a specialized expertise,” he said.
Garfield prepared for his career by attending law school at Columbia University. As an undergraduate at Brown University, he majored in biomedical ethics. This course of study, which included classes in philosophy and public policy, attracted him because he “was interested in the process of making arguments” and learning “how to write,” he said.
“When clients want things, they want them quickly,” Garfield said. He may not be cutting edge with regard to new technology, but he said he’s “pretty adaptable,” at least “to the extent that there are opportunities out there that can streamline what I’m doing.”
Garfield is on Bloomberg Law’s Labor and Employment Technology and Innovation Board. The board’s goal is to provide feedback that facilitates the development of products and workflow tools for labor and employment lawyers.
When he’s not busy working, Garfield spends time with his two daughters, ages 2 and 5, and watching Cubs baseball games, the team he cheered for in his native Chicago.
Sometimes he combines sports and family, as when he woke his older daughter to watch the final World Series game that delivered the championship to his beloved Cubs. Garfield said he and his wife are competing to turn their daughters into fans of their respective hometowns. Garfield’s wife grew up in St. Louis, whose sports teams are the long-standing rivals of the Chicago teams.
For vacations, Garfield enjoys visiting Napa Valley, Calif., and Maine. However, “we’ve been organizing more trips around Disney” lately, said Garfield, who just returned from Disneyland.
Garfield, who moved to New York for law school and now works there, said his favorite movies are the New York-themed “Goodfellas” and several Woody Allen films.
To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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