The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Brian Weinstein, Partner—Litigation
Brian is a partner in Davis Polk’s Litigation department, representing domestic and international clients in their most challenging litigation matters, including securities litigation, complex commercial litigation, regulatory enforcement, white collar criminal defense, and internal investigations.
Brian earned his A.B., summa cum laude, from Duke University, where he was an Angier B. Duke Memorial Scholar and Faculty Scholar. He graduated from Yale Law School and was editor of the Yale Law Journal.
Following a clerkship with the Honorable José A. Cabranes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Brian joined Davis Polk in 1998 as an associate. He was elected to the partnership in 2005.Brian is a member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and serves on the Board of Directors of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My litigation practice is broad in scope and includes securities litigation, commercial litigation, SEC enforcement matters, and white collar criminal defense. On the civil litigation side, my matters generally involve defending companies and financial institutions against claims that they have violated the securities laws and representing clients in connection with a wide range of commercial disputes. On the SEC enforcement and white collar criminal defense side, my matters often involve disclosure issues and alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent domestic and foreign companies, financial institutions, and professional firms in a wide range of industries. Representative clients have included BT Group plc, Citigroup, CNInsure, Emerson Electric, the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, the New York Mets, Nippon Express, PepsiCo, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Rabobank, Roche, Siemens, and Sterling Equities.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I have worked on a wide range of litigation matters, including, by way of example, litigation arising out of the 2008 financial crisis concerning residential mortgage-backed securities; securities litigation against, among others, a British telecommunications company and a Chinese insurance company; confidential litigation concerning a cybersecurity breach; multiple breach of contract litigations involving defendants in a variety of industries, from consumer products to pharmaceuticals to manufacturing; litigation concerning synthetic derivatives; litigation involving the leveraged buyout of Clear Channel Communications; litigation for the owners of the New York Mets concerning the formation of a Mets-owned regional sports network, as well as litigation arising from the Bernie Madoff scandal; SEC investigations concerning matters such as stock option backdating, dark pools, and various disclosure issues; and various FCPA matters, including Davis Polk’s representation of Siemens in one of the largest bribery investigations in history.
How did you choose this practice area?
Litigation has always interested me because the key tools of the litigator’s craft are ones that appeal to me and that I find most interesting and rewarding—most importantly, the ability to explain, orally and in writing, very complicated matters and arguments in a way that is understandable, credible, and persuasive. I believe that the best litigators are able to do that regardless of the subject matter of the litigation, and I have endeavored to maintain a broad litigation practice that allows me to counsel my clients through whatever difficult litigation issues they may face.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
There is no “typical” day—it all depends on what is happening on your various matters at any particular point in time. Having said that, my time overall is spent arguing in court and preparing to do so, taking and defending depositions and preparing to do so, writing briefs and motions, meeting with witnesses and learning the underlying facts of the case, developing case strategies, and—of course—meeting and collaborating on an ongoing basis with our associates and our clients in connection with all of the above.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Law students who are interested in litigation should take every opportunity to speak on their feet, whether it be through a trial practice class in law school, moot court and oral argument competitions, law school clinics, or otherwise. I would also recommend that they take the opportunity to observe well-respected practitioners conduct oral arguments and trials. And of course, clerking is an invaluable (though not required) experience for aspiring litigators. In terms of law school classes, evidence, legal writing, advanced civil procedure, federal courts, corporations, and securities litigation and regulation are all helpful.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Practicing litigation at Davis Polk is unique because of our preeminent reputation and experience in all different areas of litigation, whether it be civil litigation, antitrust, SEC enforcement, IP, bankruptcy, professional liability, or white collar defense and investigations. Many of the matters we handle involve crisis situations where the client needs expertise and advice from many different litigation risk perspectives, and Davis Polk is one of the few firms that can provide the highest level litigation advice across all of these various areas, both domestically and internationally. Our lockstep partner compensation system encourages collaboration and teamwork among partners and associates working within all areas of litigation and indeed all areas of the firm.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?
We strive to give our summer associates as realistic a picture of what it is like to be a litigator as they can get. They do a tremendous amount of research and writing (both memos and briefs) and also participate in witness interviews, depositions, client meetings, phone calls, and meetings with opposing counsel. Summer associates may also gain experience preparing for and attending court appearances. Summer associates also gain significant experience working on the many different types of pro bono matters that we handle, including asylum cases, civil rights litigation, criminal defense work, and veterans benefits cases, to name just a few.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Working as a Davis Polk litigator leaves open numerous exciting career paths. Our alums have gone on to become everything from general counsel or even CEO of major corporations to federal judges to heads of major philanthropic organizations to members of Congress. Because of the unique pipeline that Davis Polk offers to high-level legal jobs within the federal government, many Davis Polk litigation alums have become Assistant U.S. Attorneys and even U.S. Attorneys and have held positions at the highest levels in the White House, the Department of Justice, the SEC, the State Department, and numerous other federal agencies and departments.
What do you feel are the benefits of taking a generalist approach in litigation versus pursuing a more specialized practice?
While developing some specialization is undoubtedly helpful in addressing our clients’ most challenging problems, too much specialization runs the risk of unduly narrowing a lawyer’s field of vision. At Davis Polk, our lawyers are as experienced as any in the different litigation areas in which we practice, but we also pride ourselves on developing generalist litigators who can see our clients’ litigation risks and issues from every angle. This not only benefits our clients—since a decision that might seem “beneficial” from one litigation risk perspective can be devastating from another—but also benefits our lawyers, making our practice dynamic and able to adjust to changing trends in the types of litigation and enforcement actions that are being brought at any given point in time.