The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Gregory M. Starner, Partner—Commercial Litigation
Greg Starner is a partner in the Global Commercial Litigation Practice at White & Case. Greg has extensive experience in both trial and appellate matters in US federal and state courts, as well as in domestic and international arbitrations. He has represented clients in a wide range of industries, including financial services, technology and manufacturing. Greg’s practice focuses on complex commercial litigation and arbitration. Greg has been recognized as one of the New York Law Journal’s “Rising Stars.” Greg earned a JD from Georgetown University Law Center, and a BA from the College of William & Mary.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
The majority of my work entails representing foreign and US companies in complex commercial disputes in federal and state courts and before an array of arbitral tribunals. I represent clients from a range of industries, from financial institutions to consumer products, and with respect to a variety of commercial disputes, from high-stakes contract disputes and securities fraud class actions to arbitrations and bankruptcy litigation.
What types of clients do you represent?
Generally my clients consist of financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies, but I also regularly represent foreign sovereigns and state-own entities. Over the past year or so, I have represented Wells Fargo Advisors and Pilot Flying J,
an operator of travel centers and one of the largest US private companies. I also represented Hisense, a Chinese state-owned electronics manufacturer, an Azerbaijan bank, and a number of the largest European banks including ABN AMRO, Nordea Bank, and Dansk Bank.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
The types of cases I work on really run the gamut of commercial disputes. For example, I represented Hisense in federal US litigation and a related international arbitration in Singapore with respect to a licensing dispute with Sharp, a major Japanese electronics company. I represented Wells Fargo Advisors in an arbitration and state court litigation involving contract and data privacy claims and also represented Pilot Flying J with respect to individual and class actions in multiple federal and state courts involving various fraud and consumer protection claims. I also represented Anthem, the second-largest health insurance company in the US, in litigation arising from the failed US$54 billion merger with Cigna and helped an Azerbaijan bank with a bankruptcy-related litigation.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
My decision to become a litigator dates back to my law school days when I got a chance to do criminal defense work. The opportunity to investigate and work up a case for trial and then present evidence and make arguments in court hooked me. Having grown up in Germany and with a background in international affairs, the opportunity to litigate cross-border disputes was a natural fit for me, as it allowed me to develop my advocacy skills in an international context.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
Every day is a little different, and my docket is filled with disputes at all stages. For one case, I may need to draft a motion or file a pleading in a pending action, and for another matter we may be investigating the merits of potential claims by reviewing the relevant documents or interviewing witnesses. One day I may be headed down to argue a motion in federal or state court, while another day I may be in London or Kazakhstan, meeting with clients to review our legal strategy or interviewing witnesses. Those days I’m in the office are usually a mix of drafting some type of advocacy or analysis, mixed with brain-storming with colleagues about strategy and legal issues.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
The great thing about being a litigator is that every case has a new set of facts, new legal questions and a new cast of characters, whether they are adversaries, clients, witnesses, or judges. The increasing globalization of business has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of litigated disputes where the parties are based in different jurisdictions, which requires me to delve into different legal, commercial and cultural issues, which I greatly enjoy. At the end of the day, however, I love the opportunity to help my clients solve difficult problems and to advocate on their behalf.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
One of the most challenging but exciting aspects of my practice is recommending a particular strategy or approach to a problem. Clients rely on you to take into account all the relevant issues and ultimately present them with the best options for that particular client. So not only do you need to be able to analyze all the relevant legal issues, you also need to understand your clients’ goals and make sure you are considering all of the relevant factors to devise the best strategy and approach.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Most people recognize that litigation requires an ability to control a room and demonstrate strong oral advocacy skills, but good litigators are also great writers. More than ever a litigator has to be able to write effectively, which generally entails the ability to write succinctly, persuasively and clearly. Many disputes are won or lost in correspondence or on the papers, and an aspiring litigator should always be looking to develop their writing chops. The best litigators are those that can shape the facts of a client’s case into a compelling story, and more and more that story is told in writing. In addition, clients rely on you to distill the key issues and package your advice and recommendations in a way that can be easily presented to boards and other stakeholders.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
I think sometimes there is a misconception that litigation is all about that “aha” moment in court or litigating an issue to the death. In reality, while effective advocacy in a trial or hearing is always going to be important and one of the most fun parts of the job, the best litigators are able to recognize the larger context and understand how a particular case or dispute fits into a client’s business or its broader goals. One of a litigator’s most important roles is to evaluate risk and help clients mitigate and navigate that risk. So it is not enough to be able to cross-examine a witness or write a persuasive brief; a good litigator needs to act as a trusted adviser and counselor to help a client achieve the best outcome.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm, and how has it evolved since you have been at the firm?
The most unique aspect of my practice is the cross-border nature of the disputes and the diversity of my clients and colleagues. With the globalization of business, more and more commercial disputes involve different jurisdictions or other international issues, and having the right mindset and team to tackle those types of disputes is imperative. To help our clients navigate these challenges, we have developed a “toolbox” of legal expertise to support our Global Commercial Litigation Practice, including in areas such as personal jurisdiction and the extraterritorial reach of US law. I am also consistently inspired by the talented, diverse set of lawyers I work with.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
By and large, people recognize the importance of having some balance to offset what can otherwise be a demanding job. I spend most of my time outside the office chasing my three young sons around, while also trying to keep up with my wife, who is a writer and a voracious reader. We spend a lot of time at children’s museums and local parks, or adventuring in the Hudson Valley. I also play soccer on the firm’s soccer team at Chelsea Piers, though my skills are slowly degrading, and socialize with colleagues to celebrate our wins and commiserate on any losses (which are very rare, of course).