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Adieu, suburbia

A relocation to the Brick City has put Genova in deep end of legal talent pool

Francis Giantomasi, James Burns and Angelo Genova. (Christina Mazza)

Three years after moving to Newark from an upscale suburb, Genova, Burns & Giantomasi finds its urban strategy has helped spur its growth in a hub for government and related transactions.

Three years after moving to Newark from an upscale suburb, Genova, Burns & Giantomasi finds its urban strategy has helped spur its growth in a hub for government and related transactions.

“Let’s face it, law is a people-oriented business, and many government agencies — as well as courts, corporations, and law schools — are in Newark,” said Angelo J. Genova, a partner at the law firm, noting the city traditionally has been a center of legal activity and remains the center of the judiciary. “We operate in a transparent, ethical manner, but having a visible presence right in the city helps, too.”

One of the firm’s more high-profile Newark jobs has involved representing Matrix Development Group in its dealings with Panasonic Corp., which won a $102.4 million grant from the state Economic Development Authority to move from Secaucus to a Newark building to be developed by Matrix and SJP Properties.

When the firm launched in 1989, it was a three-person enterprise that only needed a small amount of space, and its previous home of Livingston was “practical and pragmatic,” Genova said. But by 2008, the firm was a lot bigger, and its needs changed as it started to handle an increasing number of government-related matters, including representing Essex County in 2010 in a landmark sales-leaseback deal with the Essex County Improvement Authority,

The firm moved to Newark in September 2008, and now has 66 attorneys in its New Jersey and New York offices. “Being here makes it easier to attract talented lawyers, since they’re not restricted to commuting by car. They can take trains or other mass transit, which makes it very convenient,” Genova said.

When the firm originally decamped to Newark, “there was no culture shock,” he said. “It was more of an adjustment to lifestyle,” like giving employees the ability to stroll out for a quick lunch, instead of having to get in a car and drive to a restaurant.
In some ways, the move to a city added to the firm’s costs, since Newark, for example, has a municipal payroll tax, “but overall it was flat, with no appreciable difference,” compared to Livingston, Genova said.

Though some cost advantages — like the sales tax savings the company realizes by operating in an urban enterprise zone — may be in danger of being eliminated as the state works through budget cuts, Genova said that’s “only one piece of the equation.” Instead, Genova and his business partners, James M. Burns and Francis J. Giantomasi, focus on bigger-picture items.

Despite the recent down economy, for example, Genova said his firm added about 12 attorneys in 2010. It’s able to keep growing by responding to changes in the marketplace, he added.

“At one time, much of our practice involved representing management in labor disputes with unions,” he recalled. “But as unions waned, we saw there were fewer union-related disputes, but more employees were suing their employers. So we started focusing more on labor and employment law and litigation on behalf of management. But you’ve got to be careful to distinguish between a fad and a long-term issue.”

Among other matters, the firm focuses on corporate political activity, campaign finance and election law.

“We realized that law is a business, not just a tradition,” said Burns, managing partner. “For example, firms have to be willing to make internal changes to compensation and other practices in order to keep attracting talent while maintaining profits. So besides offering our attorneys new opportunities for professional development, we also developed new benchmarks for incentives that recognize the way they contribute to the growth of the firm.”

The approach of Genova, Burns and Giantomasi to succession planning involves a gradual release of the reins of power.

“We’re willing to invest in the growth of our lawyers and bet that they’ll stay with us,” Burns said. “We’re also committed to decentralizing the firm and delegating more authority downwards. It’s a good way to let people realize their potential.”

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