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Selling New York lawyers on N.J.

Greenberg Traurig's Sellinger wants firm to grow its pharma, energy practices

Philip R. Sellinger
Philip R. Sellinger says he recruits Empire State lawyers who come to New Jersey, 'and their practices double and triple.'-(Aaron Houston)

Philip R. Sellinger is using a come-home argument to continue expanding the New Jersey office of the international law firm Greenberg Traurig.”We are growing by targeting lawyers in New York who live in New Jersey, who may have gone to New York 20 or 30 years ago because there was no New Jersey alternative in the major law firm space,” said Sellinger, who added he gives lawyers the resources of a mega firm that values autonomy, collaboration, accountability and entrepreneurial behavior. “We have lawyers who come here, and their practices double and triple.”
Sellinger and four colleagues at Sills, Cummis & Gross P.C. left the Newark law firm a decade ago to launch Greenberg Traurig’s Florham Park office, which now has 70 lawyers.
Sellinger is growing the New Jersey office to a critical mass he expects will exceed 100 lawyers, but said his goal is “not to be the largest law firm in New Jersey, but to have the best lawyers in every major practice area.” He said he’s hit that goal in banking, litigation and intellectual property law, and has room to build in his real estate, corporate, pharmaceuticals and energy practices.
Greenberg Traurig, with 1,750 attorneys in 35 offices around the world, “has been remarkably successful in establishing and growing both domestic and international offices over the past decade,” said Ward Bower, a principal of Altman Weil, a management consulting firm specializing in legal organizations. “They offer substantial financial reward to productive lawyers who join them, and opportunity for advancement to those who earn it. They are able to do this because they are not supporting underproductive practices.”
Sellinger said his office practices much the same business mindset that drives his corporate clients: success means doing more with less to thrive in the global economy.
“Our clients are willing to pay the top rates for the top lawyers, but they don’t want armies of bodies,” he said.
While most law firms are transitioning from the traditional billable-hours compensation system to alternative fee arrangements that companies are demanding to control their legal bills, Sellinger said he has the advantage of starting from day one with a business-centric approach.
“It does not do a client a lot of good if we win a matter, but charge so much that they are unhappy with the fees. Then, you don’t keep that client for the future,” he said.
In his private life Sellinger, 58, is active in Democratic party politics, contributing to re-election campaigns and raising money for candidates; he said he’s been interested in politics “since I was in the third grade.” As an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, he ran for local office and got elected to Amherst’s legislative body, the town meeting. But he doesn’t plan to seek office here: “I have my hands full building the New Jersey office of Greenberg Traurig. It’s a full-time job and I love what I do, and it does not leave a lot of time for anything else.”
Sellinger said he also supports Republicans, within and outside New Jersey, but declined to name them. “I look for candidates (of both parties) who will work on a bipartisan basis to address the problems in government today, which are as great as any we have ever faced in our lifetime.” In 2008 he was a Hillary Clinton delegate to the Democratic presidential convention, and this year served on the convention’s platform committee.
Jerry Zaro got to know Sellinger in 2010, when Sellinger invited him to join Greenberg Traurig. Zaro, who had headed Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s Office of Economic Growth, went to Sills Cummis instead. “The only regret I have is that I don’t have the opportunity to work with Phil on a daily basis,” Zaro said. “He is a lawyer’s lawyer, well-regarded throughout the profession, and a very hard-working guy. I’m happy to say that while I didn’t accept the position (at Greenberg Traurig) I came away having made a good friend in Philip Sellinger.”
Angelo J. Genova, co-founder of the firm Genova, Burns, Giantomasi and Webster, said Sellinger is respected “for his acumen as a litigator and his business development and client relations capacities. He is a complete lawyer who can try cases with great success, and also attract clients — not only for his competence, but because he is passionate about his representation of them.”
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Beth Fitzgerald

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