When Seeger Weiss was founded, both Chris Seeger and Steve Weiss had departed high-profile defense firms to start their plaintiffs’ firm. Since then, the firm has become a home for other talented lawyers leaving Big Law behind.
Weiss worked at Fried, Frank when he decided to do something about what he saw as an imbalance of power between individuals and giant corporations that wronged them. Reflecting back on their firm’s early recruiting bent toward Big Law candidates, Weiss remembers the partners’ feeling that “the training we received at those firms was refined, and it gave us a professional advantage, particularly against peer firms.”
Seeger worked at Shearman & Sterling, where he learned a lot about being a lawyer but couldn’t get comfortable representing the Citibanks of the world. “I don’t say that in a demeaning or disparaging way of people who represent Citibank. It just wasn’t for me,” Seeger said to Law.com in a profile for his National Law Journal Lifetime Achievement Award. “I just couldn’t get excited about a business transaction or a litigation over a billion dollars.”
Steve’s former colleague at Fried, Frank, Dave Buchanan, quickly joined the pair to form the nucleus of the new firm and over the next few years, attracted new lawyers from Loeb, Reed Smith, and Jones Day to build out the original team. Since then, the firm’s reputation has only grown, and the pipeline from Big Law to Seeger Weiss has continued to draw talented lawyers to the firm.
“A number of lawyers from Big Law started noticing what we were doing on the plaintiffs’ side, and they concluded that we were doing good work and work that is socially redeeming,” Weiss said.
In 2016, partner Jennifer Scullion left a partner position in the New York office of Proskauer Rose to join the Seeger Weiss team after a gut feeling that it was where she wanted to be. The response she got from her defense bar lawyer peers was, “That’s a great firm; you couldn’t have chosen better.”
Part of the draw was the cultural difference between Seeger Weiss and bigger firms, “At Seeger Weiss, I feel the pull of working together as a team with a shared sense of purpose,” Scullion said. “We take our work very seriously, but not ourselves. We have strong personalities on the team but not big egos. We have that sense of taking care of each other.”
Since the move, she’s done award-winning litigation, including her work on the high-profile National Prescription Opioid Litigation as a member of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee and Co-Lead Counsel of the Negotiation Class, and was recently recognized as one of National Law Journal’s Elite Women of the Plaintiffs Bar.
For her, it’s easier to get up in the morning with the prospects of tapping into her creativity, planning how to build a case, find evidence, and present it. She left behind the worry of billable hours to focus on decisions that best serve the client and the case. “I really like having that be the dynamic, it’s much more personally satisfying,” Scullion said. “I couldn’t be happier with my decision, but also with who we’ve hired since.”
Since Scullion, the firm hired partner Chris Ayers in 2017 when he left behind a role at Anderson Kill, and in 2018 Stephan Mallenbaum left Dentons to become Seeger Weiss’s Executive Director. In 2019 the firm welcomed Justin Smigelsky from Windel Marx, Max Kelly from Milbank Tweed, and Caleb Seeley from Williams & Connolly.
“I wanted to join a firm that would allow me to participate in all aspect of litigation and would trust me with on-my-feet responsibilities,” Seeley said. “Somewhere that had opportunities for young lawyers to grow through substantive experiences.”
Seeley’s decision to defect after a clerkship in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates a major cultural reason why young lawyers join Seeger Weiss’s team – the opportunity to get immediate hands-on experience. “Caleb joined our firm, and sure enough, within a year, he was cross-examining [at trial] some of the most critical defense side witnesses in the 3M Combat Arms Litigation,” said founding partner Weiss.
“I immediately had the opportunity to work on all aspects of a case. It’s difficult to put into words the value provided by this experience,” Seeley said.
Two of the firm’s most recent hires are also Big Law defectors, associate Fraz Thomas (formerly of Milbank Tweed), and Steve Daroci who was previously a partner at Fox Rothschild. Both attorneys were drawn to Seeger Weiss for the same goal of jumping into work that has an impact.
When Daroci started at Seeger Weiss, he wasted no time diving into matters immediately, preparing for depositions on major cases set for trial. Similarly, Thomas appreciated the opportunity to start impactful work right away.
“At a plaintiff-side firm as an associate, you’re going to be working a lot on matters that are live and interesting,” Thomas said. “That is a much better motivator than if you’re just chugging away for hours working on something that isn’t going to have a big substantive impact on a case.”
At large firms, “Every young lawyer can recount being asked to work on a “doomed” motion to dismiss that doesn’t contribute anything of substance to the case,” he recounted in an interview with Law.com. For Thomas, it’s been far more fulfilling work than expending energy researching “sub-sub-sub” issues that never go anywhere to rack up billable hours.
Daroci also appreciates the fact he isn’t worried about constant business competition coming from other defense firms. Instead, the firm’s sterling reputation draws clients from referrals and small firms who seek out the Seeger Weiss team for their expertise and heft to guide clients through MDLs and high-stakes, complex litigation. “There was a constant pressure to generate business at Fox. At Seeger Weiss, clients are seeking us out.”
Seeger Weiss attorneys are given the chance to do impactful work with creativity and ingenuity, able to focus only on the best interests of the case and client and work for a firm with a strong reputation among clients and plaintiff and defense attorneys. With a culture based on excellence and efficiency, it’s no wonder the firm has maintained a pipeline of talent from Big Law all these years.
Read more in a recent story in Law.com: Why Are Up-and-Coming Big Law Litigators Defecting to Seeger Weiss’ MDL Practice?