Ajamie associate Justin C. Pfeiffer discusses influential professors in law school, his career path from working in the Federal Government and a big-law firm to his current private practice.
Name: Justin C. Pfeiffer
Firm: Ajamie LLP
Practice Areas: Complex-commercial, Securities, Constitutional, Environmental and Land Use, Administrative, Paten, Copyright, Federal Criminal, Federal Death Penalty, Habeas and Death Penalty, Employment, Immigration, Bankruptcy, and Civil and Criminal Procedure
Law School: J.D., University of Michigan Law School, 2006; Order of the Coif
Undergraduate: B.A., University of Virginia, 2001; Phi Beta Kappa
Quotable, on career path: “I was persuaded to return to private practice because I found the right litigation boutique. I now have extensive case management responsibilities and the latitude to proactively solve legal and factual problems with regard to matters.”
Lawdragon: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done as a lawyer?
Justin C. Pfeiffer: During my federal clerkships, I had the opportunity to participate in cases of particular public importance. For example, the district court for which I clerked invalidated the California regulations concerning vessels used in merchant shipping, suggested and vetted revisions to California’s unclaimed property laws, and upheld the responsible use of snow mobiles by taxpayers on public land.
LD: What cases are keeping you busy these days? What were/are some of the challenges you face?
JP: My largest matter is defending a more than $100-milllion, breach-of-contract claim evolving out of a public-private contract for a state entity. As would be expected, the factual development is challenging. The technical and accounting issues are complicated and I am constantly learning new things about both.
LD: What have been most interesting though are certain unique legal challenges?
JP: The case will make important precedent in several jurisprudential areas. It has been particularly challenging because the better-developed federal jurisprudence does not always mirror the relevant state’s jurisprudence. Even the federal jurisprudence, moreover, does not directly address the important justiciability issues in the matter.
LD: Did you have a favorite class or professor that was particularly influential in your studies or future career?
JP: Professor Christina B. Whitman; Michigan Law School; Federal Courts.
Professor Whitman, one of the few Michigan Law graduates to obtain a clerkship on the Supreme Court, is a brilliant constitutional scholar. In addition to giving me the foundation knowledge of the doctrines of justiciability and federalism, I learned a great deal by watching her management of class discussions. The small class—composed mostly of 3Ls off a federal clerkship (myself included)—often had contentious discussions. Professor Whitman exemplified civility to us.
Professor Bruno Simma; Michigan Law School; Leading Cases in International Law
Professor Simma, then a judge on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), taught an intense condensed seminar on the leading cases from the ICJ. His international perspective—he represented Germany on the Court as one of the seats from Western Europe—was invaluable to enriching my understanding of Anglo-American jurisprudence. Current law students will profit from having even more access to this wonderful scholar and man.
LD: Is there anything in particular early in your career that you consider key to arriving at your current level of excellence?
JP: I was extremely fortunate to begin my career clerking for two wonderful federal judges: William B. Shubb of the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, California, and Priscilla R. Owen of the Fifth Circuit in Austin, Texas. There is not a work day that goes by where I do not find something valuable from my clerkships. When I later worked as a Staff Attorney for the Sixth Circuit, my jurisprudential understanding was greatly advanced by the numerous instances I had to work directly with Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton. All three are wonderful leaders and people that this nation is fortunate to have in public service.
LD: Tell us about your career path. Did you start at your current firm? If so, what kept you there? If not, what persuaded you to join your current firm?
JP: I joined my present firm after extensive time working for the Federal Government and after having a stint at a big-law firm. I was persuaded to return to private practice because I found the right litigation boutique. I now have extensive case management responsibilities and the latitude to proactively solve legal and factual problems with regard to matters. As more and more federal clerks are finding, litigation boutiques are generally the best fit for those going into private practice.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now professionally?
JP: I would be a history professor. I seriously thought about pursuing a Ph.D. in American History. The Academy has become unmoored from its traditional excellence. I would like to have helped steer historiographical debates back towards the classical understandings and methods that predominated for centuries.