Photo provided by the firm.
Noah Hagey’s intense, competitive streak – he enjoys doing a few triathlons a year – has served him well as leader of his own firm, which he set up in 2009 after leaving litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. San Francisco-based BraunHagey & Borden has since become its own successful litigation boutique, handling an interesting mix of financial services, intellectual property, class action and other commercial cases. In recent years, the 2001 University of Texas School of Law graduate has developed a specialty in defending food companies against false advertising claims.
Lawdragon: You were at a highly regarded litigation firm. What led you to want to start your own firm?
Noah Hagey: It was an offer too good to refuse. A major client proposed that I leave the firm to oversee and lead several pending litigation matters. It was an exciting and daunting opportunity. We prevailed in the litigation and began to draw more clients based on that success. Along the way, I also picked up several really great law partners, including our other name partner, Matt Borden.
LD: Looking back, what would say your biggest challenge was of going out on your own?
NH: The biggest challenge by far has been the administration aspects of running a boutique firm. My heart and passion are for our clients and the cases we are privileged to work on. I love the feeling and energy that exists in our office, but it has taken a lot of time and preparation to reach that. We owe a lot to the professional staff that now runs the office and helps guide our success. Without them, we would not be nearly as successful.
LD: Can you talk a little bit about your team: What is the type of lawyer you have been building this practice with?
NH: Like many law firms working on complex commercial cases, our attorneys excelled at top tier law schools, worked as judicial law clerks, and usually were trained at top international law firms. We diverge from the norm perhaps because of our focus on both New York and California matters. We have a heavy caseload of complex financial-related disputes. As a result, almost half of our firm is licensed and regularly practices in New York. And, because we are a trial shop, our focus has been to build with attorneys that have a genuine interest and competency in trying cases.
LD: I know that the firm handles a wide range of business litigation, but please discuss this more recently developed niche of defending food product companies. Can you identify why there has been this increase, and do expect it to continue to occupy a decent amount of your practice?
NH: The trend of increased food-related litigation, particularly class actions regarding food advertising and labeling, shows no sign of slowing. If anything, food lawsuits and the plaintiff firms that bring them have begun to sprawl to related industries, especially personal care products and cosmetics. Our success in defending these lawsuits, particularly against class actions, will likely mean that clients will continue to retain us as defense counsel in those matters. The firm has obtained dismissal of approximately 30 class action lawsuits against food product companies, and no class has ever being certified.
LD: Are there unique challenges to litigating food product cases?
NH: The regulatory landscape for food companies has become an increasingly complicated and treacherous place for business. Food itself is now a well-politicized issue, and there is now greater social recognition of the importance of food and diet in social welfare, health and even long term prosperity. As a result, regulators at all levels are increasingly focused on food companies and how products are marketed to consumers. While sometimes well intentioned, these laws often conflict with one another and harm smaller or less sophisticated competitors. The patchwork of laws and regulations also impose significant costs on clients, which is one of the reasons our firm employs regulatory counsel who stays abreast of these issues.
LD: Businesses that turn to you for their litigation needs could be going to much bigger firms. Obviously you have some impressive results to point to, but what else is part of your sales pitch when getting new clients?
NH: My sense is that GCs and clients who need help solving a difficult litigation matter will more often look to hire the right lawyer rather than a law firm with an impressive name. Most of our cases are referred by other clients who have seen us in action and can vouch for the results. Many of our GCs also are looking for something creative and less institutional when hiring our firm. For example, we are frequently called upon to serve as litigation counsel for large hedge fund positions where the existing class of advisors (all from name brand Wall Street law firms) is overly focused on providing “safe,” “playbook” advice. Our calling card is to identify new or unusual features of a case that can provide value and leverage outside of the normal.
LD: How would you describe your personal style as a trial lawyer?
NH: I am by nature a very competitive, intense individual, and am sure that shines through in the courtroom.
LD: Is this something you always thought you’d be doing? How far back did you know that you wanted to be in the courtroom?
NH: Yes, from a very early age I was fascinated by the idea of representing others and competing in a courtroom for a client. I did not know any attorneys growing up, but I understood somehow that our system valued intellectual competition, and that the law provided an arena for winning or losing. Later, law as competition became less motivating for me; rather, the value of the service itself, protecting clients from harm, was more important and interesting – which is easily the most gratifying thing about my practice today.
LD: Your professional intensity seems to be matched by your recreational interests. How much time do you spend training for triathlons? Any coming up? What do you and your family do for fun?
NH: There is usually one or two triathlons a year. Much of my personal time these days is spent in the other kind of triathlon training – trying to keep pace with my wife and three beautiful, and very active, children. The firm also sponsors various bike charity events, including the Diablo Challenge at Mt. Diablo State Park. This year I also am hoping to spend more time with the San Quentin baseball league – a great program that I have been fortunate to play in, which uses sports as a means to connect inmates with regular citizens (or in this case, former college or professional baseball players).