Maria Ginzburg is one of the visionary attorneys who broke out of Big Law to form Selendy Gay Elsberg, the majority women-owned litigation firm that’s redefining the modern law firm. She focuses on financial and complex commercial matters, with a track record that includes securing hundreds of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for clients like AIG and U.S. Bank. In addition to spearheading high-profile cases, Ginzburg is a key contributor at the quickly-growing firm, which puts a premium on diversity and teamwork, and trains associates in high-level litigation work right out of the gate.
Lawdragon: Will you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?
Maria Ginzburg: I focus on complex financial and commercial cases. Funky financial structures and complicated business transactions gone awry are litigation candy for me. In the last twenty-some years, I have worked on the latest Wall Street problem, ranging from structured finance products cases to trading irregularities to Ponzi schemes to all sorts of financial fraud. For example, today, I am representing an investment fund against a major bank in a breach of contract case involving a synthetic CLO backed by a swap. I represent a putative class against a student loan servicer and the American Federation of Teachers against the Department of Education in a due process case arising from misconduct in the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program. I also represent McKinsey’s restructuring arm in numerous bankruptcy cases across the country in which its competitor Jay Alix, the founder of AlixPartners, has challenged its disclosure practices. And I am working on a fraudulent conveyance case against a major retailor.
LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice in terms of the types of matters keeping you busy these days?
MG: Litigation inevitably arises from business transactions where there is wiggle room in the terms of deal. A party with discretion is faced with a bad outcome and begins abusing its power. When the economy is in distress, this kind of behavior gets worse. Existing problems bubble up to the surface or people make the wrong decisions to hide a loss. We are seeing some of that play out today.
LD: Will you describe your early career path?
MG: I was fortunate to clerk on the Second Circuit for the Honorable Ralph K. Winter, who was an amazing mentor and taught his clerks how to think and present with rigor and clarity. I then practiced in Big Law in New York until 2018, when I launched Selendy Gay Elsberg with 9 of my former law partners.
LD: What would you say you appreciate the most about your firm?
MG: Starting a firm with life-long friends has been exhilarating. We now count 45 partners and associates all in one office in midtown New York and are majority women-owned. We have had the opportunity to create our own law firm culture from scratch. I can say I literally shaped the firm environment as I was the partner in charge of construction in our midtown office build out!
We put a premium on collaboration. As we handle complicated cases with many moving parts, team work is very important. You must be able to break hard cases apart, analyze the pieces and then put them back together. Spending time working through issues with teams of partners and associates the old-fashioned way, in a room with a white board, debating strategy, is so important. It drives creativity and analysis, and ensures that everyone has a meaningful role. We built our physical space to accommodate this culture, with many communal spaces. We have a café, a terrace with wifi and outdoor work space, a ping pong table, many conference rooms for group meetings, and a very big multi-functional room, which can swing from a war room to a classroom to a mock courtroom. Now we have a team of top-flight associates with whom we work every day to bring this culture to life.
LD: Is definitely sounds like you’re doing things differently at Selendy Gay Elsberg! What does this culture or work environment look like for new associates?
MG: What we offer is different from Big Law. Our cases are as, if not more, sophisticated as they were in my prior practices. But because our firm is smaller, associates get very early training and experience immediately and work directly with partners from day one. Work does not flow between layers of junior, mid-level and senior associates. Everyone pulls their weight and learns very quickly. Because litigation has many facets, from legal writing, to fact development, to depositions and experts, to trial, the faster a young attorney can see the whole picture, the more effective she or he can be. The very first time a new associate does any of this, it feels foreign and may be nerve racking. But the second time is strategic and fun. Getting meaningful experience and learning is the ticket to job satisfaction. Every week an email goes around asking a partner to help an associate prepare for and take their first deposition, or argument, or trial examination. It is very satisfying to teach a new generation of attorneys how to become trial attorneys.
LD: Will you walk us through a recent matter that you’ve handled?
MG: I recently won several motions to dismiss claims asserted by Mar-Bow, a personal company of Jay Alix, which challenged McKinsey’s bankruptcy disclosure practices. Mar-Bow bought bankruptcy claims in long-confirmed or closed cases, or just filed motions without owning any position at all, asking the courts to claw-back McKinsey’s professional fees based on alleged failures to disclose conflicts. Multiple bankruptcy courts dismissed the claims for lack of standing because Alix had no real stake in the controversy. Alix tried to make new law, arguing that claims for fraud on the court did not need to satisfy the Constitutional principles of standing, or, alternatively, that he could participate as an amicus of the court, but the courts upheld core standing principles and rejected the claims.
LD: Is there a larger impact on the industry from this matter?
MG: The fight between Jay Alix and McKinsey’s restructuring arm has been featured prominently in the mainstream and legal press. The standing dismissals are important because Mar-Bow tried to get around basic standing rules by making inflammatory but false allegations of fraud, but the Courts held to their core standing principles, which serve as an essential Constitutional gating mechanism to any movant. The movant in a bankruptcy case must show a financial stake in the proceeding to be heard to ensure that the courts’ resources are used for matters that benefit the bankruptcy estate, not just to air personal grievances. These decisions confirm this important rule and prevailing on this issue was rewarding, both in terms of the client representation and with respect to upholding the legitimate role of the courts.