Though he would have been a rock star if he hadn’t become a lawyer, Angelo Genova has at least attained that status within his chosen profession. And like the best musical acts, Genova has achieved great staying power in his field through consistent excellence, in his case handling the employment law needs of employers over the course of nearly four decades. The founder and chair of Newark, N.J.-based Genova Burns is a member of Lawdragon’s 500 Leading Corporate Employment Lawyers.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within the employment arena?
Angelo Genova: I am the strategic architect of the defense of a variety of employment litigations which touch upon a variety of claims, both traditional and untraditional, in this evolving practice area. In addition, I have an active pretrial, trial and appellate practice in this space. Also, I remain active in traditional labor law and relations negotiating collective bargaining agreements and interfacing with organized labor in the energy, construction and healthcare industries.
LD: How did you first become interested in developing this type of practice?
AG: I was an undergraduate student leader at a time when University faculty were forming and joining labor unions. My involvement in the role students played in that developing issue prompted my interest in labor law. From there, I pursued that interest in law school, earned a contemporaneous master’s degree in Industrial & Labor relations, and gravitated to law firms with labor and employment law practices, first on the union side, and thereafter the management side of the practice.
LD: What are some aspects about employment law you find professionally satisfying and exciting?
AG: I believe among the key relationships in our lives are those spawned by our work. Put another way, work is a key component of most people’s lives, and what happens in the work place matters. Being a part of shepherding stakeholders in the work relationship towards common and meaningful objectives keeps me excited, especially when I succeed in making that relationship fruitful for all involved.
LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?
AG: In 40 years I have handled many cases, both in and out of employment law. I would have to say among the more interesting has been in representing the State of New Jersey in its collective bargaining relationship and negotiations with its thousands of public employees, and in representing one of the world’s largest wind farm developers in the first-ever development of a major alternative energy wind farm on the East Coast.
In litigation, among the more interesting is my representation of a bank in defense of a reverse age discrimination case, culminating in a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court creating the first ever cause of action for reverse age discrimination under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination; I lost. Candidly, the most interesting cases I have handled are in the non-employment sphere, where I represented the Democratic National Committee and the New Jersey Democratic Party in a voting rights act case resulting in an over 30 year consent order banning minority voter suppression efforts by the opposing political party.
LD: How has your firm done during the pandemic?
AG: I have led my law firm, founded 30 years ago, through the Covid crisis, retaining our infrastructure and our team throughout the process. I am very proud of our accomplishments in weathering this storm – with some hope on the horizon for better days.
LD: What are some other leadership challenges you face?
AG: I think after shepherding my firm through the challenges of Covid, the greatest challenge is defining the role of a middle market law firm in an era of national and global law firms: asking who the clients of the future are and will those clients stay the course by seeking out cost effective and quality legal services from firms such as mine in the market in which I operate.
LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your employment practice in terms of the types of matters keeping you busy these days?
AG: The principal trend is the claims being asserted and likely to be asserted emanating from the Covid crisis, such as retaliation, compulsory testing and vaccination, etc. Another trend is the tensions emerging between labor and management arising from income inequality, which has made bargaining more of a challenge and has prompted more aggressive organizing efforts.
LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?
AG: I have had several mentors at different stages of my career who contributed to my professional sensibilities. However, I have found that the foundation for most of my professional life has been shaped by those clients who have allowed me at early stages of my career to handle with their confidence front line cases which - some would say at the time - were beyond my years. Being called to step up early in one’s career, and fortunately succeed, has been the single most important ingredient of my professional success.
LD: How has your employment practice changed since the early part of your career?
AG: The evolution from traditional labor law to employment litigation, with the proliferation of numerous causes of action to assert against employers, making the courts the principal arbiter of employment claims, to me is the most important change in my career. That evolution required me to reinvent myself from a “labor lawyer” to a litigator, opening many other practices and opportunities to my skill set.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer? Or, how do you think others see you?
AG: I fashion myself first as a problem solver who will exhaust all efforts to secure a reasonable resolution for a client. I was once told that among the greatest testaments to a lawyer is to call him or her “effective,” meaning that the advocate achieves an intended objective for a client with as little acrimony and cost to them as possible. Failing to do so, I am unafraid to take off the gloves within the bounds of civility and ethics and passionate about my advocacy on behalf of my clients.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities?
AG: I serve on several boards which are for the most part devoted to mentorship of youth which allows me to give back. Big Brothers/Big Sisters is among those for which I am most active. My personal favorite is my work with the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Recently, I have undertaken pro bono representation amicus in a case challenging New Jersey’s school funding formula as it relates to the underfunding of school construction.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
AG: I am an avid reader of history and contemporary politics, and I like to think that I missed my calling as a folk/rock artist, so I play for my own pleasure.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
AG: See above: A rock star.