Photo by Laura Barisonzi.
The benefits of practicing at an acclaimed law firm like Pomerantz include the chance to litigate the most important legal issues of the day. As New York partner Michael Grunfeld explains, that often includes cases that provide key insights into recent “newsworthy events” – including his successful representation of investors in the class action over the Yahoo! data breach, the largest in history. When it comes to class actions, Grunfeld, who became a partner in 2019, also showcases the firm’s strength in consumer class actions. In fact, the Columbia Law grad has made his mark in high-profile pro bono work by representing plaintiffs opposing New York City’s now-disbanded Stop-and-Frisk policy.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?
Michael Grunfeld: As a partner at Pomerantz, I specialize in plaintiffs’ side class action work. I practice mostly in the firm’s main area of securities class actions and also work on consumer class actions.
LD: How did you first become interested in developing this type of practice?
MG: I became interested in securities class actions during my very first job out of law school. I was at one of the big defense firms, and I worked on one of the most significant securities class actions – arising out of the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch merger that came about during the financial crisis. It was a fascinating case for several reasons, including that it was so enmeshed in the headlines of the day and raised interesting legal issues. Since I moved to plaintiffs’ side at Pomerantz, the work has been even more rewarding because now it also involves helping investors recover losses that they suffered as a result of corporate fraud and wrongdoing.
LD: And you also work on consumer class actions? How does that compare to the area of securities litigation?
MG: Yes, I am currently leading a consumer class action against Apple in which the court recently certified a class of iPhone owners that downloaded the iOS 9 operating system onto their devices. This is essentially a false advertising case involving statements made in connection with an iPhone update, rather than claims that securities investors were harmed. The underlying corporate conduct is similar to what might arise in a securities case, particularly because it involves allegedly deceptive statements by the company. But there are also important differences in terms of the class certification process for consumer claims where each plaintiff has their own product and uses it in their own ways, as opposed to securities claims, where the securities are not something that the plaintiffs actually hold in their hands. In the larger sense, all litigation follows the same process, and it is valuable for litigators to be generalists who can handle any dispute, to be able to do the research necessary for any type of matter and to follow the process wherever it might lead.
LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?
MG: The securities litigation related to data breaches at Yahoo! was particularly interesting. Pomerantz was representing Yahoo! investors who suffered losses after it was revealed that Yahoo! was the victim of the two largest data breaches in history to date but had not told investors about these incidents until sometime after they took place. That matter was especially interesting because it was the first securities class action that was able to successfully bring claims arising out of a data breach. One of the challenges for us was showing how the statements that Yahoo! made related to its data privacy and data security practices were significant to its investors because they misrepresented and concealed the fact that Yahoo! had suffered these breaches. The case also involved interesting factual issues about “who knew what, when” that were important for the intent element of our claims.
More generally, I have found that securities litigation, as a species of business-related litigation, more or less follows what is going on in the world at the time and in the recent past because it takes time for cases to run through the system. By the time we get to work on a matter, after much has been reported in the news and we have done our own independent investigation, we have a much better understanding of these major newsworthy events. Just like the cases earlier in my career were related to the financial crisis, this Yahoo! litigation was related to data breaches, which have become an increasingly significant issue that we need to deal with in our society.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
MG: One of the things that I find most engaging about practicing securities law is the room for creativity. Someone not well versed in what we do might think that corporate-related law or securities litigation is not the most creative of fields, but actually, there is a lot of room for novel arguments. Firstly, the law itself is very complicated. There are a lot of different elements that need to be proven and that are constantly changing as the courts develop them. And secondly, each case is different because the facts of each case stand on their own. The facts of any given case will often be somewhat different from the controlling precedent in either direction, particularly because we are constantly dealing with new issues that prior cases did not consider. That leaves a lot of room for making arguments about how the law applies to those different facts. After all, if there is no case that is directly on point, that also means that there is no case directly on point from the defendant’s perspective. At the end of the day, judges are receptive to applying the law to the facts before them in a common-sense way. So, it is important to remember that there is room for us to make creative arguments that make sense if they are good arguments and are backed up by the controlling legal principles. It is our job to explain why our situation is more similar to one set of governing precedents than another.
LD: Is there a specific reason why you chose your law school over another law school? Is this the type of practice you imagined yourself practicing while in law school? And was there a course, professor, or experience that was particularly memorable or important in what practice you chose?
MG: I was always very interested in law-related topics, and I had considered it all along in college. I majored in political science and, even more specifically, as an undergraduate, I was interested in legal theory and legal philosophy. So, it was a natural step to go to law school, although obviously, there’s a bit of a remove between what we do day-to-day and the abstractions of legal philosophy. But I was also pre-med for a couple of years in college. I specifically remember when I finally made the decision to go to law school, I decided to take a philosophy class instead of taking another physics or biology class. That was the moment when I felt like I made the right decision.
LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?
MG: Probably the most important thing is to pursue what you are interested in. When you’re in school, you have the luxury after your first year to study what you choose. I remember, when I was in law school, being very worried about whether the specific classes that I took were going to show law firms that I knew enough about business or the areas of law that they practiced. But the fact is that most law students, no matter what classes they take, are equally unqualified to start practicing as a lawyer. So, the best thing you can do, I think, is to seriously pursue what you’re interested in. And that will also probably help you do better, which will be the most important stepping stone to pave the way for a career.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities? Please tell us what you find meaningful about your time serving them.
MG: I am proud to say that I have done a lot of pro bono in my career. Probably the most significant pro bono work that I did was working on one of the Stop-and-Frisk cases on behalf of the plaintiffs who were suing the New York City Police Department. In that case, I got to take the depositions of two New York City police officers involved in some of the stops at the center of the case. That was an amazing case to work on because it was such significant litigation that ended up making a real difference in policing practices. And, on the other end of the spectrum from that case involving very high-profile impact litigation, was one in which I represented an individual who was at risk of being kicked out of her public housing for technical, unfair reasons. She had trouble navigating the housing system’s administrative process, and we were able to step in and help her. It was very rewarding to be able to help a specific individual who was up against the system. It makes you realize how hard it is for individuals to navigate and have access to the legal process if they’re not lucky enough to get a lawyer working pro bono or from one of the public interest organizations.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
MG: By far, the most significant thing I do outside the office is spending time with my family. We have a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old, and they’re a lot of fun. As they get older, I get to do things with them that they’re becoming interested in, whether it is going sledding when a storm drops a foot of snow on New York or playing games at home. These are activities that I haven’t done in many years myself, and it’s a great excuse do them again. It turns out that I still find them very fun myself.