If you can’t explain something simply, Albert Einstein observed, you don’t understand it well enough.
Justin Anderson, a Washington, D.C.-based partner at Paul Weiss, brings the same philosophy to the practice of law. A former federal prosecutor who today represents some of the world’s leading companies in their most threatening and complicated litigations, Anderson is fascinated by complex problems and thrives on untangling legal Gordian knots without resorting to the sword-wielding technique of Alexander the Great.
Anderson leverages this talent for communicating in his busy litigation and white collar & regulatory defense practice. Recent highlights include helping win a complete defense verdict for ExxonMobil in the first climate-change lawsuit to be tried to a verdict nationally – a landmark, $1.6B trial in 2019 filed by the New York Attorney General, who alleged that the company misled investors about the risks of climate change; and representing Mastercard in high-stakes antitrust litigations nationally.
“Many things in life are complicated and even if you understand them, it can be really easy to get caught up in the complexity,” says Anderson. “Since everybody doesn’t have the hours and hours to spend deciphering a problem that a lawyer does, it’s the lawyer’s job to make problems accessible.”
Anderson credits his diverse work experience, including a stint in finance – some of it at Wall Street firm Salomon Smith Barney – and in prosecutorial roles, with providing him a solid foundation for work representing clients in their most threatening, complex litigations and investigation matters. During his six years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, Anderson tried 14 criminal cases and argued 19 appeals in the Second Circuit. His matters included multiple high-profile public corruption and complex white collar cases. He received the John Marshall Award for Trial of Litigation, the Justice Department’s highest award for trial litigators, for one of them.
Anderson recently spoke to Lawdragon about how his early career provided the foundation that helps him solve his clients’ most difficult problems today.
Lawdragon: Investment banking isn’t often an entry on lawyers’ resumes. Tell me a little more about how that experience has played into your career.
Justin Anderson: The discipline is really good in terms of a first job out of college: You're expected to perform; no one's coddling you. You're thrown in there. You need to be professional. You need to be on productive.
The subject matter familiarized me with how financial markets work, the role that investment banks – and banks generally – play, and the role of a trader as opposed to a banker or a broker. That understanding was so beneficial as a prosecutor as well as in private practice when clients are in the industry or issues arise that require an understanding of how capital markets function.
I’ve found that the analytical qualities that we value in good lawyers really are skills that you also need to apply when you're working in investment banking.
LD: What intrigued you about becoming a prosecutor?
JA: What I liked was the role that a prosecutor plays in exercising judgment and doing what you know is right to help redress wrongs in society: being the voice of the victim.
LD: You mentioned that working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut while at Yale Law School helped prepare you for the complex matters you would later handle as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan and as a lawyer in private practice. What experiences there and at Yale Law in general have been particularly beneficial in your career?
JA: Working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office gave me exposure to the variety of cases that federal prosecutors handle. There were some significant public corruption cases that were made in the District of Connecticut, so there was a lot of overlap substantively between the work that's done out of Connecticut and the work that's done in New York.
Also, during law school, I took a class taught by Kate Stith, a professor at Yale and former federal prosecutor, and David Fein, who later became U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. He joined our firm’s London office a few months ago. The class they taught, a seminar on prosecutorial discretion and techniques, refined and focused my interest in becoming a prosecutor. The two of them were great mentors and role models. Both of them had been in the Southern District of New York.
LD: What advice would you give, based on your experience there, to people who are either in law school now or considering going to law school?
JA: Don’t rush into law school immediately after you graduate from college. Have a reason for wanting to become a lawyer. And maybe try something else first: a job at a for-profit or non-profit or in the government. And then, have a good reason for going to law school. What type of career do you want to have?
LD: Was there a mentor or an early experience once you got out of law school and started working that really shaped your style or your interests going forward?
JA: After law school, the first thing I did was clerk, and one of the judges I clerked for was Sidney Stein in the Southern District of New York, who was an excellent role model. He has a gracious demeanor, excellent judgment and a tremendous work ethic. It was a real pleasure to study under him for a year.
Then, I was with Judge José Cabranes on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for about a year and a half. He has encyclopedic knowledge, great judgment and great warmth. I couldn’t have been luckier to learn how to be a lawyer from him.
I was extremely fortunate coming right out of the gate with those two mentors.
After that, I was at the U.S. Attorney's Office with a great collection of lawyers who were role models, helping shape the way I approach problems and being generous with their time.
LD: What were some of the most memorable cases that you worked on during your years at the U.S. Attorney's Office? That sounds like it would've been a fascinating place to be.
JA: It definitely was. I worked on some high-profile public corruption cases, including one in which the campaign treasurer for a New York City mayoral candidate was convicted in a scheme that used straw donors to secure contributions larger than the law allowed, which boosted the amount of city matching funds available to the campaign. It went to trial, was complicated and hard fought.
Another was the trial of a former New York State Senate leader, a Democrat, for offenses that included bribing city GOP officials to let him run as a Republican candidate for mayor in 2013. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. In the same case, a former Queens County Republican Party Vice Chairman was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for receiving bribes and witness tampering.
LD: That’s fascinating. Politics really do make strange bedfellows.
JA: People say bipartisanship is dead, but not in that corruption case.
LD: What would you say is the most satisfying aspect of your practice now, including the corporate securities and antitrust matters?
JA: I like solving problems and figuring out how we're going to explain the solution to the problem, whether it's a legal problem or a factual problem. I enjoy crafting the story that we need to tell and articulating the position that we're taking, whether it's how the law applies to a particular fact pattern or what the facts are.
How should the relevant facts be told and in what order? How should they be described? What should be emphasized or de-emphasized? I like doing the research, whether it's on the legal side or the factual side, gathering all of the elements, evaluating the facts or the law, figuring out what the complexity is and making it simple.
The craft of putting together great arguments is very satisfying, when it's all done, though it can be very frustrating while it’s happening. You start with a problem to which no one knows the answer. It's confusing. So how do you cut through the clutter? How do you make the story comprehensible? How do you make it compelling? Once you’re finished, you feel like, "Now we've got this great story that we can tell that's supported by the facts and by the law.”
LD: Being a partner at Paul Weiss must give you lots of opportunities to exercise those skills.
JA: One of the great things about this firm is that clients come to us with their most sensitive matters. These matters may be in the press already, or if they don’t go well, carry a high risk of being in the press. They are matters that mean a lot to the company. They're complicated and they're hard.
They come to us with cases that need to be litigated well and aggressively so that everyone is prepared at the end to go to trial or appeal. We're a go-to firm for those types of cases. It's a pleasure because there's nothing routine about what we do. It requires creativity.
There’s an incredible team of talented litigators here. While the vast majority consider themselves to be generalists, most have organically developed certain areas of expertise, so you can draw on deep pockets of knowledge and experience. The culture is that it's a firm matter, and all hands are on deck. People who have a contribution to make are willing to make it. You just pick up the phone and call.
LD: Are there any cases you're working on right now that are particularly interesting?
JA: One of the matters I've been working on for a while is defending ExxonMobil in climate change-related litigation, which I’ve been doing for over six years in multiple jurisdictions. It presents challenging questions about the appropriate forum to address climate change, and whether disagreements about energy and climate policy are actionable.
I've also represented Mastercard in antitrust and consumer class actions and other commercial and regulatory matters. One is a long-running class action that's pending in the District Court here in D.C.. It’s a set of antitrust class actions related to ATM fees. The D.C. Circuit recently granted us the right to contest class certification in those cases.
LD: Before you went to college and law school, was there a book or movie about the practice of law that inspired you?
JA: My brother says I wanted to become a prosecutor because I liked watching “Law & Order” when I was a kid. And I did like the show. How could you watch and not want to become a police officer, a prosecutor or defense attorney or a judge? It was just great drama. I don't know if that inspired me, but it certainly didn’t discourage me from becoming a lawyer.
LD: I loved that show, too, especially the debates that happened inside the District Attorney’s Office over McCoy’s tactics. He often seemed to be on the razor edge of what was permissible.
JA: Sometimes they pushed the line and someone would be saying, "No, you can't, you're going too far. You have to come back," but it was all zealous advocacy for what they considered to be right. They were trying to do what they thought was right and to do it within the bounds of ethics.