By Emily Jackoway | April 19, 2023
The distinguished group of colleagues that founded Selendy Gay Elsberg set out to create something unique: a firm that combines the heft and expertise of Big Law with the nimble mindset of a boutique firm. A firm grounded in collegiality and innovation. And, most of all, a firm dedicated exclusively to the art of litigation.
Five years later, their approach has paid off. From antitrust to private equity to environmental litigation, Selendy Gay Elsberg’s lawyers tackle every variety of high-stakes business dispute and investigation, for companies and individuals, on either side of the aisle.
The sweep of the firm’s expertise finds a perfect expression in its corporate defense and investigations practice, which is currently grappling with matters involving the most pressing corporate and political affairs of our time.
Selendy Gay Elsberg served as co-counsel to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in the high-profile, high-stakes litigation surrounding his subpoena of former President Trump’s tax returns. The Supreme Court made the landmark decision to reject former President Trump’s claim of immunity.
Selendy Gay Elsberg attorneys are in discovery in a civil rights suit representing eight Capitol police officers who were on duty during the January 6 riots. Internationally, the firm has successfully represented Saudi nationals whose work with United States national security interests precluded their ability to defend aggressive lawsuits brought by the current Crown Prince. At our clients’ behest, the Department of Justice intervened, and the claims were dismissed.
The firm’s investigations caseload isn’t always so public. Selendy Gay Elsberg attorneys have conducted internal investigations for companies and non-profits across the United States, converting criminal accusations into civil fines, filing successful whistleblower claims, and cleaning up organizational practices in every aspect of American life – from seminaries to multi-national corporations.
Founding partner Faith E. Gay leads the firm’s white-collar practice. Gay’s expertise in the area stems from her work as deputy chief of the Special Prosecutions Unit and of the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. Her background in government work has translated to successful representation of individuals and corporations in investigations by various federal government branches and state Attorneys General. She has built an astounding record: to date, not a single client she has represented in an investigation has ever been indicted or pled guilty.
Gay is joined by a powerful team of attorneys, including partner Joshua Margolin. Margolin is an up-and-coming force in the white-collar space, and he regularly leads many of the firm’s key matters. At the same time, he has litigated, arbitrated, and mediated matters involving complex financial products, securities fraud, and corporate governance, among other types of matters, and guided his clients through investigations.
The team was recently bolstered by Lauren Zimmerman’s elevation to partner in January 2023, as well as the arrival of a lateral partner, Temidayo Aganga-Williams, in February 2023. Formerly a trial lawyer with Brooklyn Defender Services, Lauren has successfully represented clients at arraignments and in a wide range of criminal trials and administrative hearings. Most recently, Temidayo served as Senior Investigative Counsel for the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Before that, he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York
Gay and Margolin discuss what it takes to be successful in the corporate defense and investigations space:
Lawdragon: What makes Selendy Gay Elsberg unique, particularly when it comes to its investigations practice?
Faith Gay: Almost a decade and a half ago, we decided to go against the money-center banks. That ended the typical go-along, get-along corporate defense practice for us.
LD: What led you to that decision?
FG: We feel we have a singular reputation as trial lawyers rather than solely as deal-makers, as is so often the case in the corporate defense bar. We thought we would do better in cases where our clients really wanted to push back against the government, which is sometimes not the case with regulated entities such as banks. We also began to represent more whistle blowers and to represent Boards and Audit committees who were exercising their independent judgment and not looking to be rubber stamps.
In a typical case, we will be called in because a company has decided that it has been overcharged or doesn't like the way negotiations with the government are going. They call us because they don’t want to run the same old playbook. At the same time, these companies and individuals know that we won’t run wild, nor do we lack mainstream credibility – our years working in elite, defense-side firms remain an important part of our collective resumes.
We can either be added onto an existing team – which happens a lot when a company or Board is looking for a more aggressive, trial-friendly voice – or we can take over and say, "Look, you've given us an unacceptable deal. We're going to trial." We're never ugly about it, but we are very comfortable in court, and it drives good deals for our clients.
LD: Mr. Margolin, what would you say makes Selendy Gay Elsberg’s corporate defense and investigations practice unique?
Joshua Margolin: We aren’t beholden to any single constituency, be it a client or a government agency that we practice in front of again and again. That allows us, as Faith said, to drive for what the right answer is for the client, to be aggressive when aggression is called for, and to assess settlements when they're called for. Our firm is not known for running the same playbook many times over.
LD: What about outside of the corporate defense and investigations e practice – what makes Selendy Gay Elsberg itself a different model of firm?
JM: You can pick any other firm off the street and the thing most partners have in common is the letterhead. We have a group of people at Selendy Gay Elsberg who worked together for a long time, and have chosen, quite deliberately, to continue working together. It makes us different; it makes the firm a much more productive and cooperative place to work, where everybody's ideas really come into play, and everyone’s opinions are shared freely and discussed. You're not worried about infighting between offices and departments. It's a very open atmosphere. It’s also an effective way of working together on behalf of our clients.
Additionally, the scope of our practice is breathtaking. We’ve been involved in everything from the January 6 cases to very traditional corporate defense matters to traditional pro bono, where we represent clients who can't qualify for legal aid, but still need a good lawyer. We have a huge state secrets case going right now. We have environmental cases where our clients have been accused of being eco-terrorists – there are just all kinds of matters.
LD: To what do you attribute that breadth?
FG: We’re not competing for the clients’ corporate business. We are not asking for their routine work. We get hired to make a way out of no way.
We have a group of people at Selendy Gay Elsberg who worked together for a long time, and have chosen, quite deliberately, to continue working together.
LD: Are there any skills that make someone a particularly qualified corporate defense lawyer?
FG: Patience and empathy combined with candor and quick, deep attention to detail. I always joke with our incoming associates that you can sleep in when doing this kind of work, because no one calls you first thing in the morning. Clients call us last, when they have their backs to the wall, and need a bespoke solution. Oftentimes, those discussions are difficult because they involve admitting to human frailty. It’s our job not to be judgmental and to be very straight with people about the road ahead, and to execute on exceedingly narrow options – or to invent new options.
JM: Faith is absolutely right. You need empathy and the ability to work with various constituencies. In a lot of our matters, you're not just dealing with the government or an investigating entity, but you have a client who is personally invested in this. You have employees whose lives and jobs are on the line and that don't want to get thrown under the bus. You have a board that is looking to find the right answer. There are multiple stakeholders with complex relationships.
FG: And the client needs to know that you’re able to take them all the way, no matter where the investigation or dispute leads you – no matter what heat, you as the attorney, are subjected to by angry courts and zealous prosecutors. If they’re coming to us because they feel like they’ve exhausted conventional options, they’re often far along in a crisis.
JM: Or they’re anticipating one.
FG: They need us to hit the ground running, no matter what stage of the matter they’re in. That’s where, for instance, the strength of our appellate practice comes into play—we can take over a dispute that had a bad result at trial and move it forward to establish a different narrative. Caitlin Halligan, who leads our appellate practice, is a former New York State Solicitor General, and simply one of the best advocates in the business. She works hand in glove with our trial lawyers to reshape cases that are in various levels of distress.
LD: What are some specific cases in the investigations and corporate defense space that are particularly memorable for you both?
JM: We're fortunate to represent eight of the Capitol police officers involved in defending the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. – a case I’m sure I will tell my grandchildren about.
We're working with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights on that, and it has been so incredibly rewarding. I've done a lot of pro bono work, but I don't think I've ever been moved in the way that I was listening to the clients talk about their experiences on January 6th. You saw it on TV, but I don't think I really had an appreciation for how bad it was on the ground. Being able to represent the interests of loyal Capitol Hill police officers fighting to protect our democracy against the perpetrators of that attack is going to be one of the highlights of my career.
FG: So much was at stake, and what was sort of getting forgotten in all this was the actual lives of men and women whose careers involved the sacred honor of keeping the Capitol safe. To be able to join in at that level was and is extremely meaningful to us. No matter what the outcome of those cases is, grievous crimes were committed. Finding the right way to bring justice and access to justice in that case is hugely important.
LD: What other cases stand out to you?
FG: We represented a company this year called Eargo, which is a new company. Their product is a huge advance, both medically and aesthetically, in the world of hearing devices. It was rewarding to help a young company grow, move a criminal investigation to an appropriate civil resolution and, importantly, to do so extremely rapidly. We did that working with wonderful colleagues at Latham & Watkins. We each had our specific roles and I think the result was not only ethically correct but a lifesaver for a young company with an important product.
LD: What originally drew you both to corporate defense and investigations and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
FG: I like that the odds are really tough, the stakes extremely high, and that we have the opportunity to save companies and save lives. If you do your job correctly, there's nothing rote about it and it requires you to be incredibly calm, focused and creative through a hundred twists and turns. I like solving impossible problems and adding unique value.
JM: For me, I think there are two big things. First, in corporate defense matters you're able to help individuals who are personally having the worst day they've ever had. It's rewarding to be able to help somebody see their way through that – not just to get them through it, but to talk with them and help them stay calm every day while the litigation and investigation is going on.
Second, you're in the room on day one working with the people who know the facts, so you're able to really get your hands into the case.
The odds are really tough, the stakes extremely high, and that we have the opportunity to save companies and save lives.
LD: How do you prepare lawyers for these kinds of investigations and trials?
FG: You don’t learn any of this stuff in law school, other than memorizing your copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We think that the hands-on experience we offer is second to none. We give our more junior lawyers as much responsibility as they can take, and we listen to their contributions when we are charting an uncharted path. And we, of course, run mock trials and mock depositions, we offer writing training, coaching for oral advocacy, and direct feedback from partners. It’s intense, but it cultivates flexibility, good judgment, and breadth of experience—the qualities our practice requires.
Development, training, the quality of their experience with us—it’s sacrosanct. We’ve built something unique here, and we’re going to ensure it continues.