Former Big Law litigators have formed a new firm that’s shaking up the NYC legal landscape

Silpa Maruri, Rollo Baker and David Elsberg. 
Photo by Nick Coleman.

With trials becoming less and less common, companies are increasingly interested in lawyers who truly know their way around the courtroom. So it is something of a natural response to this market landscape that the lawyers who are amassing trial experience – and proving their ability to win – are joining forces to give clients a destination practice for their most complex, hotly contested cases.

That’s exactly what David Elsberg, Rollo Baker and Silpa Maruri – all former colleagues at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan – have done, with the launch of Elsberg Baker & Maruri in February of this year.

“We all came together because we share a vision for how cases should be tried and litigated,” says Maruri. “We are all lawyers who really dig in and learn the case from the ground up.”

The group of six founding partners also include two partners who came over from Selendy Gay Elsberg with Elsberg – Michael Duke and Vivek Tata – as well as Jared Ruocco, a former partner at LTL Attorneys who previously practiced at Quinn Emanuel. All the founding partners are first chair trial lawyers, and already, their caseloads are bustling – including from being called in to handle trial work even after other firms have done the discovery.

“Trials are where we specialize,” says Baker, “and where we will continue to make our mark.”

According to Elsberg, the firm’s trial expertise will also come in useful outside the courtroom. “Clients want a law firm that is really going to present a credible trial threat, one that causes the other side to pause and think about what happens if they move forward,” he says. “We're regularly in court and clients can see that. That can make a big difference when it comes to settling. It’s a very, very different dynamic.”

gathering forces

David Elsberg started making his mark at Quinn Emanuel, the country’s largest all-litigation firm, in 2006 after practicing as an associate at Wachtell and then as a partner at Miller & Wrubel. At Quinn Emanuel, he represented clients including private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds and their portfolio companies and served as co-chair of the investment fund practice. Baker joined the firm in 2011, eventually becoming co-chair of the corporate governance practice, while Maruri came on board in 2012 and served as co-chair of the Delaware practice.

“We were working together on a bunch of cases over the years, and we really learned each other's styles and found that we had the same tilt toward strategy, how to approach things,” Elsberg recalls. “And the tilt was more toward the aggressive side, and a willingness to make arguments that are novel but solid.”

Their willingness to try the less-trodden path with novel legal arguments means that their record of trial victories includes a bevy of precedents, frequently in the business-litigation heavy courts of Delaware and New York.

Clients want a law firm that is really going to present a credible trial threat, one that causes the other side to pause and think about what happens if they move forward.

In one Delaware case that Elsberg and Baker, then a third-year associate, tried together, they were part of a team that successfully defended investment firm Athilon Capital Corp. against an investor’s claims that it engaged in self-interested transactions with another investor.

“It was a major case,” Baker says. “The other side was trying to shut [Athilon] down. They were seeking 100 million-plus in damages, and I was able to do the last 15 minutes of the closing argument. I still remember that as a major moment in my career.” However, he adds with a laugh, “David did criticize the color of my suit – which was purple.”

“So did the judge,” Maruri interjects.

Purple suit notwithstanding, they won the case in a resounding victory, denying all claims and keeping Athilon in business. It also set a precedent regarding the test for insolvency under Delaware law, which was later affirmed by the Delaware Supreme Court.

Maruri recalls another case in which she watched Elsberg cross-examine the principal witness, who was the chairman of a major law firm. “This was a very tough witness, a person who had been a litigator for 30-plus years,” she says. “And David just took him apart, chit by chit. It wasn't a lot of show-boating or theatrics. Instead, it was just methodically deconstructing his narrative by showing, exactly, where the lies were … until, basically, the picture that the court had was that this guy could not possibly be telling the truth.” They won that trial, too, and that cross-examination proved crucial.

In another example of their aggressive courtroom style, Maruri won a Delaware Court of Chancery bench trial on behalf of private equity firm Snow Phipps Group in a $600M busted deal case arising from the sale of one of its portfolio companies to Kohlberg & Co. The case set another precedent in Delaware, on the prevention doctrine.

“She does not back down from a fight,” says Baker of Maruri. “Time and again in another trial we did together, she wouldn't back down where other lawyers would, and she created the record for appeal. Part of that case was litigating for appeal, and we ended up getting an entire reversal of the verdict, in large part because Silpa had the guts to withstand a lot of pressure to make sure our appellate record was solid.”

hitting the ground running

Elsberg Baker & Maruri is not Elsberg’s first spinoff from Quinn Emanuel. In January 2018, he left the firm to form trial boutique Selendy Gay Elsberg with a handful of colleagues from Quinn Emanuel including Philippe Selendy, his wife Jennifer Selendy, and Faith Gay. From the start, Elsberg served as Managing Partner while also developing a robust client roster, including an impressive cadre of private equity and hedge funds, and a slate of blue chip companies who turn to him as their strategic advisor and “go to” trial lawyer.

But six years after starting up that firm, it was time for Elsberg to reunite with Baker and Maruri. “I think in the back of our heads, we had a dream that the three of us would work together again,” Baker explains. “When we work on cases together, it's always fun and we win, and that's because we all have passion.”

The founding partners are interested in young lawyers who are looking to build careers in the courtroom, and they are setting out to create a collaborative, mentoring corporate culture to nurture them in.

“I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to team up with David,” Maruri says.

The shingle hasn’t been out for long, but according to Baker, “The phone has been ringing quite a bit with new and existing clients, which has been not unexpected, but exciting. It puts all the more pressure on getting our associates up and running, which we're doing now.”

The partners are expecting to try at least half a dozen cases this year. They include confidential arbitrations of a partnership and employment case, a corporate governance dispute between the leaders of a major investment firm, a case arising out of the expulsion of a founding member of another investment fund, and disputes stemming from a corporate spinoff from a major technology firm. A Delaware Court of Chancery case is set for trial in September and a dispute among the founding members of a cryptocurrency venture is expected to go to trial in New York Supreme Court.

They are also getting calls from potential clients, including an investment fund, about taking over ongoing cases. The fund’s case has been handled thus far by a major law firm, including through a summary judgment decision, but with a trial looming – one with a jury, no less – the fund is looking for a firm that really knows their way around a courtroom.

Jury trials are exceedingly rare, particularly in business litigation, because most companies waive them. But sometimes they don’t, either intentionally or by mistake. And that’s when they need a firm like Elsberg Baker & Maruri.

“When you're in a world where you have a massive dispute with a big-ticket liability on the line, you need to have people that have actually done jury trials,” says Baker. “And we have.”

the associate ranks

In addition to the cases flowing in, the new firm has been getting plenty of interest from prospective employees. “Associates, law clerks and professional staff have been reaching out to us,” Elsberg says. “The people that we've hired, or that we're in the process of hiring, have not come from a recruiter. I think everyone that we have hired has reached out to us, and we're hearing from people by email and LinkedIn who have read press stories. We're getting messages from people at some of the best schools in the country, and from fantastic clerkships.”

So far, Elsberg Baker & Maruri has hired more than a dozen associates, including a former clerk from the Delaware Court of Chancery. The founding partners are interested in young lawyers who are looking to build careers in the courtroom, and they are setting out to create a collaborative, mentoring corporate culture to nurture them in.

“We are very confident that our associates are going to have major roles at trials,” Baker says, including standing up at trial, directing a witness or doing an argument within the first couple years. “We view that as fundamental to our obligations as partners.”

Building trial-ready associates is also smart business, as the partners are thinking long-term about becoming the go-to shop for trials in New York and Delaware. It’s also very good for clients, the partners say, because judges like to see younger attorneys with active roles.

“We hear it time and again,” says Baker, “so we've made it an important aspect of our firm.”

When you motivate smart people and you treat them right, that's when you’re coming up with case-moving ideas as a team.

Associates will be on a seven-year partnership track, with all partners being equity partners. Non-equity partnerships have become a trend recently in Big Law, but Elsberg says that, “if our young associates are getting really good and advanced experience right out of the gate, that means that our firm becomes stronger compared to our competitors, so we can go in the opposite direction and not have non-equity partners.”

Giving big opportunities to young lawyers is also an acknowledgment of the crucial role associates play in building a case. “They are often the ones most steeped in the facts and the case because they're the ones that roll around in the documents and learn the theories,” Maruri says. “We really view our associates as strategic parts of our case, real partners in thinking about and progressing strategy.”

The size of the firm, closer to a boutique than Big Law, is also a distinguishing factor. Associates won’t be part of a large herd at the bottom of the pyramid, struggling to get face time with partners. “What we really want is a culture where the associates are working with the partners, and we really speak to each other and have a cohesive collaborative culture,” says Maruri.

The collaboration will start right away, with even first-year associates doing higher-level work. The firm is planning for an organic training and mentorship structure, teaching trial skills on the ground not with courses, but by looping associates into real trial work right away.

“We want them to learn by doing,” says Elsberg. He gives the example of a deposition: If a client agrees that the associate can do an hour of the deposition, and they see the associate doing well, they may agree to let them do half of it. “It spirals upwards as the client begins to trust the associate,” he says. “We are right there with them the entire way. That’s the best form of mentorship because you’re not just simulating a deposition, you’re really doing it.”

Ultimately, Baker says, the firm’s guiding principle is that, “When you motivate smart people and you treat them right, that's when you’re coming up with case-moving ideas as a team. You can achieve unimaginable results for clients, and you can have people that enjoy their careers and are excited and passionate.”

Every aspect of the new firm is angled towards building a shop full of relentless and determined litigators who are ready to play hardball in the courtroom. The founders are taking everything they’ve learned through their collective experience at trial and coming up through Big Law firms and litigation boutiques, taking the most effective and motivating aspects of each in order to build the top-of-mind firm for winning the toughest cases at trial.

As Baker says: “When you cut out the noise, and you cut out the politics, the sky’s the limit.”