Talking witness preparation, office culture, and keeping the firm nimble and collaborative
It’s unusual for an attorney to find her professional “home” by the summer of her second year of law school, but Christine Netski did just that. And in January, Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen tapped Netski to be Managing Partner and Chair of the Executive Committee. In her new role, Netski will focus on the firm’s strategic direction, while continuing to serve as the Chair of the firm’s Employment Practice Group and Co-Chair of the Business Dispute Practice Group.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I considered pursuing a career in law. I was weighing various options for graduate school and decided to participate in a summer program that Cornell Law School offered for undergraduates. The program was designed to give students a real taste of what law school would be like. The courses were taught by well-known professors and were based on the traditional first-year model, including the Socratic Method. I absolutely loved the experience and, against the advice I usually give to college students today, I went straight to law school after college without really having a clear vision of where it would take me. Needless to say, I am fortunate that it ended up being the right decision.
What brought you to Sugarman Rogers?
When I was a 2L at Boston University School of Law, I had an on-campus interview with Natasha Lisman, who was then a young partner at the firm. She really stood out among the other lawyers I had met during my job search – and I had interviewed with lots of different firms and for positions in the public sector. She was so passionate about her work and the firm, and she was living proof of the special opportunities that were available to young lawyers at the firm. She had tried cases, she had handled high-impact pro bono cases, she was active in the legal community and she seemed really fulfilled, both professionally and personally. I was thrilled when I was called back for a second interview.
When I showed up for the second interview, I was told that I would be meeting with 12 of the firm’s attorneys in a conference room, including, of course, the founding partners. At that time, the firm had 14 lawyers, and the practice was for every attorney, if possible, to participate in second interviews of candidates, even summer law clerks. This sent a powerful message that cultural fit was very important to the firm. Although this experience was a tad intimidating for a 23-year old who had gone straight to law school from college, I was able to see how the group interacted and I came away with the strong sense that these lawyers really liked and respected each other and truly enjoyed the practice of law.
You’ve stayed with SRBC ever since that first summer: is the culture the same?
Of course, nothing stays exactly the same over more than 30 years, but we have certainly maintained the most important aspects of our culture. I think our high level of collegiality and genuine love of the profession help us build the kinds of relationships with clients, with each other, and with the community that make for a successful enterprise. The world has changed dramatically since I joined the firm, but we have, by design, maintained a manageable size that has allowed us to retain our very collaborative structure. This, in turn, has allowed us to be nimble in responding to the rapid changes in the legal market that we’ve been experiencing. On top of that, we continue to attract really talented lawyers who share our values as a firm.
What’s a memorable moment for you as a lawyer?
One of the most satisfying and challenging aspects of litigating cases is preparing witnesses and seeing how their testimony unfolds at deposition or trial. For me, some of the most memorable moments have been those situations where witnesses really shine under pressure.
One example was in a case where our client, a technology company, was sued by a customer for allegedly misrepresenting its capability to deliver a global recruitment outsourcing solution. The project at issue in the case was very technical and the evidence was full of “business speak,” but there was a human story underneath the surface that explained why things went wrong and why our client wasn’t at fault. One of our key witnesses was the director of the consulting services unit that implemented the project for the customer. She explained the scope of the work in clear and simple language, much like a good teacher, articulating the customer’s lack of participation and “buy-in” at each critical juncture of the timeline. She was able to communicate our themes in a way that clearly resonated with the jurors’ everyday experiences, capturing the motivations and perceptions of the people involved and providing the overall structure for how we hoped the jury would view the rest of the evidence in the case. Her testimony went so well that the client’s CEO commented that he learned valuable information about their business from watching her testify. And, after it was over, the witness commented that she really appreciated the opportunity to excel in this challenging context, especially in front of the CEO.
Of course, testifying is not always such a positive experience for the witness, but the hard work of witness preparation often yields results that no one anticipated and sometimes those results have little to do with the case itself.