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November 14, 2019 Articles

Relationships Are Everything: Interview with Rainmaker Paul J. Masinter

Career insight from a longtime litigator.

By Fritz Metzinger

Paul J. Masinter is a member, the chair of the Litigation Section, and the cochair of the Securities Practice Group at Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann L.L.C. in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

How long have you been practicing law? 

I’ve been practicing law since 1987, so that would be going on 33 years.

How would you describe the practice that you currently have?

My current practice is pretty similar to how I started out here at Stone Pigman about 30 years ago in 1990, which is a general commercial litigation practice, soup to nuts. I’ve done contract disputes, unfair trade practices disputes; I’ve done white-collar cases; I’ve done a lot of business torts type of litigation. Some casualty litigation. Generally, a general commercial litigation practice. 

Is that the practice you anticipated having when you started out, or have things evolved?

It’s not necessarily what I anticipated when I started out. I actually started at another firm doing insurance defense work and found that I didn’t care for the nature of that practice in terms of that being my entire career, dealing with personal injury claims. But when I switched firms and came to Stone Pigman, it certainly was something I was looking for. The law firm that I currently practice at and have been [practicing at] going on 30 years has always had a general litigation practice.

How did you land your biggest clients or files? 

Relationships. Some of the most important cases, and the ones that were frankly the most lucrative for the firm, at the end of the day have been driven by relationships. For instance, a law firm in Denver, Colorado, had a client with a major problem in south Louisiana shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and it was just a relationship I had from growing up in New Orleans and getting to know people. It happened to be a person who had gone to Tulane Law School.

Have you found over the course of your career that you’ve made more of a conscious effort to develop those kinds of relationships?

Yes, and I’ll give an example that I think is very important for people to think about, particularly for young attorneys. We were hired for a matter by a big client probably about four or five years ago now, and we got very actively involved on a supervisory level ultimately for the client and helped to drive a very good resolution of the case for the client. From that relationship, we then got to know other people, not only with the client but with related companies. Since then, we have been working on those additional relationships to develop more work for the firm. So, basically, taking an opportunity, doing well for a client, and then that client being open to introducing you to other people.

Do you have any major business development blunders you want to share? 

Yes—not getting to know your client. Not taking the time when you’re hired on a matter [to get to know the client]. I think it’s very important—and it might well be at the cost of the firm—to, if you get a phone call to go help somebody out on a matter and they’re not in the region, get on a plane and go visit them. Get to know the client. Get to know what their goals are in the litigation. They will appreciate it tremendously. Getting off on the right foot is very important. When we have done poorly in terms of client relationships, it is because of not developing a relationship with the decision maker sufficiently so that they understand what you’re trying to do and you understand what they’re trying to do.

Do you have any final words of wisdom for the young lawyers?

Get up from behind your desk. You’re very busy. You’ve got a lot of demands on your time. You’re trying to learn how to be an excellent attorney at what you do, particularly in litigation. It’s very time-consuming.

But take the time, even at the beginning of your career, to go to lunch. You don’t have to do it every day; you don’t have to do it every week. But a couple times a month, go to lunch with colleagues. A lot of people today have large networks because they went to law school or undergraduate [school] outside of where they’re practicing law. Keep those relationships going, particularly with your law school classmates. Take the time every now and then to go to the class reunions. A lot of your colleagues who you knew in law school are either going to be moving up in law firms or within corporate legal departments, and they will over time be people who can potentially provide you work, as long as you keep those relationships going.

It’s a long game. That’s one of things I think that deters younger attorneys and more senior attorneys. It often takes time to develop a relationship with someone so that they are willing to trust you with a legal problem. It’s OK if it doesn’t bear fruit right away in terms of work.

Fritz Metzinger is an associate at Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann L.L.C. in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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