Nicole Haff is a partner and head of litigation at Romano Law PLLC in New York City, New York, with a strong focus in business, entertainment, and intellectual property law. Haff has over a decade of experience representing businesses, professionals, and creative persons in disputes before federal and state courts.
How long have you been practicing law?
I graduated law school in the fall of 2007. After graduation, I joined the litigation and dispute-resolution department of a large international firm based in New York.
What kind of practice do you currently have?
I have a litigation practice that primarily focuses on business, entertainment, copyright, and trademark disputes. I also counsel clients on contract and intellectual property matters.
What do you mean by counsel on intellectual property matters?
It depends on the client, but providing advice on Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) compliance (both defensively and offensively), registration questions, sending cease-and-desist letters to stop infringement, things like that.
Did you always want to work in litigation? How has your practice area evolved?
I always wanted to litigate. Litigation was much more interesting to me than corporate transactional work. I enjoy both the nerdiness involved in researching a complex issue and the rush of advocacy before a court or tribunal.
At the beginning of my career, I mostly defended securities fraud claims that concerned the collapse of various financial markets, such as the auction rates securities market and money market accounts “breaking the buck.” I also represented investors who lost their savings by investing in Madoff feeder funds. After Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, there was a lot of litigation at large firms involving the financial services industry, so that is what I did. A sizable portion of my cases were also straight commercial litigation cases. By that I mean claims involving breach of contract, fraud, and business torts. I realized that I enjoyed this work, much more than litigating securities cases, so I sought out this work as much as I was able.
As I gained more experience, my practice expanded to include soft intellectual property (IP) disputes and entertainment work—which is a blast. Entertainment work is fun because it is essentially commercial and soft IP litigation dressed up in a sexier package. Intellectual property work is complex and involves many issues of fact, which, for me, is very enjoyable.
What advice do you have for young lawyers who want to develop skills and business in a certain area of law?
If you want exposure to a certain area of law, take opportunities that interest you. Volunteer for cases that come into your firm in that subject area. Get involved on a bar committee and be active in the committee. Read, research, and write on the subject area; and, if you have the opportunity to do so, speak on and publish content in your areas of interest.
Also, learn about the business and industry. I enjoy learning about my clients’ business. It bolsters my work on their cases and gives me insight into their day-to-day. Clients are more at ease when you understand their industry. If you do not know their industry, read about it until you do.
What are the keys to developing business?
Do good work, be accessible, keep in touch, and always be genuine.
The best thing I did as a young lawyer was to produce good work. If you take pride in your work and it is good, your supervisors, clients, and colleagues will remember. Whether it results in more business, a referral, or a client saying good things about you to your partner, it is important to establish that you are a professional that produces high-quality work.
Accessibility is key when you are building connections both in and outside your firm. Keep in contact with people you know, and try to build your network as much as possible. If your friends have questions, get on the phone with them and talk it through. It could be about the law or a need for a professional introduction, like a forensic accountant. High-quality professional introductions are also helpful in developing business because if you make a good (or bad) referral, people will remember it.
Be genuine. Speak to clients, colleagues, and others in your own voice. People can tell when you are not genuine.
What business-development habits and techniques have you personally found to be the most effective?
Making time to connect and keep in touch with people. It is essential to set aside time to develop your relationships and keep in regular contact. You should also make a point to talk to people about life besides work. Take an interest in your clients, colleagues, and others. Will this lead to business? Maybe. But it is certainly enjoyable.
What do you find the hardest thing about business development?
Time. It takes time to build your network and develop business. When you are a junior attorney, you are working around the clock. It can be tiring, and you may not want to get out and network, but socializing in your firm and with your law school friends will go a long way for future business development. In the future, your law school friends and colleagues will likely be a good source of business.
What is something that you know now about business development that you wish you knew earlier in your career?
I wish that I socialized more and took more coffee breaks with my friends and colleagues. Get out of the office and get involved with your communities. For example, get involved with the summer associate program or join a nonprofit. It is important to meet nonlawyers. Tell everyone you are an attorney. You never know where your next client will come from.
Any final words of wisdom for the young lawyers?
Take pride in your work and be social.
It is important to do good work. Your best source of new business is existing clients. You can be as social as you want, but if you don’t produce good work, you will not get repeat business. Ask for opportunities to develop your skills. That way, when you get coffee with your friends, you have something to talk about. Developing business comes down to connecting with others: colleagues, friends, clients. Take time to connect with people and stay in touch.
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