After two federal clerkships, Michael Duke knew what he was looking for in private practice. When he heard that the lawyers who had taken on Wall Street after the 2008 financial crash had opened their own firm, he leapt at the chance to meet with them.
Michael spoke with us about his first year at Selendy Gay Elsberg, what it feels like to have true ownership over cases as an associate, and arguing before a federal court in a case that seeks to protect rent stabilization in New York.
How did you first learn about Selendy Gay Elsberg?
When you see renowned lawyers at the top of their fields—lawyers who had taken on Wall Street after the financial crisis, tried scores of high-stakes cases, and recovered billions for their clients—break away to form something new, it is impossible not to take notice.
What made you want to join the firm?
After clerking on the Fifth Circuit and with the Southern District of New York, I knew one truth about my career path: I wanted to join a firm that could recreate the best parts of clerking. I wanted to be fully invested in cases, working in a close-knit environment with brilliant lawyers that were also excellent people, just as I had during my years clerking.
Selendy Gay Elsberg, which launched as I began my search for a firm, was a natural fit. The firm was small—ensuring a high degree of ownership over cases—and filled with incredibly successful attorneys focused on building a collaborative culture with a flat structure. So, I interviewed and quickly realized that the people were bright, committed to doing good, passionate for the law, and compassionate for each other. Exactly the kind of colleagues I was seeking.
What has your first year been like?
My first year surpassed my expectations. The firm is serious about involving associates in high level decision-making. From the outset, I was involved in developing strategy for oral arguments, structuring themes to develop in submissions, working directly with partners, managing case teams, and interacting directly with clients. The firm is also committed to creating a collegial culture, bolstered not just by the flat structure that results in everyone pitching to produce top-notch work, but also by routine happy hours and firm outings.
What achievement(s) from your first year are you most proud of?
I am particularly proud to have played a role in a recent victory for tenant advocacy groups in New York.
In 2019, New York passed the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (“HSTPA”) to strengthen tenant protections. In response, landlords and landlord organizations filed suits in New York federal court asserting that the HSTPA rendered the rent stabilization laws unconstitutional.
Selendy Gay Elsberg, along with The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC, intervened on behalf of tenant advocacy groups to protect the tenants who would be most harmed if the landlords were to succeed. We promptly moved to dismiss the claims.
In a marathon day, I argued both cases pending in the Eastern District of New York before Judge Eric Komitee. On September 30, 2020, the court rejected the landlords’ facial constitutional challenges to the rent stabilization laws in their entirety and dismissed all of the as-applied challenges except for those associated with two buildings, which Judge Komitee cautioned, would face a “heavy burden” moving forward.
How has the firm helped you develop professionally?
The firm is not short on training or opportunities to implement that training in practice. We have yearly mock trials and mock depositions, writing trainings, an oral advocacy coach, a soft skills coach and business development trainings—providing the tools to develop into an attorney facile in all aspects of the legal profession.
These formal trainings are not the end though. The partners, who are experts in their fields, are constantly training associates through our daily practice. For example, as I prepared to argue in the Eastern District of New York, Caitlin Halligan, a renowned advocate and former New York Solicitor General, was there every step of the way providing invaluable guidance and feedback. Put simply, Selendy Gay Elsberg offers an ideal atmosphere for associates to obtain the necessary skills to further their professional growth.