Peter Altieri has recently retired from partnership with Epstein Becker & Green, a US law firm with 14 offices and a member of the ILN. Peter is a previous Chairman of the ILN and in this episode, he and Lindsay cover the importance of mentorship throughout a lawyer’s career, how the ILN impacted him as a lawyer, and the rapidly changing legal profession.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello, and welcome to the Law Firm ILN-telligence podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. And our guest this week is Peter Altieri with Epstein Becker & Green. Also, our former chairman. And Peter, it’s lovely to have you this week. We’re so glad you could join us.
Peter: Lindsay, it’s great to be here. I’m excited to participate with you and enjoy all the things that you do through your podcasts and social media and otherwise, and all the great support that you’ve given to ILN over the years.
Lindsay: Thanks so much. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the firm and your practice?
Peter: Epstein Becker & Green, the firm, is a national law firm in the United States and we have about 300 lawyers and we’re in 11 or 12 offices, but primarily New York and Washington-centric. Our three areas of concentration are in healthcare and the regulatory aspects in the business of healthcare, in labor and employment, primarily representing management in labor and employment matters, and then litigation to support those groups. We made a decision coming out of ’08 and ’09 to not be a mid-size firm that tries to do everything, but rather to be a mid-size firm that has focused excellence in niche areas and in core areas. And so, that’s really the nature of our practice and the firm.
Personally, I joined the firm as a senior associate back in 1987, became a shareholder in 1990, and have enjoyed my now 34 years with the firm. And I’m by nature, a commercial litigator. Over the years, 42 years of practicing litigation in New York City, you do a little bit of everything and learn a lot. But the last 10 or 15 years, my specialty has become the movement of employees and information between firms. And that involves the theft of trade secrets, non-competes, team moves. Sometimes our client is attracting the team and trying to bring them on and do it with the least amount of liability as possible. And we’ll structure that.
And sometimes our clients are losing a team and we have to chase after them and do the forensic work and make sure that they’ve been good leavers. But that’s an important part of my practice. I also am a commercial arbitrator. I’m on the International Center for Dispute Resolution panel, as well as the AAA panel. And my plan is actually to, in the near future, to leave private practice, leave the firm and just pursue and continue my arbitration practice individually.
Lindsay: That’ll be big news for our members, I’m sure because a lot of them don’t know that.
Peter: Well, it’s big news for me too. It’s a transition. It’s very difficult after so many years working with the same people and colleagues and firm, to unplug. But my feeling is just by nature I’m not just keeping a toe in the tub type person, that I would find myself plunging back in if I didn’t do the separation. And listen, I have great relations with the firm and if we find that that doesn’t work, in that unlikely scenario, certainly I may reenter private practice after exiting, but the plan is not to do that and just to enjoy other things in life and continue the arbitration gig.
Lindsay: That makes a lot of sense. That’s great. I’m excited for you. So, let’s dive into some of our other questions. What is your biggest challenge at the moment and how are you working to overcome it?
Peter: I think this transition that I’ve just described is somewhat of a challenge, but the fact of the matter is the pandemic has caused a challenge for everybody in terms of the way we do our business, the way we relate to our clients, the way we work with our colleagues, the way we do everything. It’s somewhat different when not everyone’s going to the office and working face-to-face and having those things. So, that’s been a really large challenge, although I think one of your other questions is, “What are you surprised about?” And I think it covers that as well, is how well it’s worked, at least in what I would consider the immediate-term or the short-term, that the firm has been busier than ever, that everyone seems to be getting their work done and doing it efficiently.
And many people are actually enjoying the remote experience. With New York City, almost everyone commutes to the office, some as little as 15 or 20 minutes, but many for an hour, an hour-and-a-half. And that, that found time has produced two things. One, better quality of life without the commute and you can actually work more hours in terms of what your client doing, but be around home sooner and actually have fewer hours away. So, I think that that’s been challenging and surprising.
Lindsay: I would agree. And do you think that factored into your decision to change what you’re doing and leave private practice?
Peter: No. I’ve really been on that path to do that, pre-pandemic, and I think, unfortunately, you would want to normally do that and it’s awkward enough a process, that you’d like to be able to do it in person and to do it that way and be taking my junior partners out with my clients for lunches and talk about the transition and do things that way. And haven’t been able to do that as effectively as one might do other than the pandemic. My decision to do this wasn’t in any way influenced or brought about by the pandemic.
Lindsay: That does make things harder, I would say, and I think that is one of the things that we’ve looked at, is the way that it’s impacted younger lawyers and their ability to learn and adapt and get the experience that they normally would have. So, that’s an interesting thing to look at, is that succession process for them. And as you say, it does impact the way you would transition some of those younger partners into dealing with your clients. So, I’m guessing you’ve had to do a lot of that virtually?
Peter: Yes, via Zoom and via phone calls and things like that, not the ideal way, but it’s certainly working and everyone’s adapting and going forward that way. Now, you mentioned mentoring, and that I think to some degree is harder to do virtually, in terms of both, you don’t necessarily schedule a mentoring opportunity. Those things tend to happen when you walk into somebody’s office and you have a conversation. A lot of mentoring is what I would say, more in downtime or unofficial rather than official.
And that’s something that I think will suffer in the long run if we were to remain virtual, but everything that I’m seeing, we’re back in the office now nearly full-time, although a lot of our attorneys are remaining remote several days a week. And I think that will continue to evolve and change where hopefully we’ll have everybody back in at or near full-time in next year. So, that’s, I think will be a positive thing for mentoring opportunities going forward.
Lindsay: That’s great. What do you think is the biggest area related to your practice or industry that you’re curious about and why is that?
Peter: I guess what I’d say there is, things change very rapidly and things are only changing more rapidly going forward. So, I guess, what I’d say I’m curious about as I sit here today is, what are the changes going to be and how rapidly will they come? And you see things like artificial intelligence and what’s happening that way, how is that going to impact what we do as lawyers and law firms with our clients, day-to-day? I guess if you say, am I curious about something, it’s that, how quickly will the services we provide and the things that we do as lawyers today, how rapidly is that going to change, not just with artificial intelligence, but otherwise? I think it certainly has always been an evolving process, but my sense is, things are evolving much more quickly.
Lindsay: And it’s been interesting, I think, to see over the last 10 years, how much more quickly things have evolved than ever before. So, it’ll be interesting to see, does that, and I guess it does, just the way technology evolves anyway, but even in the legal profession, how much more quickly things will evolve over the next several decades.
Peter: We’re probably slower than most, but I think that the fact of the matter is, it is changing and will continue to change.
Lindsay: So, to touch back on, we were talking about mentorship, I’m curious to hear about who has been your biggest mentor?
Peter: Well, biggest, that’s easy. When I graduated from law school, my first job was with a firm called the Law Firm of Malcolm Hoffman. Actually, it was my only other job, other than Epstein Becker. And Malcolm was six foot seven and about 325 pounds, so he’s clearly the biggest, but he’s also probably in some respects, and at least initially, the most important. He’s a very interesting gentleman who graduated, Harvard undergraduate in 1934, and Harvard Law School in ’37. And as a Jew, was unable to get jobs in New York City law firms, in those days.
And he went to work for the government and he was the chief prosecutor in the Southern District of New York for the Antitrust Department of the Justice Department, the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department. And so, he did government service for 20 years and then started his own practice and did plaintiff’s antitrust work. I was fortunate enough to work in his firm for the first seven years of my career. And Malcolm was just a wonderful person as well as a wonderful lawyer. Great trial experience, knew how to try cases, very intelligent, but what he taught me was it’s very important to not only work with your colleagues but to become friends with your colleagues and to really understand personally what’s going on in their lives. And to have that to be as important as what you’re doing at work that day.
Malcolm believed in going out to lunch and having lunch with everyone. Malcolm believed at the end of the day, you go into the library and you played a game where you pitched quarters against the bookcase, and who got it closest won the quarters. We did fun things like that. And I think that looking back now, in terms of lawyers, and what we do and how we work with our associates, and the importance of the billable hour, and all of those sort of things, I think it was very helpful to me and a good message to everyone that it’s critical to understand and to look at the people that you’re working with. And to work with them as individuals and as fellow humans, and to take a holistic interest in them, not just, when am I going to get this project and how is that going to get done? And make sure you do this or that.
And I think that was a great influence on me. And the fact of the matter is, I don’t think you ever have just one mentor, mentoring is something that you experience throughout your entire career. And you can both be a mentor and also be mentored through that period. So, I think mentorship is really important as an ongoing thing. And you can be mentored as a good trial lawyer, you can be mentored in terms of … One of the other things with Malcolm, and frankly, with the senior mentors that I’ve had at Epstein Becker, is the importance of being ethical and doing the right thing, and always have that as the first guidepost in whatever decisions you’re taking and actions you’re taking on behalf of your clients and personally. And that’s something that’s really important as the first guidepost of your conduct.
But people mentor in different ways, people mentor as good lawyering, people mentor as being a good mentor. There are lots of different things that you can learn from others that make you a better advocate, a better lawyer, a better person, a better firm partner. So, I think that you have to commit to not only being a mentor but also commit to seeking mentorship throughout your career.
Lindsay: Absolutely. I could not agree more. And that’s really wonderful. It’s lovely to hear about Malcolm and the way that he was. So, that’s really great. And leading off of that, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned over your career?
Peter: Actually, that’s something I can … I don’t mean to be a little soppy here or sentimental, but as a young lawyer, senior associate, wondering about partnership, what do I want to do? Am I ever going to make it? How am I going to bring in business? All that sort of thing. Am I going to be good enough? And all those sorts of things. My father would say to me, “Peter, don’t worry about it. Just be yourself, be honest with your people, be transparent, be straightforward, and work hard, and everything else will work out.” So, I think if you can take that as a mantra to conduct yourself and you can always rely on that as a foundation for what you’re doing and when you’re confused and upset and misguided or depressed or whatever it may be, falling back on understanding those basic things of just blocking and tackling. Be a good person, do what you’re supposed to do, work hard, and things will work out, has certainly carried a long way throughout my career.
Lindsay: That’s great advice. Tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know.
Peter: Well, one of the things I really enjoy doing is presenting and having a meal with others. And I enjoy going to the grocery store and picking out the fish or the meat or whatever it’s going to be, that I’m going to prepare. I enjoy going out to the herb box outside and picking the right herbs to go with whatever vegetables or food I’m cooking, and doing it that way. I enjoy preparing the meal and really enjoy eating it.
The other thing I like to do is, I think one of the most important courses of whatever you’re serving for dinner is the wine you choose to go along with it. And so, I also enjoy that. So, that overall experience of shopping, cooking, dining, eating with friends, is something that I really enjoy.
Lindsay: That’s great. And that is something I didn’t know about you. And you told us about a mentor that had a really big impact on your life, so it would be great to hear about a client that changed your practice.
Peter: Well, I think clients can be mentors too. I can think of one in particular, who had a very different style than I did in litigation. And this was a client who was very intelligent, experienced, and very aggressive. And I think at times, pushed me to do things in terms of thinking about a problem or taking an approach, always within the boundaries of what is appropriate, but doing things a little bit more aggressively or affirmatively, to get to the same result. And I think this individual through his nature to be combative and to think about ways to instigate dispute sometimes in order to achieve a result, was somewhat contrarian to my general approach to things. And I learned a lot from working with him over the years.
Lindsay: That’s interesting. When you have a client that pushes back on your style, it can encourage you to think more critically about the way that you do things.
Peter: Absolutely. And that’s what happened here. And listen, lots of times I got him over to my position or my approach, we didn’t adapt it, but other times we did and we did it collaboratively. And it’s nice to sometimes be challenged by a client, but also have the give and take.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Well, and I think that’s a perfect illustration of your role as an arbitrator too, right?
Peter: Yeah. Except I’m one of the parties as well, but I guess.
Lindsay: Right, in that case, right. Which is not really your role, but … And so, that brings me to almost wrapping up, but what does being a part of the ILN mean to you?
Peter: Well, I was asked recently, “Over your career, what was one of the most interesting and fun things that you did?” And I would have to put ILN at the top of the list. The opportunities to work with lawyers throughout the world, to learn about their judicial systems, the way they do business, the way the laws work in their countries, the way they work with their clients. The perspectives that getting to know most of the lawyers in the ILN and spending time with them, from a professional standpoint was really eye-opening and fulfilling, and I think in many ways made me a better lawyer. That’s just one-half of it.
The other half is the exposure to so many different cultures and people, and what goes on elsewhere in the world, and the opportunities to travel with the ILN and to take time off, three or four days, for various meetings that we might go to. And during those really focus on your marketing, your professional practice, what you do. The time away, listen, it’s not a sabbatical, but it’s a mini-sabbatical that way, the ILN meetings, where you do get to recharge a little bit and refocus and figure out how you market with your referral sources, the people there, and learn about what they do. And I guess the final aspect of ILN is that be forewarned, I’m looking forward in my retirement to traveling and visiting many of my friends who I’ve made over my 30 years and involvement with the ILN, and hope that they will also do the same and visit me, even though I won’t be a fixture at the meetings the way I was for so many years.
Lindsay: And I think travel enriches us in ways that nothing else does. So especially, as you say, getting the opportunity to meet people and learn about people who are from the places that we’re visiting and that really is such a gift.
Peter: We’re not tourists when we’re at the ILN, we’re friends, and that just gives a different whole spectra to what we’re experiencing when we’re visiting people in different cities and countries throughout the world, and becoming and being friends.
Lindsay: Absolutely. So, what’s one piece of advice you would give to the people listening to this podcast?
Peter: You stumped me.
Lindsay: I know. That’s a hard one.
Peter: I know, I’d go back to what my father said, work hard and be honest, and be yourself and everything should be good. But I think, in that sense, I think it’s important to always understand what your purpose is and to have a purpose, and to fulfill that purpose. And sometimes we lose sight because we’re caught up in the moment, or we’re so focused on a particular thing, keeping your eyes open and your head above water throughout the process to be purposeful, I think would be my advice.
Lindsay: That’s great. Remember your why. That’s good advice for everyone. And then, my final question that I always ask is, outside of work and everything that’s going on at the moment, what is one thing that you’re really enjoying?
Peter: Well, I’m really enjoying seeing the growth, success, and happiness of my children, our children. I’m very proud of my oldest, my daughter, who after eight years of working in public service areas and working with children in education, decided to go to law school. And she graduated in May and passed the bar. And late last week was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. And she’s working with the KidsVoice, which is working with foster children and advocating for them, for their educational needs. And similarly, and supporting her, working with her, doing that, is just terrific.
And son-in-law’s great in doing what he’s doing with his tech business and seeing it grow and seeing him grow, and what they’ve done, it’s fabulous, in Pittsburgh. And then my son, John, who has had a successful career with Cushman and Wakefield is a commercial leasing broker. And he lived with my dad for seven or eight years. When my dad passed, he went out and bought his own home and is a homeowner and doing that and developing that. And supporting him, both in mentoring both ideas with respect to his real estate career and also as a homeowner, those things really give Sandy and me great joy.